Published May 31, 2007 in the Midland (MI) Daily News
Beth Medley Bellor
The Matrix:Midland Festival kicks off with a bang Friday night, or at least some liquid nitrogen, as the Food Network’s Alton Brown brings “Crystals in the Kitchen: The Effects of Extreme Temperature” to the stage.
Brown created, writes and hosts “Good Eats,” which brings cooking, science and history to bear on subjects as specific as the olive. The decade he spent as a cinematographer and video director before culinary school is evident in his appliance cameras and creative props, such as the cutaway cow.
When reached last Thursday, Brown had been hard at work writing and editing for “Feasting on Asphalt.”
Last year’s four-part series, “a cross-country motorcycle trip that was about road food,” went from east to west, he said. “This time we went up the entire length of the Mississippi River, south to north.”
They spent 30 days — “The motorcycle is of course the finest way to travel,” he said — and returned May 18. The results will air for six weeks at 9 p.m., starting the first Saturday in August.
In Midland, he’ll be whipping up summer recipes in unusual fashion. Told that many local demonstrations of liquid nitrogen’s properties involve turning bananas into hammers, he replied, “That’s not very tasty.” And not the best use of materials.
“It’s a lot more fun to soak a graham cracker in liquid nitrogen and feed it to your dog,” he said. “You can only do it a few times before he decides it’s really cold and uncomfortable.”
He will be showing different ways controlling sugar changes the way its acts in food, such as how freezing periods affect crystal growth — hence the liquid nitrogen.
“It’s best way to make ice cream I know. You can make 5 gallons of ice cream in about a minute,” he said. “I use it a lot.”
Honestly? “Well, you know, if you’ve got a good supply of inert gas,” he said.
Storage seems to puzzle some people, he noted. “It’s kind of odd to take something that’s 300 degrees below zero and put it in your freezer.”
As for the rest of his demonstration, “Let’s just say we are dealing with foods that are very popular that no one makes for themselves.”
Told a publicist might have mentioned cotton candy, he feigned indignation. “I will neither confirm nor deny the presence of fairy floss.”
In addition to his “Good Eats” duties, Brown serves as expert commentator for the “Iron Chef America” competition show, also on Food Network. He has written three books, including the James Beard Award-winning “I’m Just Here for the Food,” and regularly contributes to Bon Appetit and Men’s Journal magazines.
Despite the regular appearance of food processors on “Good Eats,” Brown reaches for his own “probably 10 times a year,” he said. His daughter loves hummus, definitely a food processor food.
He also uses it to grate cheese, make pesto and chop nuts. The cutting board is avoided because of his daughter’s peanut allergy. And when that topic arises, again he turns to science.
“What happened that all of a sudden made all of these violent allergies come up in our gene pool?” he asked. “The fact that this exists now is extremely curious to me.”
His favorite new gadget is a panini press he got for his wife. He doesn’t really need it to press sandwiches — two cast iron skillets work fine for that. No, he’s been using it for other foods, such as asparagus and Cornish hen.
Truly. First the birds are butterflied. Then, because he wants extra pressure, a bungee cord and the kitchen cabinet handles come into play, producing quite crispy poultry.
When it comes to gadgetry, he said he tends to lock on to things that control temperature. “Immersion circulators are really cool,” for example, and make perfect three-minute eggs.
Which is not to say he doesn’t appreciate an open flame when appropriate. “I like to crank up the grill; I’m a man,” he said. “Fire good.”
When asked his favorite type of food, he insisted he’s not picky.
“Just cook the food right. I don’t have to make orange juice Tabasco caviar,” he said. “Buy the steak, don’t mess up the steak, eat the steak.”
The real power in food for him is not in the power to impress, Brown said.
“It’s the ability to connect people. Connect people to each other, to their heritage. It’s connective tissue.”
Brown’s demonstration begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Midland Center for the Arts auditorium. Tickets are $30 and $34 through the MCFTA box office, www.mcfta.org, (989) 631-8250 or (800) 523-7649.