Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More Observations on Canada

More observations on Canada:

* My student from Montreal feels as much like he's in a foreign country as I do. He doesn't speak the language, everyone dresses differently than he's used to, even the traffic is different than he's used to.
* This student mentioned today that everyone seems to have iPods, and everyone seems to smoke. I guess it is just a Montreal thing.
* Canadians seem to love Easter candy. Just this morning I walked by a place with a sign that said "peep show". I can only assume that they deal in stop-motion films involving marshmallow peeps. I'm considering bringing my camera by tomorrow to get some pictures for the blog. Nothing says "family friendly" like Easter candy, right?

I also noticed an argument going on in my comments for a different post (which shall remain nameless). It's interesting that those people bring it up, because I had a very similar (though friendlier) conversation with one of my French-speaking students.

I mentioned to her that I had tried to learn some French, but I really didn't know very much. She told me that it's a harder language to learn than English. She told me, "we're French, and we had a hard time learning it!" She also told me that French in Canada is very different than French in France. She told me that when Canadians go to France, they can understand what the French are saying, but the French can't understand what the Canadians are saying. All of the other French-speaking students nodded their heads knowingly as she spoke.

I made the following comparison: in America we have a type of vehicle that we call a semi, or a deisel. In England they call it a lorry. In Australia they call it a road train. She responded by telling me that in Canada, a lot of words in French have been replaced altogether with their English counterpart. This went to further her argument that French is a very different language in Canada than it is in France, just as English is a very different language in America than it is in England.

I actually had time during lunch again, so I went down to Dunn's Pub, which was recommended by one of my students. She told me that if I liked smoked meat or if I liked cheesecake, I needed to go. As it turns out, their "Smoked Meat Super Sandwich" (pastrami with mustard on rye) was actually the best pastrami sandwich that I've ever had. Anywhere. When I ordered it, the waitress asked how I wanted the meat. I was a little confused, since I didn't think that rare, medium, well or any combination applied to smoked meats. Apparently she meant, did I want more lean meat or more fat? She also confided to me that the leaner the meat, the more crumbly it was. I told her to shoot for the middle, and she told me that that was the best way to have it. I still have no reason not to believe her.

The sandwich came with fries, which were nothing short of horrible. It also came with coleslaw which I didn't touch, because cabbage is high on my list of "least favorite foods in the world". It came with a pickle as well, which I didn't touch because it was stuck in the cabbage. I also ordered a slice of strawberry cheesecake, which was indeed one of the best cheesecakes I've ever had. It was a plain cheesecake with strawberry topping on top, and about twice as big as any normal person could eat. I didn't finish mine, but not for lack of trying.

Much to Ali's chagrin, I'm staying at the hotel again tonight, rather than walking around the town. I'm still pretty worn out. I've already ordered room service, and I'm making my way through a "corn fed chicken" as I type. The menu said it came with vegetables and French fries, but instead it has pasta and some kind of baked savory custard which isn't very good. The chicken itself is killer though. I also have high hopes for the chocolate mousse. Apparently the restaurants downstairs no longer offer cheesecake, which is probably better for my cholesterol levels anyway.

We'll see what tomorrow brings. I still have a few Canadian dollars left, so maybe I'll hit the underground mall again during lunch.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Crazy People in the Hallway

Last night I had a little bit of a surprise, involving crazy people in my hallway. But I'm already getting ahead of myself.

Monday was interesting. The training center is only about a ten minute walk from the hotel. I made a few observations on the way:

* Lines painted in the middle of the road seem to be more of a suggestion than anything. This is probably because none of the lanes seem (to me at least) wide enough for a single vehicle. And yet, despite this lack of space, everyone drives really, really fast.
* Crosswalks also seem to be little more than a suggestion. Jaywalking is rampant here.
* Cars don't like waiting for pedestrians. I saw a car make a turn in a space between two pedestrians that looked just large enough for the car. Both the car and the pedestrians seemed oblivious to each other.
* Does everybody in Montreal own an i-Pod? One would think so.
* Most everyone seemed to be really cold Monday morning. They looked as if they wished they had worn warmer jackets. I didn't bother zipping up my jacket and I was plenty warm. Are Canadians (in Montreal at least) really less used to the cold than Utahns?
* Montreal looks like a mix between Europe and America. It's pretty.
* I don't think you're allowed Canadian citizenship unless you smoke. Those with cigarettes outnumbered those without, by a fair margin.

