Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Meeting Alton Brown!

There's a bookstore in my neighborhood called Octavia Books. For years this small business has fascinated me. You know how at Books-A-Million or Barnes & Noble, the end-caps of the aisles always have the most interesting books, well imagine an entire bookstore filled with nothing but those types of books. You can walk in and swear to yourself that you won't buy anything, and end up needing a dolly to get all your books back to your car.

Another fascinating aspect of this little hole-in-the-wall place is their celebrity book signings. Enter Alton Brown, host of Good Eats and Iron Chef America. Promoting his new book, Good Eats 3: The Later Years, he was at Octavia Books tonight signing books, kitchen utensils, giant stand mixers, and answering questions. One interesting question someone posed to him was "If you have any advice to give to someone who wants to become a professional chef, what would it be?" His answer, unsurprisingly, was "Don't." He elaborated that tainting a wonderful hobby like cooking by attaching monetary values to one's product will only make one miserable and develop a disdain for that former hobby which was once loved. This exactly mirrors a case study I had in the Tulane MBA program in a class called Managing People. The study elaborated on Brown's notion, but went into much more detail. It mainly focused on singers, who once only sung for sheer enjoyment, but after being rewarded monetarily for their talents, now view singing as a pain, and will often times refuse to utter a note unless they get paid. Basically, it said don't turn your hobby into a profession, because you will end up hating it. Tonight, Alton said the same thing. Interesting...

When it was finally my turn to get my book signed, I asked him if I could pick his brain for a minute. He said sure, but that I'd have to make it quick. I told him that my aged steaks are coming out much more well done than normal steaks, even though I'm cooking them the same way. His answer was that since the aging process removes about 35% of the moisture from a steak, there is no longer that water barrier/buffer inside the cut of meat to slow the cooking process, thereby cooking the dry aged steak much quicker than one would expect. Ok, so now I don't feel as bad about serving up three medium-well 28+ day old aged steaks, but it was still a pricey learning curve. He also said, a little more enthusiastically, that he would get the butcher to cut the steaks a little thinner next time, and do just a quick sear before tenting.

Anyway, he was very enjoyable, humble, and witty. I went with my friends Laura and Ross and Ross told me he'd read that instead of sitting down like most authors at a book signing, he insists on standing up the whole time so that his feet will hurt just as much as those of everyone in line. He also made sure to answer questions from every little kid, and promised he wouldn't leave the book store until each and every person got their due time with him. And they say you shouldn't meet your heros...

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