Book Signing Report #2

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Below are reports of Alton's Book Signing tour in August &
September, 2002 written by fellow fans who attended.

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BILTMORE ESTATES, ASHVILLE, NC (Aug 17-18): By chefshawn

8/17/02, Biltmore Winery Front Door, 0920 hours
Of course, I arrive early, just in case. As the crowd of season pass holders builds to about 20 or so, I stand in line as small conversations carry on around me. Not once did I hear the words "website, fan page, or message board." So, I felt like the only one of us that got to go to this showing.

A few short minutes later, Alton walks up and joins us all in line. Apparently, since the door in front of us is closed, then the same door must also be closed to him. So, he just hung out with us for a few minutes, until we were all let in, when he tried to explain to the doorman with "the list" that he had no ticket. Nonetheless, they let him in. Go figure.

Ok, first impression: cool guy. VERY down to earth, VERY quick witted, and VERY funny. Inside, we all found the best seats we could, and since he had about 25 minutes by now to kill before the official start of the demo, he started a simple batch of chili (IJHFTF, pg 174, I think) in an unnamed pressure cooker (here on called "pc"). Even when asked what pc he was using, he shifted his answer to a description of it, rather than gave its brand name. He suggested that there are many good pc's available, ranging in price from $40 to $300+. I thought this was a very clever way out of having his name attached to it. Even now, I don't know which one it was, but I would know it in a store if I saw it.

MOVING ON! while he spent the next few minutes browning meat for his chili, he continued chatting and taking many questions. I did not record the event, nor do I have means of fast note taking on my palm pilot. But, I did note some Q-n-A's that I thought were interesting:

  1. He thinks bathrooms are the best things at fancy restaurants. I need to send him a suggestion to check out those at Blue Pointe in Atlanta, being the coolest I've ever seen.
  2. THE EGG FILE QUESTION! As promised, I asked, "how many egg shows have you actually made?" and, d***it, if he didn't have an answer at the ready. "Ha, ha, I HAVE made five, but I decided to keep that a mystery." As it turns out, not all of them were NUMBERED. Think of all the shows focusing on eggs: mayo, soufflé, flan, angel food, and whatever the other one was that I cant remember right now. So, there you have it.
  3. He prefers knives with micro-serrations over the classic French straight blades.
  4. The hardest show he ever made was scrap iron chef. Reasons include the fact that no props were taken to the site. Everything in those junkyard scenes came from that junkyard. Also, there were 75 camera setups per day of filming.
  5. Someone asked about a bloopers tape (rerun question, I know), and he handed back his "It's not possible yet without an r rating" answer.
  6. NEWS NEWS NEWS!!! by X-Mas of this year, 18 more episodes will be on DVD. Whether or not this will include a first season set was not mentioned, but I feel is unlikely or else he probably would have said so.
  7. When asked what was his favorite show to produce, he told the questioner to pick her favorite child. Instead, she asked his favorite food, then. He gave two answers to that one: on death row, his last request would be duck confit. He then reminded us of how it is made, tried to describe how much he loved it, and then pointed out that he would have it as a last meal also because it takes about four days to prepare properly, hee hee hee hee. His other answer? A good cheeseburger.
  8. So, anyway, someone in the crowd that I had spoken with had mentioned to him that I am from Huntsville, Alabama. He perked up, and noted that he would love to get in touch with some one at the space and rocket center to play with some zero gravity cooking. HOW COOL WAS THIS! Ha ha! I'm the chef at the space and rocket center (for those unaware)! So, I welcomed him to call me anytime, and we could go play. I only wish that these chat sessions weren't such rapid-fire, and that his attention span was longer than that of a housefly at a Mississippi picnic.

Ok, so he made chili. The hour long demo was quite interesting, as we learned everything we ever need to know about the history of pressure cookers, the presence of pressure cookers, and all the reasons that he loves his pressure cooker. I'm sure I speak for at least 70% of the non-pressure-cooker-owning group of demo-viewers when I say, "Man, I gotta go get me a pressure cooker." I'm sold.
The chili he made was as simple as in the book. Brown the meat, deglaze with beer, add salsa, add chips, add seasonings, add some more chips, lock and cook. I don't recall him ever even stirring it. 25 minutes later we had salsa.

