“Don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
In four simple words, Alton Brown laid out his approach to parenting when it comes to picky eaters. It’s not the terrorists – er, children – who get to decide what to eat, the celebrity chef told a sold-out crowd at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts recently.
But even Brown, the host of such Food Network shows as “Good Eats” and “Cutthroat Kitchen,” knows that pint-sized willpower can be formidable. So, when faced with a request like serving chicken fingers at his daughter’s slumber party, it’s best to remember one basic fact:
“Chickens don’t have fingers.”
Ask any ornithologist. You’ll hear the same thing. Chicken and fingers are not part of the same equation, Brown said, to the great amusement of an audience made up of plenty of parents and more than a few kids.
Brown’s way of dealing with the chicken finger request was to give his daughter the closest approximation he could come up with: He fried up some chicken feet, which he served to her gaggle of girlfriends, much to their shrieking horror.
It was a classic Alton Brown story, filled with the trademark humor and storytelling skills that he has displayed for the past 15 years on his TV shows. But the surprise for some of us was that Brown so easily transcended the limitations imposed by the formats of his various shows and shaped an evening of more than two hours that was consistently engaging, even when he was rapping or singing about the dire consequences of eating a bad shrimp in an airport restaurant.
The evening started with a list of culinary truths that Brown has been able to discern in his career. They included the grotesque: “Trout don’t belong in ice cream” And they covered the sensible: “Don’t leave out the NaCl (salt).” Each was accompanied by a story from some point in the chef’s life and career.
The salt story stemmed from the time that Brown left the salt out of a batch of bread he was making for a restaurant where he worked. Bread without salt? “Two words,” he said. “Communion wafers. … Nobody asks for seconds.”
That would be too short to be the whole story, of course. So, Brown went on to tell of how his salt-less dough, which he tried to hide in a dumpster, soon became a blob that kept expanding and “burping and farting” as it grew, he said.
“It’s alive!” he screamed, echoing Dr. Frankenstein.
An Alton Brown show wouldn’t be complete without some of the chef’s outlandish gadgetry, which appeared complete with audience participation and a cameraman who followed close on his trail. One was an ice cream maker that produced frozen chocolate fun in a matter of seconds. The second was Brown’s adult response to the Easy Bake oven that he had as a child and melted when he swapped out the 100-watt light bulb for a 150-watt beauty. Brown’s Mega Bake was so bright it could reach a brilliance level of more than 1 million lumens. It was so bright, it could be “seen from outer space,” he boasted.
Brown took the Mega Bake and showed how you could cook pizza in 3.5 minutes. But first he and audience member Millie demonstrated how to toss pizza dough while enjoying margaritas. The chef also decided the two would use salsa instead of pizza sauce as a base, which gave the final product a great kick and proved to be the best time-saving cooking tip of the evening.
Brown closed out his show with some questions from the audience.
What is the chef’s single most important kitchen tool? Spring-loaded tongs.
What was his favorite “Good Eats” episode? The garlic show from season five.
What is his favorite guilty pleasure? “Bourbon,” he quipped, before explaining that he loved Fritos dipped in caramel sauce. “Freaking awesome,” he cried. That discovery came about when he was once again trying to make something for his daughter and her friends.
What would his Final 4 of pastries be? Brown started with two savory choices: buttermilk biscuits and croissants. Then he chose two sweets: strawberry-rhubarb pie and glazed doughnuts. After settling on biscuits and doughnuts as the finalists, he crowned doughnuts the winner.
The real winner was the audience, though, for Alton Brown confirmed why he and his shows have remained popular in a cutthroat industry and attention-deficit market. He even throws in a few devastating comments about or impersonations of fellow hosts like Sandra Lee and, of course, his “Food Network Star” co-star Giada De Laurentiis at no extra charge.