The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

October 19, 2009

An Evening With Alton Brown

Filed under: Cooking — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:48 pm

In general, I have never been big on celebrities.  Part of this is because I very rarely watch Hollywood movies or TV shows these days, and part of it is that I just haven’t ever really gotten the whole celebrity thing in the first place.  Someone gets paid big bucks to be in movies, so that means we’re supposed to idolize them?  As a result of this, there are very few celebrities out there who I would have any interest in meeting period, much less going out of my way to meet.  Of course, with my somewhat out-of-the-ordinary tastes in television, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that one of the very few people on that short list is the host of a cooking show on cable TV.  But this wasn’t  just any random cooking show host.  This was Alton Brown, the somewhat nerdy and sarcastic host of Good Eats on Food Network, and he was in town on Friday to promote his new book Good Eats: The Early Years. Of course, I had to be there.

This actually wasn’t my first time meeting Alton Brown.  Several years ago, he came to town to do a book signing at the Issaquah Costco for one of his I’m Just Here for the Food books, and even then I ended up spending nearly three hours in the autograph line (and if you thought the cookware and cleaning supply aisles at Costco were boring enough already, try standing in them for 45 minutes apiece.)  From that, I got autographed copies of two of his books, and some semi-heplful advice on figuring out the proper ingredient ratios for cooking rice (it turns out he uses a cheat sheet to remember this stuff, so I don’t feel so bad about messing it up so badly for years before I got a rice cooker.)  Over the years, I made extensive use of the first I’m Just Here for the Food book, to the point that I’ve actually managed to wear out the binding on my autographed copy.  The second one I haven’t used nearly as extensively (mostly because it covers baking, and I don’t do a whole lot of that) but it does still manage to come off the shelf on occasion.  Alton’s latest book is a compilation of all the topics from the first eighty episodes of Good Eats boiled down into book form, complete with additions and modifications as needed.  It does tend to cut back on the details a bit when compared to the shows it is based on, but then again as Alton himself pointed out, the book already weighs in at more than 3 1/2 pounds, so there should be plenty in there. 

The event took place at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, a place which I had heard of before , but had never actually been to until recently.  I’ll have to go into more detail about it later on (it actually fits well with the whole Malls project I’ve been badly neglecting for the last six months or so) but in a nutshell, the place is something of a miniature Crossroads.  The center that the store is located in was once a small mall (a two-story enclosed space of a roughly similar size to Totem Lake) that fell on hard times, and in an effort to revitalize the property the second story was transformed into Third Place Books and the Third Place Commons, a gathering space with a stage and  a number of local food vendors (a couple of which are also found at Crossroads.) On the first story, a number of businesses (mostly smaller local ones) remain in a remnant of the former mall, as does a King County Library branch.  The remainder of the shopping center outside of the mall is occupied by more conventional businesses, headed up by Albertsons, Rite Aid and an LA Fitness club.  The place seems to be doing quite well, and is the type of place I could see heading for on a Friday night when I’m bored.

Having met Alton once previously, I had a pretty good idea to expect a packed house for this one.  Admission to the event was by ticket only (purchasing a copy of the book from the bookstore was good for two tickets) and by the time it rolled around, tickets were sold out.  Fortunately, I was able to get tickets well in advance, and had no problem getting in.  Prior to the autograph session, Alton spent roughly an hour on stage discussing the book and taking questions from the audience.  If you think Alton Brown is funny on his shows, he’s downright hilarious in person and off the cuff.  He also turned out to be surprisingly snarky at times, taking a couple of good jabs at Food Network and advocating some rather unorthodox approaches to teaching cooking, such as chaining kids to iron bars installed in the kitchen to make them learn to cook.   He also wondered out loud why we never seem to bother eating pandas.  After all, wouldn’t they have both white and dark meat?  I’m sure it’s all meant to be pretty tongue in cheek, but I suspect a few of the thinner skinned audience members might not have been so appreciative (particularly on some of his comments about vegans.)  The vast majority of the audience seemed to enjoy it as much as I did though.  Even my friend who hadn’t even heard of Alton Brown before this seemed to enjoy it.

Following the Q&A session, Alton signed autographs for the rather significant number of fans in attendance.  As could be expected with the number of people in attendance, it took quite a while to get through the crowd, but it was well organized, and only required a short period of line waiting.  On each of the tickets there was a letter indicating when you would line up for an autograph.  I had the letter H, and even though it took nearly two hours to get that far into the line, it wasn’t necessary to line up until that letter was called, and from there it only took about 15-20 minutes to get through the line (including a perfectly reasonable request by Alton to allow people with children under the age of 7 into the line ahead of us so they could get home at a reasonable time.) 


In the end, I came away with an autographed copy of Alton’s latest book to join the autographed (and in some cases badly worn) copies of two of his other books, a couple of awkward badly lit photos (yeah, my teeth are pretty horrible, I suspect I’ll be sending some dentist’s kid to college one of these days.)  And no, I have no idea why he needed a can of whipped cream up there.  All in all, it was a pretty nice way to spend a Friday evening, and if I can manage to wade through all 3 1/2 pounds of the book, I’m sure I’ll enjoy that as well.

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