Dining out with Alton Brown

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
Popular chef and television personality Alton Brown charmed cadets, faculty and staff from the Academy's Chemistry Department with witty humor and food science knowledge April 26, during the eighth-annual Chemistry Majors Dining-Out event at the Antlers Hilton.

Approximately 150 cadets, professors, Academy leaders and guests attended the event to recognize 16 graduating seniors from the department, enjoy fine dining and listen to Brown's presentation on the top 10 food myths that have been solved through science.

"Everything that happens with food is science, whether it's physics, chemistry or biology," Brown said. "I like kitchens because they are laboratories, meaning every home has a lab in it. These food myths have been busted or set aside by the proper application of food science, and have been upheld and taught by reputable chefs for hundreds of years."

Brown said one highly regarded myth is that plastic cutting boards are superior to wooden ones.

"In the early 2000s, the thought was that wood is porous and just hoards bacteria," Brown said. "We found out in later years that this is not true. Plastic cutting boards are far more dangerous than wood cutting boards when it comes to bacteria. When you cut into wood, the fibers tend to seal themselves back up. When you cut into plastic, you just cut through it and pretty soon bits of raw chicken get down in there and will breed bacteria. Wood cutting boards are what you want to have."

Brown also put to rest the belief that the hotter the oil in a frying pan, the less greasy the food will be.

"The idea is with the heat so high, the water content of the food will boil out with such speed and vaporize so quickly, no oil will be allowed in the food," Brown said. "The problem is that the heat won't keep the food from getting greasy because it gets greasy after it comes out of the fryer. The longer the food sits out, the more grease it will absorb."

Always wash your mushrooms, Brown said.

"Every mushroom raised commercially in the United States is grown in a sub-strain of pasteurized horse crap," Brown said. "Wash your freaking mushrooms. The brown bits on them aren't dirt, it's horse poo."

Individuals who are lactose intolerant don't have to avoid all cheeses, Brown said.

"There's a lot going on in cheese," Brown said. "Lactic acid bacteria break down the lactose molecule in cheese during its aging process. If you're lactose intolerant, you can actually eat cheese but it must be mature cheese that's been around for at least six months, such as Parmesan. At that point, there isn't any lactose left. It is the same with certain yogurts."

Brown also answered questions from cadets, signed autographs and took photos with them.

"Alton Brown set the bar high for future chemistry dining outs," said Cadet 1st Class Nicholas Clayton, a materials chemistry major. "I was already a huge 'Good Eats' fan prior to his visit. I enjoyed hearing his stories on his path through college and what led him to his successful career today."

Cadet 1st Class Hilary Bowen, also a materials chemistry major, invited Brown to the event by contacting his publicist.

"Mr. Brown was an excellent speaker," Bowen said. "He infused a bright note of humor into the event and demonstrated that chemistry and science reaches far outside the realm of any laboratory."

Cadet 1st Class Ryan Aceves, another materials chemistry major, said he had been looking forward to the event since the fall semester.

"The event reminded me why I joined the Chemistry Department in the first place: enthusiasm for learning and the lifetime pursuit for knowledge," Aceves said. "No matter how many years you can spend in the field, there is always something new just around the corner for you to discover."

Brown said some of the most important relationships in his life have been with military people who have taught him important life lessons that have stuck with him.

"The majority of my close, personal friends aren't actually chefs, they're pilots," Brown said. "It just so happened that I had this day open and I don't get to speak to 150 people very often, especially about a subject that's near and dear to my heart, chemistry."

Brown is the creator and host of the Food Network show "Good Eats" and just wrapped up post-production work on a new season of "Iron Chef America," another show he hosts on the channel. Brown is also a pilot and author of several cookbooks. He will begin filming a new show on the Food Network in June.