Meeting Alton Brown

You watch a show for eight years, remarking every single time how original and informative, smart and funny it is. You imgine it would be great to meet the talented person who made it. You would be urbane and sophisticated and crack an erudite joke or two. And then, pretty unexpectedly, you meet him. And all you think to say is…

“Hello, I’m Sharmila.”

The Bay Area Science Festival brought Alton Brown and his presentation “Ten Things About Food I Feel Pretty Sure About” to the Castro Theater last Saturday. Amidst the meandering crowds of the Castro, the weekend before Halloween, the queue weaved and heaved around the block starting early afternoon, hours before the presentation.

As the day turned to dusk and the lights of the neighbourhood got brighter, we started moving into the theater where we were met with a nice surprise. The inimitable Mr. Brown decided he was going to greet everyone attending the show at the door. We turned the corner and there he was meeting and greeting every single person. What a class act! But his being at the door in that fashion, it was surreal. My brain was so taken aback that it temporarily suspended all processing capabilities, as amply demonstrated above.
We were then ushered into the theater, which we had never been to before. What a gorgeous old-fashioned place. It reminded me of some of Bombay’s old art deco cinema theaters, on a much more cosy scale. The ramped seating ensures you have a very clear view. Bet it gives the code enforcers some nightmares though.
Look at that gorgeous ceiling!
Alton Brown came in some time before 7.00pm. He was sorry he couldn’t meet everybody. Apparently, there had been issues with ‘local colour’ outside the theater. “There are things I’ve seen today in San Francisco” he said, “that I never thought I’d see.”

It’s all part of San Francisco alluring charm, Mr. Brown. Or else this would be just like any other city.

There weren’t any post-its but there were slides (check out his Twitter feed if you don’t know what that means). The entire presentation was like a ‘Good Eats’ play, minus BA, or Thing, or Elton or any of the usual suspects. Instead he had live volunteers in the form of Jocelyn and Adam. There was something very wrong with Jocelyn. I’d venture a touch of sunstroke, but it must have been something stronger and inhaled. Mr. Brown, professional as he is, had to admit at one point that his show was headed hopelessly off the rails and out of control. Fortunately, the demonstration itself, which included copious amounts of liquid nitrogen, was still great.
There was discussion of heat and the absence of it. Also, the transfer of it, the basis of all cooking. Also there was this super neat, Dippin Dots type of ice-cream with Hershey’s Syrup and heavy cream.
I learned just how much fun one can have if one has carbon dioxide fire extinguishers, liquid nitrogen dewars and a blender. Mr. Brown is witty, charming, excellent at improvisation and at teaching without being stuffy about it. He fielded some questions from the audience that were just downright absurd. (Seriously people, think it out in your head before you come up to a microphone and put it out in the real world.) I’m not sure what his touring schedule is but if he is presenting in your city, you have to go. This is the best $35 you will spend.
It is fascinating just how succinctly he outlines his thoughts on a subject, be it apples, food history or fermentation. One of the few reasonable questions of the evening was when he was asked what he thought of the term ‘organic’. Alton Brown answered that he used to think more of it, in the beginning when a few farmers up in Vermont started talking about it and doing something about it. Then the government got involved and it all blew out of control. Today he pays more attention to what is local, less to whether it is organic. To him, this is a more practical, more reliable option. (I’m heavily paraphrasing but you get the idea. I get the irony.) I could tell you a lot more about the show, but I won’t. Go see it.
I’m sorry, Mr. Brown. What I meant to say was that I’ve been a fan of ‘Good Eats’ ever since I happened to chance upon it in 2002. And that there has never been a show as innovative or informative as it. And that it’s been number one on my DVR list ever since I had a DVR. And that the perfect confluence of food, science & comedy made this fan of all three very happy. And you have, of course, heard a variation of all of the above from every fan you meet.

Do they also tell you they think bow ties and laser thermometers are awesome? I hope they do.

Thank you for entertaining us. It was a genuine pleasure meeting you. We look forward to seeing you our TV again.
*Alton Brown appeared on Craig Ferguson later last week, where he presented a shortened version on the Hershey’s syrup and cream experiment with the liquid nitrogen. You can see it here.*


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