We learned several things that I simply do not feel (at this time) to elaborate on, such as:

bulletTake off the pressure cooker's lid and check the pot, you want the best pot you can get for your money.
bulletOil the meat, not the pan, before browning.
bulletSalt the meat lightly before browning.
bulletDon't crowd the pan, sear properly, and in batches if necessary.
bulletIf a processed ingredient is good, USE IT! Not everything needs to be fresh all the time, don't be ridiculous! His recipe included salsa, which today (I noticed) was pace picante sauce.
bulletWhen he uses garlic, he uses a lot. He rarely uses garlic for the sake of simply adding garlic. Note his chicken and forty cloves
bulletHis beef was in very large chunks, of up to an ounce a piece, not ground up.
bulletNo beans in his chili (hey, to each his own, right?).
bulletMany, many details were given about pressure cookers.
bulletMy turn again: when I asked him, "you use chipotle peppers in that pot of chili, and you pointed out that you like your chili spicy. Can you think of any conceivable use for a 7.1 million Scoville unit hot sauce?" He went on to remind us of the Scoville system, and the fact that he prefers flavor over pain, and that no, he could think of no possible culinary use that would appeal to him. He then wondered about the 7.1 million rating, and thought that maybe that wasn't even accurate, that it was beyond the scale. Maybe chilebriano should remind Alton about the 16 million rating of pure capsaicin.
bulletAfter cooking, and demo-ing, the chili was up for tasting, as well as all of the Biltmore Estate wines (which, in my opinion are good whites, a decent pink, bad merlot, and worse from there on up. I did not taste the premium wines of the estate, you had to pay for those samples.) There were two batches of chili to taste at this demo. There was the batch he had just prepared, as well as one prepared a day earlier by the Biltmore staff. Alton pointed out that this would give tasters a chance to notice what happens to chili when you eat it the next day. what Alton had not expected was that the woman that made yesterdays chili went to culinary school in England and did not brown her meat. So, there were two differences we were told to look for. In my opinion, I believe it was a close call between the two. It was obviously the same recipe, but the flavor was slightly different. Honestly, I felt that Alton had over-browned today's meat. There was a faint hint of burnt in the chili. Hers, however, was missing that little bit of "umami" that is indescribable in a good pot of chili. The spiffiest part of it? In only 30 minutes total time, that beef was pulled from the chili pot and you could spread it with a spoon, it was so tender.
bulletFollowing the chili, was the rapid fire book signing. I got in my place and was herded along with the rest. Many photos were taken. At my turn, he signed a bottle of my mom's favorite Biltmore wine, a Biltmore Estate guide each for me and my guest, and a birthday greeting inside a copy of IJHFTF for my best friend in VA. Then, I took a moment to present him with two color printed copies of AB on IC. I described it as he took 5 wild-eyed seconds to flip through it. he was very impressed, and seemed he couldn't wait to read it. that made MY day.
bulletSide note: I included a copy of my resume in the same folder with a cover letter noting my willingness to work for him and his production company. In the hurried fashion that book-signings are, however, I did not get a chance to mention that to him. Maybe he'll find it and be intrigued to at least respond in some way, maybe not. But, he got my gift, and the best I can hope for is that he gets a good laugh, and maybe shares it with some friends.

THEN! That was it! At least, for the early show. I had lunch at the winery's bistro with my companions that afternoon, and got to the 330 demo rather late. Seeing the packed crowd, I knew I wasn't getting close. This was a open-to-all show, and well over 100 people were enjoying the inhalation of the beef smoke in the air. But, remembering the layout of the attached bistro, I managed to sneak into the side entrance and sit down, just stage right of front row (any body from the site remember the big guy in white, with the blue shirt? That's me!) This demo was an entertaining review of all that I had learned earlier, but was, of course, not exactly the same. I did not bother to taste this chili or get any other signatures, the crowd was just too outrageous. Instead my companions (now tipsy from wine tasting) followed me from the estate, back to our hotel.

