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.

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