The building that the training center is in is pretty big. The training company is on the 21st floor. I'm glad I don't have to look out any windows. I don't handle heights well. The guy working there greeted me bilingually, like everybody else. They have coffee, tea, and most importantly, donuts. I was pretty hungry. Four out of five of my students speak French. When then fifth one greeted me, I remarked that he didn't have a French accent. He replied, "no, I'm from Toronto."

I went to lunch with the English-speaking student and one of the French ones. The French guy took us to a shopping center across the street, which had a food court. The first restaurant I saw was a Dunkin' Donuts. Before long I also saw a McDonalds and a Subway. The only place that seemed to take credit cards was the Subway. I eventually decided upon a Greek place because they told me they would take debit cards.

I'm pretty unhappy with myself for deciding to play it safe while in a foreign country. On the other hand, my idea of playing it safe is a gyro. The menu was entirely in French, but they spoke English and understood "number three, with a Mountain Dew". They had a choice between poulet and beouf, and I fortunately remembered enough culinary French to know that meant chicken and beef (respectively), and to be dismayed that they didn't offer agneau (lamb), which is in my opinion the only meat appropriate for gyros. They also asked me a question that I've never been asked before when buying a gyro: "hot or mild sauce?" I went with mild, hoping that it would be tziki. It wasn't. But it was still pretty good. I then found out that they only take Canadian debit cards. Fortunately, they also took American cash, if only because that's all I had.

My student from Toronto ordered Japonais (Japanese) food, and my French student ordered McDonalds. I tried to ignore it. My gyro came with something that was halfway between a French fry and a potato wedge. They had something on them that tasted like malt vinegar. I'm hooked. We went downstairs, to find an ATM so that I could get some Canadian cash. Part of the shopping center is underground, and is connected to a large train station. My French student thought, correctly, that an ATM was sure to be found there. As I waited in line, a woman at the ATM kept giving me worried looks, as if I was going to mug her the second she turned her back, with hundreds of people in the immediate vicinity. I was wondering how Canadians would take to my biker jacket. I guess now I know.

When class was over, I walked back to my hotel without incident. I was pretty worn out, so I ordered room service. My strategy was this: I'm not paying for the food, so I might as well order something adventurous and something safe. I went with a duck terrine, French onion soup and a club sandwich. I've never had a a terrine that I've actually liked, though the very few that I've made myself got rave reviews from those who tasted them. Those people probably would have liked the duck terrine. I hated it. The onion soup was really good, and there was a lot of it. I ate so much of it, I couldn't finish the club sandwich. That's just as well, because it was one of the worst club sandwiches I'd ever had. Not enough bacon, and the turkey was dry and flavorless. There were too many fries, and I barely touched any of them. I couldn't help but notice that the fries came with mayonnaise. I didn't touch it. I also ordered a bottle of water, and they only had glass, litre-sized bottles in stock, imported from France. Fortunately, it wasn't sparkling.

Not long after I finished dinner, there was a knock at my door. Before I could make it to the door, it opened and two bubbly, friendly girls burst in with a basket full of chocolates, wanting to know if I wanted any. I'm really glad I was still dressed. I was still stunned from their entrance, and thought they were selling them. I politely declined and they offered me a bottle of water, ephasizing that it was compliments of the hotel. They also gave me a postcard and left me standing there, just a little confused. The postcard was the next day's weather forecast. I saved the water for class the next day. Teaching without a bottle of water or some other drink handy is painful.

The next day, I opted for room service again. I had skipped breakfast and lunch (other than training center donuts) and I was hungry. I ordered smoked salmon, a burger and a slice of cheesecake. The man who took my order did not have a French Canadian accent. Oh, no. His accent was much more French than that. He informed me that they were out of cheesecake and offered a chocolate cake instead.

