Monday, May 13, 2013

He hasn't steered me wrong yet

I have to be honest, not since Fr. Dominic or Chef Jeff Smith have I watched a chef on television and then been able to actually put into practice what they preach and have found myself with equal or better results than what I have expected; than with Alton Brown.  I have to be honest, that a lot of what I know, I learned from these three television personalities.

When I was young, and hungry, I remember waking up on Saturday mornings and watching cartoons.  None of this crazy CGI stuff, the television of my childhood played G.I. Joe, Transformers, Voltron, Gummi Bears,  He-Man and Thundercats.  I remember that you could watch all of these until about noon-time when the original Star Trek was on channel 30.  So, we watched Star Trek.  After Star Trek, were the cooking shows. In the 1980's, the show to watch was called The Frugal Gourmet and stared a chef by the name of Jeff Smith.  Jeff Smith was just an awesome guy and wasn't a stuff chef, but reminded me of an early friendly Emeril-type of personality.  He was known to laugh, joke and even make fun with guests on his show.  He had written several cookbooks which have won awards.  His show, aired 261 episodes!  According to The Seattle Times, he was considered to be a "Food genius" in the industry.  He knew about some science but as much as you could know in the 80's.  That was the first person that really spoke to me and gave me an interest in cooking.  He made it seem like cooking was so fun and there was so much to it that he didn't leave the viewer in the dark.  He explained why he was doing something, why he would use foil instead of paper or why he wanted to use butter instead of oil.  He explained things and to someone that liked watching cooking shows for enjoyment, it was a bit of learning to go with that as well.

In the 1990's, as Jeff Smith's show was coming to an end, a new show took his spot.  The new show, was called Breaking Bread with Fr. Dominic.  It was an interesting format, but it had an older man, who was nice, friendly and explained things.  What made Fr. Dominic similar, besides these past items, is that he actually new much of the science behind bread and baking and did a good job explaining it.  It was a weird show at first, watching a guy, in a robe, at a monastery, teach about cooking and baking but he knew what he was talking about.  Every afternoon, I'd watch his show and watch it with the ideas that at one time, I'd like to learn and cook bread on my own.  It is him, who I think of every time I would roll out dough on my board, on my counter-top.  When my wife and I first moved into our house, I would try to bake bread at least once a month, but it was soon becoming a hassle, with kids.  You have to mix and let dough rise, then knead and rise, then knead and rise again, then shape and rise and then bake.  So, while it seemed like a perfect activity to do on a sunny fall or spring morning, with kids who want to leave the house and do something outside, it became more and more difficult to do.  While I still enjoy the feeling and smells of the kneading bread dough between your hands and fingers, right now a bread machine has taken over to still give me that required bread loaf at least once a week now.    

Now, in the late 1990's, a new show took over my favorite spot and featured an odd chef who seemed to explain so much about the reason and science about food, that it was starting to feel like a classroom activity or demonstration.  Alton Brown launched Good Eats and it turned a regular cooking show, where 3-4 dishes would be prepared, ahead of time, to one where 3-4 dishes would be prepared, using real-time and explained.  At this time, the only other way that yeast was explained easily enough for me was with Fr. Dominic and now explained by Alton Brown.  Alton uses a wide assortment of visual aids, to explain everything from yeast to the chemical composition of milk and all while keeping my interest.  It is also important to note, that just like the previously mentioned chefs, everything that Alton has published, works.  Everything that he has said, works as well.  My wife noticed the other day that taking individual lettuce leaves and wrapping each in a paper towel and then wrapping them in plastic, seemed to make them last longer than just throwing them into a vegetable drawer in the fridge.  This is something that he recommended.  I made pocket pies using a recipe that he had published online and it works just fine for those as well.  So far, not since the earlier chefs, have I found recipes that seem to have worked each and every time.

So, as the title states, if you are looking for something new and wanted to try out a recipe, I suggest looking up something that Alton Brown has done, or look for his shows, which are being replayed again on Food network.  His shows are full of information and much like the other two chefs I have listed, he knows what he is talking about.  He isn't some next food network star whose show will dissipate and be off the air in a week.  Alton Brown is obviously a gold mine when it comes to people like me who want to cook good food but also know why and how it becomes good food.

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