Alton Brown's visit to Greenwood on Friday was a success all around. He signed loads of his new book, Feasting on Asphalt, excited and enlightened the gathered crowd with his straight-shooting remarks on food and culture, and walked away with a sackful of food from local cooks. This was a fast and furious event, the first of two signings that day, but we all made the most of a brief visit.
Wasting no time, Alton engaged the assembly even before our 11 a.m. start-time, describing the eating adventures up the Mississippi River that inspired his new book. He then opened the floor to questions. Hands flew up all over the room, which was jam-packed with foodies, and a host of interesting questions issued forth.
Do you refer to the noon meal as lunch or dinner? came the first question, posited by Mr. Mounger, a Turnrow regular.
It depends on where you are and what day it is, Alton shot back. Clearly, he had considered this distinction before.
You don't gather up your office buddies at noon on Monday and say, Hey, let's go eat dinner. It's simply lunch. On Sunday after church ... now that's dinner.
Do you let your daughter cook with you? asked one mother in the audience.
I insist on it, he replied.
He bestowed upon his daughter her first knife at the age of five, and told his wife, There will be blood.
And that's okay, he assured. There will always be accidents. We can't keep raising our children to be pets. They have to be functioning members of the family.
Alton went on to explain that a child who cooks will be more willing to eat, especially a variety of foods not generally favored by children. Most kids go into the world not knowing how to feed themselves, much less cook, he said. That's why we have such an obesity epidemic in this country.
Alton's family eats dinner together every night, and everyone who eats has contributed in some way to the meal. As his book makes clear, eating is not just about sustenance, but also about human interaction. Parents who are too busy to provide this sort of eating experience are depriving their kids of a fundamental and genuine familial interaction. If this is the case in your family, you need to take a serious look at your life and get your priorities right, he said. Sure, making the soccer team is important, but you can't eat a soccer ball.
Alton was pleased to see several parents joined by their kids, who were obviously skipping school. If kids are interested in food and cooking, encourage it, he said. That's the only way we can maintain our food traditions and ensure that there will be food for the future. If no one wants to grow it, there will be no one around to eat.
Among the audience members were several local chefs, including Martha Foose, who mentioned the ongoing efforts in Greenwood to start a farmer's market. When I'm home (Georgia), I've gotten to where I like to draw a circle on the map and eat within it, Alton said. In my travels I encounter lots of small towns with farmer's market, and they are always stronger communities. He added that the current state of the meat industry in the United States is driving him toward vegetarianism. To head off such drastic measures, he plans to keep chickens in his yard. I need something to kill and eat, he said, citing one of mankind's most basic instincts.
There were many more interesting threads of discussion, such as the great homemade mayonnaise debate — let it sit on the counter for a while or refrigerate immediately? Brown says let it sit. And then Alton graciously signed books and took photos with all in attendance.
In the spirit of reciprocity and home-cooked generosity, a smorgasbord arrived for Alton to sample. The generous ladies from the Viking Cooking School brought appetizers galore, while Turnrow morning regular Donny Whitehead brought a box of his popular homemade pralines. Ms. Cynthia from Hoover's Country Kitchen brought some of their famous Delta Butter Rolls ("like cobbler without the fruit"), and Donald Bender, who supplies the pastries for the Turnrow cafe, made a special plate of jalapeno cornbread with bacon and cheddar. Finally, Benji Perkins from Giardina's supplied unshucked hot tamales and a box lunch for the road, to which Alton returned with all smiles.
The car must have smelled terrific.