A few weeks ago, I was possessed to go visit Alton Brown’s website. I didn’t really go up there looking for anything in particular…I think I had just finished watching an episode of Good Eats and thought I’d check it out. I noticed an AB on Tour link and clicked through. Low and behold, Alton was coming to Minneapolis to promote his book! I added it to my calendar…and thought I’d forget about it until shortly before.
However, even with the stress of the last two weeks, I’d often find myself looking forward to the book signing. I checked the website a few days later, noticed that an independent bookstore, Bound To Be Read had been added, decided that’s where I’d go.
At this point, I’m going to provide a bit of needed back story.
About five years ago, shortly before my ex-wife and I moved into our new house together, I found myself at a local restaurant with a bunch of work buddies. The restaurant was decorated with these wonderful paper mache chickens…some parachuting, some standing on Easter eggs. My ex-wife and I had planned to decorate the ceiling of our two-story great room with a variety of mobiles. While not technically a mobile, the parachuting chicken caught my fancy. After only the tiniest bit of hesitation, I approached the restaurant owner/manager, asking him where he got the chickens so that I could go pick one up. He explained that he couldn’t where it came from, but that he had some spares that had not been used for decorating in the backroom. He offered to sell me one of them for $20, which I readily accepted.
All of my coworkers laughed at my new parachuting chicken, but I brought it home that night and packed it away, eagerly awaiting its place in the new house. I looked forward to displaying it with the greatest anticipation…it certainly was a great representation of both my and my ex-wife’s fascination with the young, kid-like decoration scheme.
Fast-forward about 6 months, after we moved into the house. The chicken had been hung from a plant hook between the dining room and great room. (We hadn’t obtained any additional mobiles on order to spur us into going to the trouble of hanging things on a ceiling two stories tall!) I had recently discovered the show Good Eats, had instantly been drawn to the wonderful way Alton Brown presented his more methodical, almost scientific approach to cooking. After a few episodes, I noticed a prop he had on his set…it was my chicken! Without the parachute, turned into a shelf decoration, but it was certainly the same line!
I shared the news with a few friends, my family, most were unimpressed. A tiny little show on the Food Network…what’s the deal? I began to believe this was true, too. Indeed, after moving from the house into the apartment, the parachuting chicken has been relegated to a corner; someday, eventually, I’d get around to hanging it up.
OK, now back to the main story. As soon as I found out about the book signing, I realized I needed to bring the chicken in to get it signed by Alton. As the day approached, I started telling more and more people the story of the parachuting chicken and how excited I was about bringing it in to get it signed. Over the years, the chicken had picked up scrapes and bruises, but it still didn’t look too bad for wear. On the morning of the book signing, I packed the chicken into the trunk of the car and drove over to the bookstore.
Upon arrival I was immediately surprised at the turnout…I had arrived a half hour early, but already it was standing room only, everyone huddled around the art section, where a small tall table had been setup in front of about 100 chairs. (Later, the hostess from the bookstore explained that they had pulled every chair they could find for the event, even out of the back office rooms) I squeezed into the crowd, taking a position where I could easily see the front of the chaired area. As the zero hour approached, the crowd got bigger and bigger, eventually people standing behind bookshelves, without a view of the speaking area, just so they could hear him speak over the PA.
About 10 minutes before he was scheduled to begin speaking, a commotion arose from the back of the audience that had gathered. I turned and saw Alton unassumingly asking the front cashier where he should go. She pointed, he nodded, but before he could move one of the bookstore employees shuttled him off to the side because the audience had pretty much taken up the entire center of the store, doubtlessly precluding his access to the rear office area where he would setup and await his introduction. The hostess made a few more announcements, promoted both Alton’s book and his new TV show, “Iron Chef: America” and talked about other speakers they had received prior as part of their cooking series. A few minutes later, another commotion and I turned to see Alton approaching the speaking area by slicing his way through the crowd. He saw me holding the chicken, paused, turned to me and asked me where I found it. I explained “a restaurateur in Eden Prairie” and he offered me $100 on the spot for it. Before I even had a chance to respond, he added, “Think about it, I’ll see you afterwards!” and he walked up to the front.
Alton spoke for an hour, mostly in a Q/A session with the gathered audience. I asked him about the ovens and cameras used on the show - if they were in working ovens or not, if we’d see more time-lapse photography of the cooking process if the cameras were permanently mounted. He explained that the ovens with the cameras didn’t work, and then told an amusing story about a time when they had forgotten a camera in an oven in the old kitchen and cooked it. “Nothing like the great smell of baked Sony!” Other audience members asked about his influences, problems they had with recipes. One audience member even asked for Alton’s favorite Crock Pot recipe and then asked for a show featuring Crock Pots that caused the Minnesotan audience to explode in cheers and supportive clapping. Overall, I was impressed with Alton’s stage presence. He was just as witty and comfortable as he appears during his shows, he would always call on the kids to ask their questions and he was cracking jokes, both about the questions and the questioners, through the Q/A.
Waiting around for an hour or so after the Q/A in order to get my book and chicken signed was crazy. I had at least 20 people come up and ask me about the chicken, while almost everyone at the signing took interest in the chicken, including people who had never seen the show. As we queued up in line to get our books signed, I decided that I would turn down Alton’s $100 offer and instead offer to give him the business’s name where I bought it. As we got closer to the front of the line, there were more and more “hard” Good Eats fans sitting around, many of which recognized the chicken and asked me questions about it. How long had I had it, where did I get it, etc? Most just stared at it/me as I approached the front of the signing line.
As my turn came up, Alton looks at me and asks, “Have you come to a decision about my offer?” I shook my head, responded, “I think I’ll just have you sign it.” He then looks at me, “$200”. I shake my head. “$300?” I pause for a moment…my brain whirring, “$300 for a $20 paper mache chicken?” The audience, still mulling around, grew quiet as I thought. Alton explains that his chicken is broken and he needs a replacement. “Going once, going twice!” I shake my head no, “I think I’ll just have you sign it…but I’ll tell you where I got it.” Alton looks noticeable perturbed, but goes to the trouble of doing quite the signature on the chicken and signs my book. “Why don’t you email me…hrm, wait, why don’t you give me your email address and I’ll get a hold of you? If I manage to get one, I’ll take really good care of you!” I give him my sirloin.org email address, which he reads back to me from the Post-It note that until recently only held the name I wanted the book signed to and we pose for a picture. He shakes my hand, explains, “I’ll be in touch” and shakes my hand. As I leave, numerous members of the audience ask me where I got it, to which I now curtly reply, “A restaurant in Eden Prairie”, not wanting to give away too much and hurt Alton’s chances at obtaining his chicken.
After the signing, realizing there was another signing later in the day, we drove over to the restaurant I bought the chicken from years ago. Walking in, I found the same owner/manager there I had bought the original chicken from years ago. After reminding him of the experience, he acknowledged remembering me, which then I asked him if I could buy another. He explained that they had gotten rid of all but one of the parachuting chickens, that was hanging from their ceiling, and that he just couldn’t let the last one go. Hopes dashed of surprising Alton at the second signing, we returned to my apartment and I’ll await his email.