"New Yorkers don't go anywhere. They assume the rest of the country is populated by zombies." Alton Brown, on explaining to his publisher why he wanted to visit Denver for a book-signing, since we Coloradans surely don't read. We must all be out skiing instead. Except for people like me who has only been skiing once. I was 13 and it was a terrifying experience.
Before his arrival, though, and the clever come-backs to the questions from the audience, the event room at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Lodo (downtown Denver) was hot and crowded. The two glasses of wine I'd had beforehand at the wine bar downtown were making me very warm. Those who had apparently camped out in line all day had front-row seats, and the rest of us who arrived an hour early sat towards the back. People talked loudly, excitedly, and constantly watched the door to see when he might arrive. Everyone clutched their very heavy copy of Good Eats, some turning the pages for insights into "what would Alton do?".
And then, finally, someone caught their breath, and everyone started clapping as he walked in, looking exactly like he does on TV. It was a little surreal, sitting just a few feet away from him, knowing that before the night ended I'd get to meet him in person. What did I say to him when that moment came, you might ask? Well, I'm known to be a little tongue-tied when I get nervous, and when it was our turn to meet Alton, get our book signed and have a picture taken, I had nothing to say. Really. He asked how we were, and all I could think of was "It's been a fun night!". Lame, I know. I had a little fantasy of inviting him out to dinner with us afterwards, and of course he'd accept - because we're such cool people to hang out with - but shyness kicked in, and rather than say something stupid, I opted for saying nothing. That's how it goes.
I feel very lucky that Jamie and I were able to be there. We had just found out about the event a few days before, and since only 200 tickets were available through the purchase of his book, we assumed none were left since the promotion had begun in September. But to our surprise, there were still about 40 tickets left, and we were thrilled to be able to be part of the event. Alton didn't do a reading from the book, but before signing everyone's copy, he did a Q&A session for about an hour. Here are some of my favorites from throughout the night:
- AB, on consumer feedback regarding the success rate of the recipes in the book: "We believe we have a 99% success rate. We can't have 100% success, because 1% of the population are morons. And I can't do anything about that." He went on to talk about a woman who felt his smoked salmon recipe was no good, only to find out that she had tried smoking it in a cardboard box in her apartment, resulting in a visit from the fire department! Alton's comment: "All I can do is suggest she not have children."
- AB, in answer to an audience question of how to get noticed in order to get on TV: "Own a pawn shop. Hoard. Catch catfish with your bare hands."
- AB, on being one of the judges for the next season of The Next Food Network Star: "My goal is to make all the contestants cry."
- AB: "Chefs scare me. I've been screamed at in a lot of languages by guys in white jackets."
- From the audience: "My husband said you can be my 'hall pass'." Audience erupted with laughter. AB: Takes a drink of water and contemplates for a moment, then, "I'm not sure what that means." After hearing the explanation, he says with a straight face, "Well, does your husband get a hall pass, too, because I've got Giada's phone number in my wallet somewhere that I can give him..."
- AB, to the man about to ask the next question: "Sir, if you tell me the same thing she just did, I'm leaving."
- AB, on his early experiences on Food Network: "Bobby Flay is one of the nicest guys on Food Network. Really, he's the only one who would give me the time of day at the beginning."
- AB, on his lack of popularity with women in his younger days: "I didn't know anything about women. I still don't. I learned how to cook, because girls were more likely to accept your offer of a date if you were offering to cook them dinner. Back in the 80's, that was a little risque."
- AB: "Why do they call it a 'hall pass'? Back in grade school, all that meant was you had permission to go to the bathroom."
- AB, on his diet and weight loss: "Milk makes me do evil things. If I drink a glass of milk, I hear a little voice saying 'come on, let's get some girl scout cookies'. And you know there's only two servings per box."
- AB, on future Food Network projects: "One of my next projects is a mini-series called Foods that Changed the World." He paused, pulled something out of his jacket pocket and said, "Including, the nutmeg. I always have one with me." And he sure did!
- AB, on why he chose cooking as a career path: "Food is to me what the mob is to Martin Scorsese. It's always interesting."
- AB, on how he comes up with ideas for Good Eats: "About two weeks before I start writing my scripts, I go off my medication."
- AB, on tasting some of the food creations on Iron Chef America: "Yeah, that trout ice cream? It tasted like ASS!"
So what, you might ask, does meeting Alton Brown have anything do do with the ballet and pizza (from the title of this post)?
Okay, so on the first night of our vacation, Jamie and I went to see Swan Lake. It ended late - close to 11pm - so when it was over, we were so hungry since neither of us had eaten since lunch. No restaurants were open, not even a pizza delivery. I was reminded of my plan to make a bunch of pizza dough and freeze it, for a need such as this one, but I hadn't gotten around to it yet. I didn't like the last couple of recipes I'd tried, and I had yet to find another one or come up with my own. So we stopped at the grocery store on the way home - I love that they stay open all night - and picked up a frozen pizza.
We had a little midnight picnic on our living room carpet, still in our fancy clothes, shoes kicked off, eating our pizza. Even though we were all dressed up that night for the ballet, we're not fancy people on the inside, so to me, ballet and frozen pizza is a great combination. :)
But I was once again reminded of my quest for the perfect pizza dough recipe, as well as the perfect way to bake it. We do have a pizza stone, but no pizza peel, so out of necessity we build homemade pizza on a thin metal pan and place that on the pizza stone, which works fairly well. I need to get a pizza peel so that we can actually transfer the pizza directly onto the pizza stone. Every homemade pizza we've made has been just okay. I'm sure my expectations aren't too high, and that someday, I'll get it just right.
In volume III of Good Eats that we just purchased, Alton Brown has a recipe for making perfect pizza dough/crust, and I decided I would make that. Last night seemed like a good night to experiment. But as things go, we didn't do our grocery shopping for the week until 6ish, got home after 7, and I just really didn't feel like waiting even 30 minutes or an hour for the dough to rise. So AB's recipe was once again put on hold. I found myself lured in by a type of yeast on the baking aisle that is formulated especially for quick and easy pizza - supposedly there's no proofing, rising or waiting. So we gave that a try.
The dough came together very easily, and only needed to be kneaded for 4 minutes. It did try to tear quite a bit as I stretched it out, which, according to AB, is a sign of dough that's not ready for stretching. So much for the promise on that packet of oh-so-special yeast. But I continued anyway, patched up the tears, and added some simple toppings of a little olive oil, basil, tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and spices. On the metal pan, on the pizza stone, in a 550-degree oven for just over 5 minutes, it was nicely crisp and thin, although I would have liked it better had I added a little sauce to the pizza.
Not bad at all, but not quite what I'm envisioning either. So, our quest will continue, and one of these days, I'll actually try AB's recipe. Happy cooking, everyone, and don't forget... what would Alton do? :)