By Alton Brown
Stewart, Tabori & Chang -- 2009
Buy it on Amazon
Fans of Alton Brown are sure to like "Good Eats: The Early Years," an episode-by-episode companion guide to his popular Food Network show. Of course, Brown has gone on to host "Iron Chef America" and become a spokesman for Welch's and Diamond Crystal Salt, but it is "Good Eats" that garners him perhaps the greatest culinary respect.
The book follows "Good Eats" through six seasons, episode by episode. There are diagrams, screengrabs from the show, tips from each episode, and recipes, which Brown calls "applications." Think Mr. Wizard meets Julia Child on Monty Python -- that's actually what this host is going for.
"Good Eats: The Early Years" is not the TV show. "It's more like 400 pages of liner notes," Brown writes. "But really good liner notes."
See what we tested and whether it's worth buying after the jump.
Takeaway tips: Brown calls these "Knowledge Concentrate," nuggets of wisdom culled from each program. And they're good: Ask your fishmonger to put your fish purchase in a bag filled with ice; keep your egg carton stored on its side in the fridge to keep the yolks centered; don't cook your mac & cheese in a metal roasting pan -- it'll burn. You get the idea.
Quality of pictures: Ho hum. There are lots of interesting line diagrams, which are useful. But the bulk of the photography is screengrabs from the TV show and kind of haphazardly placed. "Good Eats: The Early Years" is a book for readers.
What we tested: Mac & Cheese from Episode 66, Season 5 -- "For Whom the Cheese Melts II"
"We don't have recipes, we have applications," Brown writes in a lighthearted interview introduction to himself. "We call them that because we like to think that they are applied knowledge."
In "For Whom ..." Brown's nephew is introduced. In "The Early Years," Brown admits he has no nephew and made it all up for a better storyline. What he doesn't lie about is the Mac & Cheese, a custardy version that is easy (though not as easy as Easy Mac) to prepare and comes out flawlessly.
Alton Brown's Mac & Cheese. Photo: Sara Bonisteel.
Footnotes throughout the recipe delve into the actual culinary names of the kitchen moves you're performing. ("Adding milk maketh a classic béchamel sauce, and adding cheese to that makes a Mornay sauce. So, mac & cheese is nothing more than elbow noodles baked with a souped-up French cheese sauce.")
Worth the investment: If you need food porn to get you in the mood to cook, pass. But if you fancy yourself a kitchen scientist or you have a friend who's an engineer and a cook, this is your tome.