I did not go to the Sunday show. I'm not sure if it was more chili or not. with a six hour uncomfortable drive home, I was quite ready to leave immediately after lunch.

Hmm ... that's about it. There's plenty more, but I really don't feel like looking at this screen anymore. I'll be glad to answer any specific questions anyone may have, though.

And yes, I did take some pictures. Only a few of Alton, though, and we must all hope now for the best that they come out well. I will post them by the end of the week ... maybe. And by the way, what the hell is up with the world? How often do you want to get two pictures of something (one right after the other), such as a me-n-him shot, only to have your camera run out of film after one?! you can't reload while the others are waiting! what is up with that?!

ANYway, again, this is chef "learn-something-new-everyday" shawn, signing off

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8/16 - We made it to Asheville around 3 in the afternoon (about a 4 and 1/2 hour trip from Raleigh). Although I know this board's readers are mostly interested in "Alton adventures", I feel it would be remise of me not to mention our late afternoon/evening spent touring the NC Arboretum! What a fabulous place! There were only about four or five other people there and we walked trails and visited all the various gardens. If you ever have the opportunity to see this place, DON'T miss it!! Thanks Lee for the suggestion. Later that evening we went downtown and walked around for awhile trying to find a place to eat ... everything was kinda crowded and a bit pricey (for us), but we finally settled on what seemed to be a college hang out called the College Street Pub - food was great, prices very reasonable - service lacking (guess the waitress was only expecting a "college student type" tip - no offence meant to college students).

8/17 - We arrived at the Biltmore at about 10:00 AM. Did a tour of the mansion and this place is massive!!! My favorite room was the Winter Garden room! I also really enjoyed the outdoor gardens and Conservatory, but it was starting to get a bit warm by that time and we wanted to get to the winery by 12:30 so we kinda rushed that part a bit. The whole place is very amazing, but it was a bit hard for me to get past the ostentatiousness of it all ... but of course, what did I expect ... it is a mansion :-)

Once we arrived at the Winery, we made a beeline through the tour to the room where the demonstration was to be held arriving at 12:40. I think the folks in the tasting room were a bit surprised when we said we would pass on their kind offer to sip. We took our seats on the second row. Front row was available, in fact the only other folks in the place were a very nice couple on the front row, but we opted for second row - end of the aisle - clear view - well until later, I won't go into that here! AND THE WAIT BEGAN -- yes we took turns venturing out, had plans to try and snag a bite for lunch along the way somewhere, but the Bistro was backed up so we settle on water and pita chips we had in the car. The folks working in the gift shop came to where the seating was on at least three different occasions to ask if those of us waiting were aware that the demo didn't start until 3:30 - I'm not sure if they were shocked we would sit and wait for so long or amused!! Amazingly, however, the almost three hour wait when by very quickly

Alton arrived right on time to a loud roar from the crowd. After the Biltmore employee introduced him, albeit no introduction necessary, the employee asked if he had enjoyed his horse-drawn carriage ride of the Biltmore Estate - Alton smiled and sniffed his hands as he was putting on his apron ... laughter through the crowd. Shawn did an outstanding job of detailing the cooking details of the earlier demo and it sounds as if it was very similar to the afternoon session ... so ... I'll just give you the highlights of some of the more funny and interesting moments of the afternoon show.

