I came to the ACF National Convention hungry and clearly wearing the wrong outfit. Surrounded by "white coats," as chefs are called in the industry, I walked conspicuously through the crowd in my street clothes, making a beeline for Food Network star Alton Brown's lecture about salt, efficiently dubbed "A Brief Guide to Handling the Most Powerful Chemical Agent Ever Wielded by a Creative Culinarian: Salt." A food fangirl in a sea of legit career culinarians, I had stumbled upon a unique opportunity to experience from deep within the ACF beast what the pros do to re-energize. Here's what I learned.
1. The Gaylord Texan is effing humungous. Like really, really big. That place reeks of stereotype. There's even a full-sized bus that takes hotel guests to the pool. And some sort of wolf habitat next door where people send their children to be eaten. Or something like that.
2. The ACF National Convention is like ComicCon for chefs. All industries have their nerds. And when it comes to the culinary world, I found hundreds of theirs dressed in white coats in hot-as-a-Bunsen-burner Grapevine, Texas.
3. Alton Brown looks gooood. At nearly 50 years old, the man clearly takes care of himself. He can bake me a beef tenderloin cooked inside a swaddle of salty dough any day of the week. Please. Did I mention I came hungry?
4. Alton Brown is kind of sassy. His regularly-scheduled schoolteacher demeanor was spiked with just the right amount of saucy bossiness, and the chef-filled audience ate it right up. Perhaps we home cooks can't handle the real Alton.
5. Salt is kind of a big deal. As in kosher, finishing, high-performance, smoked, black, sea, and basically anything but table salt. That stuff is bullshit, apparently. And if chefs are doing their jobs right, we eaters shouldn't even need it on the table. Bam.
6. Chefs love chef jokes. They delight in poking fun at Emeril and Fieri (who doesn't?). They cheered when Brown jabbed the trend of molecular gastronomy: "Nobody has ever woken up craving beet and cognac caviar." Foam, like table salt, is bullshit too, folks.
7. Salt is the new butter. This was a direct quote from Brown, in reference to food sponsorships. No butter sponsors at this lecture. These days, he said, "chefs are like Nascars. They have so many sponsors they don't know who they work for." Brown's talk was sponsored by Diamond Chrystal® salt, by the way.
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8. Alton Brown likes his bourbon. He mentioned keeping roughly 17 varieties of the liquor in his home kitchen. That, along with nutmeg, cumin, finishing salts, cayenne and something he calls a "curry kit" are all things he can't live without.
9. This is why we're fat. Take responsibility for what goes into your mouths, people, salted or otherwise. Because "nobody is going to feed you like someone who loves you." So true, Alton.
10. Don't eat dog food. Or do, because that mistake in his youth sparked the passion that led Alton Brown down his fascinating culinary path. Add a bowl of Captain Crunch soaked with buttermilk and you've got a recipe for one fabulously food-obsessed life. We should all be so lucky.