The smoked salmon was good. It came with the same vile salad that the duck terrine had come with, which I avoided altogether. The burger was decent. I was surprised to find that it came with melted gruyere on it. The cake was disappointing. It had a slice of orange on top, and a wedge of pineapple. It also had two pieces of musk melon and two balls of honeydew melon. None of the fruit, save for the orange, complimented the chocolate cake, which was grainy and crumbly. I hope they have cheesecake tomorrow. Even if I get dinner somewhere else, I want to order the cheesecake, just to see how good it is.

The crazy people came back, knocking on the door and then opening it before I could get to it. Remembering their entrance the day before, I had made sure to wait until after they were gone before getting ready for bed. I took a chocolate this time, and another bottle of water. The chocolate, which was mass-manufactured, put the chocolate cake to shame. The girls were less bubbly, and this time I spied a clipboard that one of them checked off as they walked away. I feel like a statistic now.

I also feel pretty tired. I'm going to work on my lesson plans for tomorrow, and go to bed.

Monday, October 29, 2007

O Canada!

Everyone around me is speaking a different language. This is not new to me. I've been in kitchens with everybody around me speaking nothing but Spanish. But this isn't Spanish, it's French. And I'm not in a kitchen. I'm in Montreal.

This, I must admit, is my first time outside my own country. I got a passport a few months ago in anticipation of some international travel, but after a while I didn't really expect it to happen. Then the Bossman decided to send me to our neighbors up north. I packed carefully, being sure not to bring anything the least bit suspicious with me, such as food. Consequently, I have no chocolate with me right now. Fortunately, I think they sell chocolate in Canada. I may survive the week.

The trip was largely uneventful for the first of two flights. There are no direct flights from Salt Lake to Montreal, so I had to connect in Atlanta. We even arrived about fifteen minutes early, giving me time to grab a quick bit at the food court. We boarded on time, and then sat at the gate for nearly an hour as somebody unloaded checked bags for passengers who were still in the air, and would not make the flight no matter what. Apparently it's illegal for somebody's bags to arrive internationally before their owner arrives. All checked luggage must be on the same plane as the person to whom it belongs. Still, we managed to arrive in Montreal only about a half hour later than scheduled.

On the plane, we were handed cards to fill out for customs/immigration. It stated that we needed to "declare all goods", no exception. I wasn't entirely sure what that meant. Did I need to make a list of everything with me? There wasn't enough room on the card. Fortunately, it only ended up asking about things like food, weapons, alcohol and the like. I had a package of airline cookies saved (just in case), so I declared it. It also wanted to know about any equipment that I was bringing for work purposes, whether not it was intended for sale, so I declared my laptop. I wonder, if I weren't teaching a Linux class, would I have had to declare it? Would I even have thought to declare it?

When we landed, we spent a long time making our way to the terminal. I was starting to guess that YUL is a pretty big airport. By the time we made it to our gate, I was thinking that we could have circled the SLC airport at least a couple of times. We got off the plane and started following all of the "Arrivals" signs. We walked for forever. And then we walked some more. Eventually I saw a sign pointing out customs. We rounded the corner and I saw a waiting area so large that I was suddenly glad to arrive late. We still waited in line for several minutes before I made my way up to a customs agent.

I don't know what he said, other than that it started in French and ended in "Hello and welcome." This was to be the first of many greetings that I would receive in two languages, always French first. I responded with, "hi." He said, "Hi. What is your purpose for being in Canada?" I was glad he decided I wasn't worth spending much time on. He asked me what food I had, and I told him that it was all from the airplane. He asked me what kind of class I was teaching, and when I told him it was a computer class he said, "and the equipment you have brought is your notebook computer?" I replied affirmatively, and he decided that that was all he needed to know. He stamped my card and my passport, and wished me a good evening.