  1. Alton mentioned that the crowd was a bit on the quiet side. A guy from the sidelines said ... "we're just in awe". Alton's response ..." well then you need to get a life!!"
  2. The cooking assistant from the Biltmore was Martha ... and yes ... he had a bit of fun with that!!! Comments like "it's nice having an assistant named Martha ... you know it's a Good Thing"
  3. When he was first putting on his micro-phone ... he joked around about not feeling comfortable in it ... then preceded to say he felt like he was working at Wendy's and started asking for an order ... "would you like a frosty with that". Later he hit the headgear and almost knocked it off his head and said ... "I think I need to take lessons from Madonna".
  4. During a question and answer period he was getting rather verbose during a response but was just about to step back to the other side of the cooking counter when Martha said "you have another question in the back" He responded with "question ... oh ... I was just going to continue to rant ... what question could possible be more important that the next thing I was about to say". Of course, as all GE fans know, he's humor can be a bit sarcastic, and he moved back out to the crowd and very kindly answered the question.
  5. Alton posed many questions to the audience (I.e. - how do you know when the pot is hot enough for searing) and one guy up front answered one question very knowledgeably - don't remember the question. Alton asked him if he was a chief and the guy said no, I've just learned it all from you by watching Good Eats. Alton smiled and took a little bow of sorts. Later Alton was discussing the chili in reference to leftovers and was asking the crowd ... "now the next day when you want to warm the chili what will you need to do" the same guy said "heat it" and Alton said "well yes, heat it, that's usually what you have to do to warm it ... what episode of Good Eats did you get that out of" MUCH LAUGHTER ... and the guy who asked it took the jab in the sprit in which it was given, with very good humor. What Alton said he was trying to get to is that you'd have to stir it, thus breaking apart the meat into a consistency similar to Brunswick stew, which he personally likes.

These are just a few of the highlights he wrapped things up at about 4:45 and the sampling of the chili began. It was fantastic (and not just because we were starving) ... a little spicy and I think I might tone it down a bit, but it was definitely something I want to try. I first, will need to get a pressure cooker, although he said the same recipe would work in the oven. However, a pressure cooker on my Christmas list sounds good.

Okay we hadn't had enough (although I'm sure those of you reading this wish I had so that I'd end this novel), not to mention I didn't even bring my book with me nor my gifts for Alton (had planned on the book signing) so ... we left and went back to the Hotel. On the way we stopped at the gas station right beside the hotel and the car wouldn't start back - hey Shawn in reference to you running out of film. .. Murphy's Law was with us too. We immediately called AAA and an hour later the guy came and gave us a jump - it turned out we needed a new battery. It's now 6:15 and off we go to K-Mart. My sweet husband dashes in, gets a battery, screwdrivers, & wrenches, changes the battery and we hold our breath as we attempt to restart the car. It starts and we are on our way. Hubby drops me off right in front of the store and goes to find a parking space. We were next to last in a line (if you want to call it a line), BUT WE WERE THERE!! My husband joins me in line and after a few moments I discover I have my book in the backpack, but not the gifts ... so ... once again ... the wonderful man saves the day and dashes back to the car to retrieve them.

At last we're at the signing table. Alton extends his hand to me, introduces himself I try to breath and tell him my name at the same time ... I then started to give him the gifts, but he pauses for a moment and looks and my husband and says and "You're ...??" He then jokes "... Oh she just forgets all about you standing here" and Hubby jokes "yes she would with YOU standing there". Alton was incredibly nice and VERY FUNNY! He signed two cards I brought for my kids - To Bryan: Don't run with knives. To Melissa: Sorry you couldn't make it. He signed our book "May the food be with you" I gave him some fresh rosemary from my home garden, a small cookbook that details famous recipes from NC Plantations & other famous places (I.e. The Governor's Mansion), and the most important thing I brought for him, a piece of pottery I made last year. It was my favorite and best piece and I told him I was a wanna-be potter. He said "No - if you were a wana-be potter this would be a hunk of clay - but it is a pot, and a nice one; therefore, you should say you are a potter". He posed for a picture with me. Just before I stepped away I told him how much I love his show, plan the night around it, and LOVE THE LAUGHS!!! Of course, later, there were things I wished I had said & done - not to mention not forgetting my husband was standing next to me :-) My husband assured me, however, if I had tried to say more, Alton might have thought ... okay girl ... enough is enough. I'm sure all you reading this are thinking that about now!!!!

On a final note, we took a lot of pictures during the demo at the Biltmore. I'm not exactly sure how to post them here, so if someone wants to tell me how to do that, I'll be happy to after I get them developed. I also taped the entire demo. Other than the side of the head of the man who moved into the center of the aisle - front row - just before the show started, the tape is outstanding!!!! I'm sooooooo glad I have it, but have promised my hubby I won't make him watch it OVER AND OVER.

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I've decided to no longer maintain book signing reports. Sorry for the inconvience.


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Last Edited on 08/27/2010