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Cookbook Reviews

Title: Good Eats-The Early Years
Author: Alton Brown
Category: Cookbooks
Rating: ****
Today’s Date: 01/29/2012

The Early Years is the autobiography of Alton Brown’s first six seasons of Good Eats, with an episode by episode elaboration, full of side notes, out-takes, inside peeks, and trivia galore. For all this, it works for uninitiated readers, too; it’s fast paced and highly visual, a quite entertaining, fat book full of illustrations, drawings and photographs.

Written to fans of the television show, this book is for any “foodie”–it is full of personality, humor, character and individuality, but it is also loaded with thoughtful asides and clever tips based on practical experience. Good Eats is rollicking good fun and sensibly informative.

80 episodes are chronicled, with humorous titles which rather blunt the usefulness of the table of contents. Fortunately for us, the index is eminently practical. Each show has an individual theme. 1:7, “The dough also rises”, on southern biscuits and shortcake, warning baking is a science, and fiddling with the recipe has consequences; 2:17, “Apple family values”, on waldorf salad and applesauce, and the resurgence of regional apple varieties; 3:34, “Three chips for sister Marsha”, on chocolate chip cookies, and little changes with big results; 5:60, “Scrap iron chef: bacon challenge”, on roast bacon and bacon viaigrette with grilled radicchio, asking ‘If you’re going to consume a product that’s more than half fat, shouldn’t it be the best you can get?’

Every good experience is an experiment, right? This book invites you to step out of your comfort zone and understand what you’re doing, all at the same time. In almost 400 pages, there are 140+ recipes, aimed at flavor, satisfaction and appeal… but not so much at calories, nutrition or health. Largely a history of the program, this book is also an interesting recipe book, a good cooking tutorial, and a paean to food, cooking, and eating. The show didn’t let the cooking get in the way of a good program, and the book doesn’t let the show get in the way, either.

Brown is flamboyant, shameless, and daring, and he has a compelling need to be cute. In his defense, he does know his science. Every episode includes ‘knowledge concentrate’, which provides appropriate etymology, types and definitions, scientific explanations, practical recommendations and cautions, done with a minimum of silliness. 4:48, “The egg-files III: let them eat foam”, for example, discusses foam, how eggs work, why sugar helps, definitions of medium and stiff peaks, and tube pans.

Every bit of this book breathes Alton Brown enjoying himself as a big food star: his curiosity, his sense of humor and his priorities. It is full of talent, chutzpah, and skill. If you’ve seen any of his shows, this book does a good job of replicating the program on paper–without the manic pace, noise and free-ranging restlessness. If you haven’t, it may whet your appetite, but all the gist is here.
Learning should be interesting, and on this, Alton Brown is brilliant. A good read, and warmly recommended.

Submitted by: J Mark Schmearer