I found a currency exchange booth and turned $30 of my American money into $22 of Canadian money. I then walked for another eternity and found the taxi waiting spot. The sign told me that American Express would be accepted and I relaxed. I wasn't sure how much the taxi ride would be, but I figured I wouldn't have enough in Canadian dollars. My driver ended up being a man from some place who's name I could not distinguise. His accent was neither French nor English. As we talked, I picked up Algiers a couple of times. His family moved to Montreal 21 years ago, he went to school for electronics, couldn't find a job in electronics, and now he drives a taxi. He didn't drive it well, I might note. I often wondered if he was going to run somebody else off the road. Then again, the lanes here don't seem to be very wide.

At one point in the city he signaled a right-turn (the first signal I had seen him make), and then stopped at a red light. I asked if it was illegal to turn right on red in Canada and he replied, "only in Montreal. Nowhere else in Canada. I don't know why. Very expensive if police see you do it though. Especially for taxis."

He dropped me off at the hotel, and I tried to give him my American Express card. He got a worried look on his face and told me that he didn't have his card machine with him. Great. I ended up being able to pay him with a mix of Canadian and American dollars.

The hotel looked like a dive from the outside. Little more than a hole in the wall, surrounded by other tightly-packed shops. I began to wonder about the lavish photos that I had seen on their site. When I walked in, I saw a very nice, if a bit old lobby. The men at the front desk greeted me bilingually and asked for my "family name". Once checked in, I asked about shuttle service to my training center. I showed them the address and they laughed. They told me that it was a five minute walk. Go out the front doors, turn right. Go two blocks, turn left. Go two more blocks and it will be right there. The next day I would discover that another five minutes and another couple of blocks should have been added to the end of those directions.

The room is nice. It's very French and fairly large. The mini-bar is well-stocked, with everything from booze to Pringles. I haven't touched a drop or crumb of it, not even the chilled bottles of water. There are prices posted, but even with the Canadian conversion I'm still sure I'd be getting ripped off. The TV doesn't get Food Network, and most of the channels that it does get are in French. Discovery Channel is in English. There is a balcony and I can see a Hard Rock Cafe a block away. The mattress is almost as confortable as mine at home, certainly better than I've ever seen in a hotel.

The room service menu is very French, with everything from onion soup to duck terrine. It also has a hamburger. There is free wireless Internet access, and it's very fast. In fact, not only is it faster than any hotel Wi-Fi that I've ever used, it's also fast than some wired access that I've used. Kudos to the Hotel de la Montagne's technical staff.

I'm pretty worn out at the moment, so the room service menu beckons. I'll post more later.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Buying a GPS

I've been meaning to write this for a while, but as you've probably guessed, I've been pretty busy. I had an experience a couple of months ago. I was teaching a Linux troubleshooting class in Santa Clara, and the client apparently decided that their instructors need better than average treatment. I was a little surprised when the girl at the rental car counter said, "well, it looks like you have a mid-size car reserved." She looked at the computer for a moment and said, not quite to herself, "let's see, what kind of car should we give you? How about an Impala?" (Side note: now that was a fun car to drive.) She asked me if I wanted a GPS and before I could answer she said, "actually, it looks like [Client X] thinks you should have a GPS. Oh, and [Client X] also wants you to know that you are to return the car with a full tank, rather than having us do it." As it turns out, [Client X] doesn't enjoy paying double for gas.

My GPS was a model by Magellan that I'm assuming was made specifically for Hertz. It was already mounted on the dashboard when I got to the car, and I spent a few extra minutes playing with it before leaving the rental lot. I gave it the address to my hotel and took off, not really knowing what to expect. By the time I left the rental lot, the voice was already giving me turn-by turn directions, generally with enough warning for me to get into the correct lane beforehand. By the time I got to the hotel, I was hooked. I arrived at the hotel just after 10am, convinced them to let me check in early, took a quick nap, and then spent much of the rest of the day driving around with the GPS.

Now, you should know some things about me at this point. I hate traffic. I also hate being lost. Being lost in heavy traffic really kills me. And unfortunately, I'm norotiously bad with dealing with more than one driving instruction at once. When I drove to New Hampshire, it took me 5 1/2 hours to get from the Vermont border to Dover, NH. That's pretty sad. How well does this work when I travel for work? Generally speaking I get a hotel close to the training center, so it's rarely an issue during the week. But high-traffic areas, such as California, stress me out just by thinking about them. Armed with a GPS, my stress levels dropped considerably (though I still hate heavy traffic).

