Saturday, May 14, 2011

Goodbye Good Eats

With the last few episodes of the Food Network’s Good Eats slated to air in the coming months, I thought I'd take a post to reflect on the show. For its first half dozen seasons it was one of my favorite cooking shows, Alton Brown’s ability to weave cooking, science, and entertainment together not only taught me about food history/science/etymology/lore but also inspired me to cook interesting recipes when I was just starting to fend for myself in the kitchen during college.

On top of that, the homebrewing episode (Amber Waves of Grain) was one of the things that first got me interested in homebrewing. However, that episode was also one of the causes of my eventual loss of interest in the show. During the course of the episode, while brewing an extract beer, Alton makes numerous mistakes in both technique and terminology: he boils the steeping grains, doesn't rinse the bleach sanitizer, calls flame-out hops “dry-hopping” etc… A few years ago I read an interview in which he stated that his goal for  the episode was not teach homebrewing, but to get people interested enough to visit a homebrew shop (I realize you can’t explain everything about making beer in 22 minutes, but that is no excuse for incorrect information). I understand that he isn’t an experienced homebrewer and that the episode succeeded in bringing attention to homebrewing, but it made me think that if he could make such elementary mistakes with beer, who’s to say he wasn’t doing the same thing with sushi, ravioli, or science?  I mean he isn't an experienced sushi chef, pasta maker, or scientist either.

This is one of the lessons I’ve tried to take for my blog, if I’m not sure of something I try to make that clear. I’ve always been hesitant to post on subjects that I’m not experienced with (that is to say pretty much anything besides beer). Most of you don't get to try what I make, you have to take my word for how good they are, so I’ve worked over the last few years to build trust, and I don’t want to blow it by writing something uninformed about a subject I don’t know well.

Alton's endorsement of Miller Lite was just about as bad as Todd English's endorsement of Michelob. The other nail in the coffin was Alton's endorsement of Miller Lite. I know, I know, if Miller drove a dump truck of money up to my house and asked me to endorse their new sour beer I'd probably go for it… but it still reflects poorly on a man who often preaches the value of eating local, interesting foods.

I still watch Good Eats when I happen to flip by it (which is rare these days since I don’t have cable), but when I do it seems to have lost a step over the last few seasons. During that time Alton often rehashed the same 4-5 general scientific concepts that had been covered in previous seasons using new models/demos (e.g. emulsions, brining, starches, yeast, and coagulation) without exploring new more complex ideas. I’m not sure if that stagnation speaks more to Alton, or the current environment of the Food Network. It is a shame to see the network that once had real chefs making interesting food reduced to countless shows about cooking quick n’ easy (or just eating).


Jim Lemire said...

I share your thoughts about this show exactly. I was a loyal fan for a long time an I credit it with making me more comfortable in the kitchen and no longer reliant on recipes. The homebrewing episode also got me interested in making beer - I was like "you can do that at home?!?!.". Luckily I didn't jump right in usin that episode as my guide - I did a lot more research before brewing my first kit.

Good Eats was an important show, but one whose time is past.

Shane said...

I didn't know Good Eats was going to be done soon. Kind of disappointing, I've always liked the show. I haven't had cable for years, though, so I've only seen a few episodes from the last few seasons.

The Good Eats books (at least the first one, "Early Years") are pretty good books, also.

Unknown said...

It's one of those shows that I will miss, even though I never watch it. I watched GE long before I started homebrewing, but didn't see that episode until long after I was an experienced brewer. I was so appalled by that episode that, like you, it made me wonder what else he's leading people astray about.

Alton has a wonderful way of explaining complicated concepts in a unique, entertaining way. Unfortunately, I think he became a victim of his own back catalog. In that situation, I wouldn't want to repeat myself. But I also wouldn't want to assume everyone has already seen every previous episode. Maybe it's best to just bow out and do something different.

I have no comment on the Miller Lite thing. Sometimes there's no accounting for (lack of) taste.

Tim said...

Pretty much agree with everything here. As far as the mistakes in the beer episode, you'll find that in anything written for a wide audience on a subject you have expertise in. It's a good reminder to always read/watch things critically.

I think the real problem is the direction the Food Network is going. Seems to be an endless competition of trying to make great food from a weird ingredient combination in under 20 minutes.

Anonymous said...

