Alton Brown at the Pabst Theater
Alton Brown cracked open a Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboy, inciting the Pabst Theater crowd to cheer for the Food Network chef Saturday night. Brown, best know for his Good Eats show, presided over a 75-minute question and answer session. Brown spoke of his fictional presidential campaign, the perfect Wisconsin fish fry, taboo foods in the eyes of Food Network, as well as his stance on organic foods. Brown approaches cooking scientifically, but the Pabst show was not just about the molecular properties of food. He played it more like a comedy routine.
Good Eats is pretty funny, too. Brown won over inexperienced foodies with his science-based cooking lessons, unusual props, and eccentric supporting characters. The current tour promotes Good Eats 3, the final book in his series. The television show is in its 13th and final season.
Brown said Good Eats has to end because of his presidential campaign. And there was just no way that he would be willing to give the show to someone like Guy Fieri. After the crowd heard his platform — taking over Mexico — everyone realized that it was all in good fun. In reality, a show about foods that change the world is next on Brown’s agenda. It will focus on the history of food and its influence on cultures.
“Our culture is shattered,” he said. “We don’t share things in common anymore. We still have food in common. Food connects us to each other and to our past.”
Brown, in a large leather chair sat opposite his host, Lanora Haradon, of the Next Chapter Book Shop. She relayed questions audience members had written on slips of paper as they entered the theater. The two of them sipped on their PBR tallboys throughout the interview. Brown, armed with an iPad, also fielded questions the audience emailed to him.
When asked why he started cooking, Brown explained that it was part of his strategy to get dates in college. He had a three-meal system of recipes he could afford, which he had pulled from the library’s collection of food magazines. He referred to the third meal as the closer. Ingredients for that dinner could also work as breakfast. He admitted that his strategy never got him that far.
The science background, Brown explained, didn’t come naturally to him at first. He failed many of his science courses in high school. But while in culinary school in his thirties, he realized that those principles would help him to be a better cook. So he took to the library and started studying.
He explained his three requirements for a good Wisconsin fish fry: beer, perch, and thin crisp batter. While there was some debate with the audience about the type of fish — popular substitutes included walleye or cod — everyone agreed on the importance of beer.
“Cooking with beer is like cooking with anything else, except you are drinking beer,” he joked.
Brown is very enthusiastic about cooking with game. He especially likes rabbit, including the internal organs, but no amount of convincing could get Food Network to allow him to feature those ingredients. “I blame Disney,” he said.
Brown related several culinary adventures that he and his family had experienced. He realized too late how wrong it was to turn his wife’s breast milk into butter. He also remarked to his wife that she needed to add more oregano to her pasta sauce, which led him to realize that no matter who you are, your wife is the best cook you have ever met in your life. His daughter is also a tough critic. At a holiday dinner table, she sampled his Yorkshire pudding, and piped up, “So – what happened here?”
Brown believes the best hot dog topping to be slaw in the South and kraut in the North. His list of comfort foods includes cheeseburgers, pizza, and duck confit. The word organic became useless to him when the government got involved; he encourages everyone to buy local whenever possible.
Who does he look up to in the food world? “Anyone with a job.”
Staff handed out copies of Good Eats 3 as fans entered the theater. At the end, fans filed into Cudahy’s Irish Pub to get their copies autographed.