October 05, 2002
Alton Brown
posted by Carl

We attended a cooking class given by Alton Brown (of Good Eats fame) at Sur La Table in New York this weekend. Originally, I was unexcited by the all soufflé menu and was mostly interested in going to see and hear Alton Brown himself. I shouldn't have been surprised though that Alton Brown was able to teach me a number of interesting things about soufflés.

Alton started off the class by introducing the soufflé as a dish that shouldn't be scary or hard for a home cook to make, provided, of course, that we make them the right way. He seemed to be a veritable encyclopedia of soufflé knowledge, able to answer any question with a detailed and satisfying explanation, very much like on his show. The cynic in me says that this is because there was recently a Good Eats episode on this very topic and he was just coming prepared. On the other hand, he is a classically trained cook and could answer the off topic questions with just as much competence. Overall, I got the sense that he is a very skilled and creative teacher. As an example, the above picture is Alton using a rubber glove as a prop to demonstrate the need for flexible bubbles in the egg white foam of a soufflé.

Alton demonstrated three soufflés. As he talked about each one, the pre-made sample was baking in the oven and we all got a whiff of what was to come. The first, a cheese and grits soufflé, had a very chunky texture and felt much heavier than one would expect from a soufflé. The fact that Alton usually pairs this one with lamb chops should give you an idea of the heartiness of this soufflé.

Continuing in the vein of non-traditional interpretations, the next soufflé used condensed cream of mushroom soup as the base for the sauce. Although the soufflé was interesting as a concept, we couldn't get over that it tasted mostly like cream of mushroom soup. In addition to the soup, the sauce contained sliced scallions and sautéed fresh mushrooms as well as the yolks of the eggs. The fresh mushrooms led to a lengthy tangent discussion about sautéing. Alton then demonstrated his geek credentials in another diversion to fix the ceiling mounted video camera in order to show a well browned mushroom slice to the class (see pictures below).

The final dish was a sweet Grand Marnier soufflé. The recipe that he gave us calls for orange zest as well as the liquor, but this was omitted in the demonstration. Alton explained that he had noticed that the citric acid caused a reaction with the egg, giving the soufflé a greenish tinge. Without the orange zest, the soufflé had little flavor aside from the egg and thus was reminiscent of a sweet egg white omelet. Alton said that he would usually serve this one with melted vanilla ice cream (a poor man's créme anglaise) poured down the center. The addition of ice cream sauce might have remedied the lack of taste, but I would be willing to risk a greenish soufflé for a bit more flavor; just serve it in a darkened room.

At the end of the class, Alton talked a bit about recipes. His advice: don't trust them. To prove his point, he had purposefully placed errors in the printed recipes that he handed out. He implored us to use our brains when reading and cooking from a recipe. This last point resonated with me as I feel that this is similar to the way we cook and what we're trying to do with this site. We hope to inspire people to be more creative with their cooking.

Alton shows off good browning on a mushroom via a ceiling mounted video camera Alton flanked by the authors Alton holding up a mushroom