It was one of the better cooking shows at the beginning at least, but he had a lot of issues I think with recipes and such just like with the home brewing episode as you stated.

As for the Miller Lite ads (news to me), well that just made me loose all respect for him, what he preached, sold, etc.
I can not believe the way people will just sell themselves these days. I am not buying the money thing as everyone damn well knows it is not a money issue. You see this crap everyday, artists, musicians, celebrities, etc. selling anything and everything completely opposite of what they supposedly "stand for". It saddens me every time I see something like that.

Eddie said...

I like Alton, my dad hates him. I think he makes otherwise bland information at least palatable. If he indeed did mess up on the beer brewing episode, I cant blame the guy. He's the talking head, the figure at the front. There are other guys back there that could have helped him out a little with the research know...TV accuracy. I think making people interested in homebrewing could be the only merit he needed by itself. If anyone actually tried to brew a beer from TV without any research on the matter using extract, they'd fail. I dont think the design was meant to be a step by step following recipe. It was designed to be an overview in which the viewer does at least a little bit of digging before jumping in.

Paul! said...

good post. I haven't seen anything from that show in the last few years and will probably keep it that way so as to not spoil the memory.
I think Alton Brown is the Charlie Papazian of the cooking world. An inspiring teacher but ultimately full of some miss information.

WallyGIII said...

Wow. I've been a Good Eats fan for a long time - I use his salt mill daily. I learned more about cooking from Alton than from any other single source. I'm a "need to know why" kinda guy - which is one of the things I love about homebrewing.
Granted, the past few seasons have not been as strong, and there has been a lot of re-hashing of concepts. And I do take most of his recipes and techniques understanding that they are ideas, not gospel - a lot like a lot of homebrewing books.

But - Miller Lite? It flies in the face of everything Alton says he stands for. Buy local, buy responsible, bring more flavor to the party.

I'll never look at him the same again.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Granted that Miller ad was a few years ago, before he really started on the "local" kick, but still. Glad I didn't offend anyone too badly. I agree on the Papazian analogy, I have a lot of respect for what he has accomplished, but that doesn’t mean I’d follow his advice blindly.

America’s Test Kitchen has been a good replacement for Good Eats. I was also on a Bittman kick for a couple months after he published his top 25 recipes from the Minimalist.

Anyone have suggestions for good cooking blogs? I have a problem trusting most of them.

Anonymous said...

I think Anthony Bourdain described Alton well in a rant about the food network:

"That’s a pretty brainy show. I’m shocked that it’s been on that long. Usually, anything remotely intelligent on the Food Network gets canceled. I don’t know what happened, but he’s on every other show on that network now. He legitimizes even their most atrocious product. He’s kind of the front man for some of the various dubious enterprises. I think “Good Eats” is a good and smart show. His commentary on “Iron Chef” doesn’t suck. You actually learn something! Of the Food Network personalities, he’s a welcome anomaly"

Paul! said...

Check out the Smitten Kitchen blog. The dish's are inspired and the blog owner has definitely realized the importance of building trust with her readers. Some elements of it actually remind me of your blog.

Chris' Brew Log said...

Paul!'s first comment was perfect. When I joined my beer club and (somewhat) criticized "How to Brew", some of the older members looked at me funny. It is great Charlie and Alton got people into the two hobbies, but I do appreciate correct information.

Andrew said...

The Food Network seems to be going the route of MTV.

The network initially focused on cooking shows with real chefs, much like MTV originally focused on (gasp) music.

Currently, the focus is certainly on the competition, eating, and entertainment shows. I saw that because these tend to be the prime time and weekend programs. The actual cooking programs are relegated to weekday mornings/afternoons and late night.

They also have the "Cooking Channel" now, which I essentially see as MTV2. This is pretty much all cooking programs, though I find the quality of most of those shows to be mediocre at best.

Anonymous said...

South Park hits the nail on the head of what food network is like. Hillarious episode to

Let's Get Reasonable said...

I think the episode where Alton "jumped the shark" was the one where Alton was on stage and narrated the behind-the-scenes clips.

I used to watch GE and other Food Network "recipe" and "technique" style shows during prime time, but since they went to mostly cooking competition/challenge shows, I don't watch anymore.

Abigail said...

Simply Recipes is a great food/cooking blog. I've made many of her recipes (eggplant parmesan and scratch brownies just yesterday) with success. She posts nice clear pictures, too.