I knew that when I came back from Santa Clara, I would be spending the next two weeks in Boston. Despite famously crazy traffic, I've loved Boston ever since I lived in New England. But I also knew that a GPS would be vital to my survival there. By the time I got back to Utah that weekend, I had already been doing research. Saturday morning became an extension of that research, as I drove from store to store to find out which GPS I would be buying that day.

Before long it became obvious that regardless of which model I bought, I would be doing so at Best Buy. I hate them like poison, but not nearly as much as certain "W" stores, so at least I am willing to buy from them on occassion. My first salesman knew next to nothing about the products, and I probably took a little too much delight in hazing him:

Me: How do I update the maps on this unit?
Salesweenie: Oh, you can just pick up the latest map software on CD.
Me: I'm seeing that this software is for Windows or Mac. How do I update the software on my Linux box?
Salesweenie: Well, um. I'm sure that, um. Well, you might be able to run this anyway under, um, Linux.
Me: You are familiar with Linux, right?
Salesweenie: Well, yeah! Of course! Um. I don't know how well this works with Linux.
Me: Well, this unit also has a memory stick slot. Can I buy an SD card with the new maps?
Salesweenie: Oh, um. No, I think that's only for photos. And maybe MP3's. No, wait. This unit doesn't do MP3. I think it's just for photos.

After a few stores and a little online research, I decided the following, based on what is likely entirely biased opinion: Garmin is the best, with Magellan being a very close second. Third is Tom Tom, which was largely considered to be a joke by every salesperson I talked to. One recounted that a customer told him that if you followed Tom Tom's directions blindly, then you would end up in a ditch. Other brands were barely worth mentioning to them, and they seemed almost embarassed to be carrying them.

I went home and thought about GPS units. It finally occurred to me that the best way to decide was to taken them for a test drive. Unfortunately, these stores all seemed to have a very strict return policy, and then chances of any store letting me borrow a GPS for half an hour were pretty slim. In fact, it was starting to look like buying a GPS was a pretty serious (and expensive) gamble. I thought about the most important features to me, what my price range was, and which models were actually supposed to be in stock.

The most important thing to me was turn-by-turn voice navigation. Having to look at something other than the road while driving, especially in places like Boston, is pretty dangerous. The directions needed to be accurate, and that was going to be a gamble. I also needed a decent interface, which was just about the only thing I could experience firsthand at a store, other than pricing and availability. I also wanted a stand-alone unit that was thin and easy to pack in my luggage. My boss loves his unit that plugs into his Treo, but that just seems weird to me. Until my Treo can manage windowing, I'm not interested.

I eventually decided upon the Garmin Nuvi 200, which was advertised on Best Buy's website and on their shelves at about $300 (though I couldn't help but notice that the Best Buy website on the in-store computers priced it at about $350). When I went back to Best Buy to pick one up, I decided to test the grey matter of another salesperson. This one fared a lot better:

Me: I don't have Windows or Mac, I'm runinng Linux. How can I update the maps?
Salesguy: Not a problem. Head over to Garmin's website and pick up an SD card with the updated maps. Then platform won't be an issue at all.
Me: I thought the SD slot was just for photos.
Salesguy: No, of course not. That would be kind of useless, wouldn't it?

Unfortunately, they did not have the Nuvi 200 in stock. They did however have the Nuvi 200W for about $500. It was, as near as I could tell, exactly the same unit but with a screen that was an extra 2 inches wide, at about $100 an inch. Fortunately, the Best Buy 12 miles up the road claimed to have a Nuvi 200 in stock.

It took me nearly 10 minutes to track down somebody there to actually sell me a unit, and then they told me that they were out of stock. I pointed at one on the shelf and asked about it, and they gave it a surprised look and told me that they guessed they could sell me that one. With the box in hand, I checked some last minute specs and discovered that a car A/C adapter was listed as one of the contents, but not a wall adapter. I asked if there was a wall adapter available and after three associates that knew absolutely nothing about any of their GPS units in general, I was assured that there would be a wall adapter inside. I was also reminded that I had 10 days to return the unit, and they would only take it back if it were unopened or defective, and that there would be a restocking fee in either case.

