Transmitted on the AP Wires on June 13 & 16, 2003 as send to me by Amy Voll
For Use Any Time
Cookbook without culinary jargon is a winner
AP Photos NY601-NY603
By JUDE MAHONEY
For AP Weekly Features
ATLANTA (AP) _ Alton Brown looks more like the boy next door than the author of an award-winning cookbook. His wardrobe includes an impressive assortment of Hawaiian shirts, and he's more likely to host his Food Network cooking show, "Good Eats," clad in a leather jacket than pristine chef's whites.
Brown keeps his professional credentials, which include a degree from the University of Georgia and a diploma from the New England Culinary Institute, firmly under wraps.
He also loathes "culinary jargon" and says he consciously avoids it in his book, "I'm Just Here for the Food" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2002, $32.50). In May, the work was named the year's best cooking reference book by the James Beard Foundation.
"I don't talk like a chef. I talk more like a guy, an engineer, or maybe a weekend mechanic," Brown said, in a recent interview.
"I don't have a cuisine and I'm not `dish oriented.' That's a siren song I find relatively useless as a teaching aid. I'm just trying to help people find their way through the cooking process. And my hope is that once they understand the process, they won't need me anymore."
Brown wrote "I'm Just Here for the Food" in the same vein as Julia Child's classic work, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" as a textbook, a series of cooking lessons with recipes designed to provide practice.
According to Brown, "Most cookbooks focus on recipes. That's their reason for being. But I wanted to communicate a series of concepts, like the use of heat as an ingredient, then use the recipes like mathematical proofs for theorems."
He's done it well. There are 10 technique-based chapters on searing, grilling, roasting, frying, boiling, braising (including pressure-cooking), brining, sauces, eggs and microwaving. They offer clear and specific step-by-step instructions.
In the margins and other quirky inserts, Brown includes notes explaining such details as why fried foods should not be drained on paper towels or newspaper, and how to make a "sturdy" sandwich.
Brown illustrated the book himself, eschewing luxe photographs in favor of campy cartoons and informative diagrams, like the "Critter Maps" of cuts of beef, pork, lamb and poultry, in the appendix.
"Popular culture is a junk drawer for me. I'll use anything I find in there if it will help me cut to the chase with the audience," he said.
"I take terms like `hardware' and `software,' from popular culture, and use them in a cooking context, as analogies and models."
One cartoon features "The Lucy and Ethel Model" of heat conduction, while an on again, off-again grilling technique is dubbed "The Liz and Dick Method."
Brown thinks the audience for his book is probably the same as the audience for "Good Eats," almost exactly half male and half female. He's not saying how old they are, but his constant references to '60s pop culture must hit home with audiences of a certain age.
"I'm a conceptual MacGyver," he said with a laugh, likening himself to the baby boom-era television sleuth-gadgeteer.
It's an apt comparison. In one memorable episode, MacGyver made a bazooka from a bamboo tube, charcoal and rock salt, then escaped from an upper-story window via a pulley fashioned from clothesline and a coffee can.
In a hilarious episode of "Good Eats," Brown teaches a trailer-dwelling bachelor friend how to choose a cut of beef by dissecting a white-and-brown cow-shaped cake in the deli section of a supermarket.
They buy a pot roast and head to the trailer, where Brown discovers that his friend doesn't own a pot, measuring cup, or much of anything else. (He usually eats at his mother's.)
Brown bravely improvises, measuring liquids with a coffee mug, making a "pot" from numerous layers of aluminum foil, then popping the meat into the trailer's pint-sized oven.
Although he's famous for improvising, Brown believes in having the right tools for the job. Over the last year, he's been trying to "pare down" his kitchen, which he claims was "overflowing" with stuff.
His new book on the subject, "Alton Brown's Gear for the Kitchen," is due out this fall.
"I really want to help people understand what they're doing in this half laboratory-half playroom we call a kitchen. I wouldn't care if people didn't cook a single recipe in my book, if they just read it, absorb the knowledge, and use it sometime."
Brown says this chicken recipe "sums up everything I love about cooking - it is amazingly easy, requires only one pan ... and makes the house smell like the south of France."
Chicken in Garlic and Shallots
Application: Slow Frying
Last Edited on 08/27/2010