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Good Eats - Hooked & Cooked (three pack)
THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Although it's moved away from straight cooking shows lately (kind of like how VH1 and MTV don't show much music anymore), The Food Network has amassed a large catalog of instructional cooking shows that it's starting to release on DVD. Of the shows on the network, few are as quirky as Alton Brown's Good Eats, a self-consciously snarky one man operation that dissects one element of the world of food per episode. The Food Network has been releasing three-disc sets of Brown's shows with each set containing nine episodes of the show (other series releases have varying numbers of episodes per disc.)
The set starting with "Hooked & Cooked" (featuring smoked salmon, tuna and a trio of fish cooking techniques) also includes the discs "Poultry Pleasures" (Duck, fried chicken and garlic) and "More Juicy Meats" (Roast beast, pot roast and leg o' lamb) and for the serious carnivore there's plenty to love. Brown, who never saw a critter he didn't want to throw on the grill, obviously relishes this topic in particular. The way he rhapsodizes over meats like lamb and duck is pretty entertaining and his buttermilk-bathed fried chicken does look pretty damn good. There is some innovation for the ambitious cook to glom onto here, including using a cardboard box and sawdust to smoke salmon and honey as a key ingredient for a tuna steak marinade.
Brown's recipes are often very tasty sounding and the way he goes into great detail on the background of the food is all very helpful. Discussing why the ingredients are what they are is what elevates Good Eats over some other shows. His discussion on the differences between tuna, for instance, and other fish, is very informative. Brown clearly loves food and his experience helps the viewer advance their cooking.
Unfortunately, Brown loves himself as much as he loves cooking and his sometimes-obnoxious personality makes the show a little tough to take at times. The tuna episode, for instance, starts with Brown feigning a steak-induced heart attack (and death) to prove the point that tuna is healthier than beef. That doesn't stop him from spending several other episodes on beef, however, and his shenanigans sometimes detract from the show's watchability.
The full-frame video quality on this set (and all Food Network releases I've seen) is rather sub-par. Edge enhancement appears to have been used and the colors are often over-saturated, giving the image a smeary, too-bright quality. This is especially hurtful in rendering some of the recipes unrecognizable and ugly.
The Dolby Digital audio is bland and uninvolving. While not necessarily key to this type of release, Brown's voice distorts at times and the sound overall is lackluster.
One nice extra is an "Ask Alton" segment that accompanies each episode. In it he reads and responds to viewer mail that followed that particular show. This gives him a chance to expand on ideas from the show and clear up any points related to the show's recipes. A very nice addition.
Recipes from the shows are also included (printed in the booklet), as is a bio for the host and a series of previews for other Food Network programs (which starts, by the way, with the on-screen text "Americans eat 64lbs of sugar a year," and then identifies that as a bit of "Fun Trivia," instead of the horror stat that it really is. Yuck!)
While Alton Brown's style can grate on the nerves, he's obviously very enthusiastic about food and really wants to share his knowledge. This is one show that helps understand not only just what to cook, but also why.