Alton Brown's just-released Good Eats 3: The Later Years is, as we are told on the front jacket flap, The End. Per Brown: "Everyone knows that part three is the end (unless, of course, you're Bond or Potter), and expectations run high."
Yes, after ten years of watching Brown investigate everything from the humble cracker (p. 174) to oeufs à la niege (poached egg-shaped meringues floating in crème anglaise, p. 376), our expectations for this cookbook are high. With it, we are losing someone who has managed to successfully merge food science with campy humor -- as if Harold McGee showed up at Comic Con and Dan Aykroyd used his Ghost Busters proton pack to create the endearingly quirky mind behind Good Eats. Ah, the food television era of old.
But how's the book -- all 430 pages of it? His best yet.
The recipes? Nothing fussy, and yes, at this point, you can find them via the Food Network website or elsewhere on the Internet abyss. They are that signature Brown hodgepodge of felafel, tacos, marshmallow and pumpkin pie, conjoined by the beef and sugar-laced science experiments that Brown conducted on the show. What's great here is the book layout, as each recipe unfolds as a story from episodes 165 to 249 ("By the time we got to episode 150, we finally, really knew what we were doing," says Brown).
The real fun comes from Brown's confessions about the moment that shepherd's pie finally got its own television feature, after years of being tabled (Brown not only starred in the shows, but wrote and directed them), when he came upon a historic plot-line solution: "After all, [meat pie] isn't that flashy, and to tell you the honest truth, there's just not that much science involved," he admits. Or his reflections on the "Vomitron," a sea sickness simulator the set designers made to test whether the lore that ginger can prevent motion sickness is true ("I got out of the Vomitron before I hurled - but just barely").
And yes, there are sock puppets here, with "blueprints and stickers" at your disposal in the appendix. The orange sock puppet "tongue" sticker, incidentally, comes in four different sizes, presumably for those who have exceptionally large, or pint-sized, feet at their house.
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But beginning on page 284, it's truly apparent what the food television world is losing with the end of Good Eats. Here, you get a multi-page spread about Brown's 50 pound weight loss, complete with before photos ("Gaze, if you will, upon this behemothic form") and a list of his current astringent daily regime (including no red meat, white rice/pasta/potatoes, dessert or alcohol other than once a week). The pages that immediately follow his diet chronicles? "Raising the Bar," a section exploring the virtues of the Bloody Mary and margarita.
It's hard to imagine any current Food Network celebrity honest enough to admit, as Brown does (if you read between the lines in Good Eats 3), that on a daily basis, they rarely eat much of what they cook on television or what is in their cookbooks. And of course, Brown later moved on to reality-driven television shows like Iron Chef America himself.
It seems a moment of sock puppet silence is in order.