The plastic shell was nearly impossible to penetrate, and I was not able to play with my new toy until I had gotten home and pulled out the sharp instruments of my kitchen. By then it was late, and I had to get to bed so that I could wake up in time to get to the airport. I did notice immediately however that there was no wall adapter. I also noticed that the car adapter was USB-based, so I was probably okay anyway.

I didn't get the chance to play with my new toy on the way to the airport. In fact, my first test with it was from the Manchester, NH airport to Westford, MA. It took a few minutes to pick up any satellite reception, and then promptly directed me to the nearest toll road, even though I had the option to avoid toll roads selected, and there was another route available. The voice-based navigation worked well, right up until I actually got to the hotel. Then it told me to take a turn that didn't seem to be there (it was almost midnight, and the turn was actually there). The next few frustrating minutes the voice almost seemed to fight with me as I ignored her seemingly-inane promptings and got increasingly lost. As it turns out, Massachussetts roads in general aren't the friendliest in the word, and my GPS was doing its best.

The next day worked better. I got more used to the directions, and we got along well. At one point I discovered that there was a voice language option for "British English", and I never looked back. The woman's voice took on a slight accent, and suddenly she seemed to have a voice that was appropriate to the situation. She became a British dominatrix bent on consuming my soul, a woman so evil as to make Angela Lansbury in the original Manchurian Candidate look like Angela Lansbury in Beauty and the Beast. And yet, we now get along. Mostly.

Her directions aren't always the best. And yet, they almost mirror the directions that I get from Google Maps. This denotes to me a flaw in the local road system, more than in the technology. As you may recall, my first trip to Houston began in horror, as I painfully worked my way around I-10 with its series of exits which had all changed in the few months between the release of my maps and my time in Texas. This was not Garmin's fault. I also don't believe it was Garmin's fault when in West Monroe, LA, the evil woman informed me that I had arrived at my hotel as I pulled into the parking lot of an IHOP. I called the hotel and told them that I was lost, and that I was sitting in an IHOP parking lot in West Monroe. With no other information, the woman at the hotel told me to turn right as I left the IHOP and keep driving until I saw them. There were only two or three blocks away, obscured by other buildings. When I checked Google Maps later, the hotel's address also pointed to the IHOP.

The unit is still largely useless in Houston. She always tells me to take the toll road to and from the airport, despite two other routes which even the locals recommended instead. When driving on a service road, she will often decided that I am on the interstate (or vise versa) and give me directions that are essentually useless to me. But in Louisiana, she was dead on about everything, except for getting to and from the Monroe regional airport. Again, that's not her fault. The roads to and from that airport seemed to have been designed by sadists.

I still wish I would have had the chance to test other models. This one has been worth every penny, and I don't regret having bought a GPS in general. But I can't help but wonder if I could have done better at my price range, or if GPS units don't really get good enough to be proud of until you start spending about double what I did.

Friday, October 19, 2007

George Duran

When my wife called me last week and asked if I wanted to go to the home improvement show that weekend, my brain started shreaking in fear. Fortunately, my more level-headed voice said simply, "well, not really." My wife responded by informing me that George Duran was going to be there. My brain was too startled to be embarassed. My fingers were already heading over to Google to find out more. From that point on, it became only a question of when he would be presenting, and whether or not I would be back from Louisiana in time. It was decided that we would attend his last demo on Saturday afternoon.

Some of you are asking yourselves, "who is George Duran?" Others are becoming increasingly excited for and/or jealous of me. Most of you know that with few exceptions, I really only watch cooking shows. George Duran's "Ham on the Street" is something more than a cooking show. He worked in production in various print, radio and TV jobs, eventually hosting a few shows in Spanish in Miami. And like Alton Brown, he suddenly packed up his life in favor of going to cooking school. His show is informative, irreverent and highly entertaining. Before I had even finished watching the first episode, I had become a huge fan.

