For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been planning to use today’s post to recommend one of my guilty TV pleasures. But then I realized something.
There was no guilt.
So, rather than whispering something in your ear with a furtive (almost obsequious) glance over my shoulder to see who might be looking down on me with a shocked expression (and perhaps even a twinge of disdain), I’m gonna say it out loud:
Pop culture, comedy, and plain good eating: Host Alton Brown explores the origins of ingredients, decodes culinary customs and presents food and equipment trends. Punctuated by unusual interludes, simple preparations and unconventional discussions, he’ll bring you food in its finest and funniest form.
Yes, that’s right. I’m telling everyone that they should watch a cooking show. And yes, I’m perfectly comfortable with that. Because it’s really pretty great.
There are two reasons (at least) for its greatness, in my view. First off, its host: Alton Brown is eminently watchable — a fact which The Food Network clearly recognizes, since he’s the host for nearly everything they do, including “Iron Chef America,” “Cuthroat Kitchen,” “Food Network Star,” etc.
Part of what makes Brown so watchable (for me, at least) is his background in film, including “a decade working as a cinematographer and commercial director.” It shows, because he sprinkles a pinch or two — OK, he tosses in heaping handfuls — of cinematic references throughout the show. Which is really, really fun for a cinophile like me. (Real quick: How many noir-themed cooking episodes have you seen? …That’s what I thought.)
There are lots of cooking shows with watchable hosts standing behind counters or at stove-tops and measuring and marinating and stirring and talking. But with “Good Eats,” there’s a lot less of that sort of thing. Instead, what you get is an often humorous (and deceptively informative) dissection and explanation of the methods being used, and why the things Brown’s doing in the kitchen actually work. Basically, it’s a show about food science, and that stuff’s just fascinating! (Plus, it’s really pretty funny. I mentioned that already, didn’t I?)But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it. Just listen to the folks over at 2006’s Peabody Awards:
What sets Brown and his Good Eats gang apart is how much they know and include in their half-hour programs about history, anthropology, math, chemistry, physics and popular culture. In an installment of Good Eats, a viewer is almost as likely to hear or see a reference to Batman or Werner Von Braun as baguettes or balsamic vinegars.
OK, fine. One more reason. In addition to the charming personality of its host and the vast foodie knowledge it sends your way, it still works in the most fundamental way a cooking show should work: It makes you a better cook. Or at least it made me a better cook, which is already borderline miraculous. I’ve made pickles using the principles and procedures outlined in “Dill-icious,” for example, and they were excellent. And that’s just one instance out of a few dozen things that I’ve learned personally — an astonishing number, given my culinary abilities. (Or should that say “abilities,” with ironic quotation marks?)
So, looking for a fun way learn (or have your kids learn) a bit about food chemistry and a bit about food prep? Look no further. “Good Eats” is tasty, and also SCIENCE. What more could you ask for?
A Quick Note: The episodes streaming on Netflix aren’t actually the whole show. Instead, they’re described as “The Good Eats Collection.” But they definitely convey the flavor of the show, and a good bit of the scientific The entire series (which began in 1999 and has been running since some 13 seasons+) can be rented piecemeal from AMAZON($), if you’d like to catch the whole thing. And if you’re looking for a free taste test, there are five episodes available on regular ol’ HULU.