Elise came with us, of course. She may only be 8 months old, but I figure one can never be too young to be exposed to good influences. If Alton Brown ever descends to Utah, she will be present for him as well. We quickly found the Chef's Stage and took seats in the back as a local TV chef talked about something or other. He had the bored voice of somebody who had given one demo too many, and had finally switched to auto-pilot. At one point he asked if anyone knew of any decent substitutions for cream cheese, George stuck his head out of the curtain and said, "Laughing Cow!" The local TV chef gave a confused look and asked if they even sold that in Utah. As it turns out, just about every grocery store in Utah has it. As his demo ended and seats emptied, my wife and I moved to the front row.

George came out off and on to set up. He seemed calm and friendly, but focused. His chef's jacket reflected his personality. It looked kind of like a black soccer jersey, minus any markings except for a couple of stripes on the shoulders, with a button-up collar like a chef's jacket. It's actually very similar to the design that I've been thinking about for my own combination bowling shirt/chef's jacket. As it turns out, this is not the only area in which we think similarly.

When George started his demo, it was like a subdued, but friendlier version of his show. As he started talking, more and more people started arriving. The local TV chef (we'll call him Brian) was on hand to help out. George told us that one of his favorite foods is fried chicken, and that he was going to make a version that was healthier and tastier than a certain bucket of chicken from a certain unnamed restaurant who happens to be located in Kentucky. He used a technique which he called oven frying. He mixed light mayonnaise with some spices and a little water, tossed the chicken in it, and then tossed the chicken in some panko bread crumbs. He moved the chicken to a parchment-lined pan, and started talking about cooking spray.

He asked who in the audience was as enamored with cooking spray as him. I was one of the few people that raised their hands. He started joking about spraying it straight into his mouth and asked who else did that sort of thing. I raised my hand again, and he made a joke with me about how tasty it was. He turned his attention back to the food and Brian gave me a strange look and mouthed, "do you really do that?". I gave him a look that said, "no, of course not, what kind of an idiot do you think I am?" and shook my head no.

George sprayed the chicken liberally with cooking spray and moved it to the oven. My wife later remarked that she had never seen anyone use cooking spray the way that I do, until she went to George's demo. Honestly I think George was also a little surprised when he asked how many people did this or that with cooking spray and I nodded my head knowingly. If he had known that I had also gone to cooking school, or had my wife known how cooking school students are taught how to use "pan coating" as we call it, I think they would both have been less surprised.

He moved onto brussel sprouts. His goal with this dish was to convince people that hated this ingredient that it could actually taste good. He informed us that boiling was not that proper cooking method. Instead, they needed to be baked. He also split them in half in order to increase the amount of flavor that could soak in, and then rinsed them in water just in case there was any dirt hanging around in them. He then tossed them with bacon, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pine nuts, salt and spices, then moved them into a Pyrex baking dish that was then to be moved to the oven. He already had one finished of course, so he started calling up people to try it out.

I hope you can all see his strategy here. Since it's common knowledge that brussel sprouts taste horrible, his plan involved masking their flavor with things that actually taste good, most notably bacon. The dish was a success, and he wound up with several converts. As each person tasted the dish, he would tell the audience to "give a big round of applause... for me!"

I was told that cameras were not allowed, so I got no pictures of the demo itself. But when it ended and the majority of the crowd descended upon the food, I headed over to talk to the man, and see if I could convince him to sign my rolling pin. I had considered asking him to sign my baby, but I then realized that the tatoo parlor would never make it permanent for me (she looks just a little underage), and that the rolling pin might be considered just a little less odd.

George Duran is actually cooler in person than on the show. He was friendly to everyone, and only too happy to talk to people. He gladly signed my rolling pin and talked to me for a moment about chocolate. I instructed him that he needed to find a bar of Amano Chocolate before he left Utah, since I had been unable to procure one in time to give to him. He made sure to write it down on one of his autograph photos so that he could check it out.

My wife managed to convince one of the assistants to take my picture with George, and he was even pretty cool about that. We left the show feeling as if our weekend had already been made complete.