Foodie Wannabe? Here's How To Fake It

Melissa Block speaks with Alton Brown, creator of "Good Eats" on the Food Network, about his recent comments in New York Magazine on faking food and wine knowledge. Brown gives tips and explains why you might want to fake it on occasion.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. We were tickled this week to read some tips in New York magazine about fine wines and fancy cheese. It wasn't a story laying out the difference between the Brunello and Chianti grape or between goat and sheep's milk cheese. No, it was a set of tips for faking it as a food connoisseur. The advice came from someone who ought to know, Alton Brown, host of "Iron Chef America" on the Food Network and he joins me now.

Alton Brown, welcome to the program.

ALTON BROWN: Thank you very much for having me.

BLOCK: And first on your list, how to fake it as a wine connoisseur. What are your tips?

BROWN: Well, you know, when you go into a restaurant, one of the scariest things is the wine list, so whenever I'm really feeling intimidated, I'll just pick a wine type, like a Chianti or Brunello or a Burgundy, and I'll pick a year that's missing and ask for that one.

BLOCK: Oh.

BROWN: And then when they try to off-sell me to another year, I debate that the weather wasn't very good that year and that maybe they could make another suggestion. You know, in the end, you have to remember that wine folks, you know, sommeliers, are full of knowledge that they want to show off above all. So the goal is to let them show off while making it look like you kind of deserve their best act. And so asking harmless questions is always really, really good. And, occasionally, I'll make reference to having had several other bottles that I see on the list and then kind of let them go from there, so it makes it look like you know something when you actually can't even pronounce the words right.

BLOCK: Okay. That's wine. What about cheese? How do you fake it with fancy cheese?

BROWN: Well, the first thing you would do is, if you can see the cheese, that's always good. You know, T.S. Elliot said, you know, never consume a cheese without first having examined it and I'm a really big proponent of that.

BLOCK: T.S. Eliot said that?

BROWN: Yeah, he did. Yeah. You can look it up. You can Google it. If you ask to see the cheese, that's always good and it shows that you know enough to recognize quality of cheese. And then what I do is I say, okay, here's what I would love for you to do. Put together for me a cow's cheese, a sheep cheese and a goat cheese. I want one that's firm, one that's only lightly aged and one that's fresh. Can you do that? And they'll say, oh, well, certainly, sir. Then you say, ah, ah, ah, but now, I want them all to be American. Oh, and that'll just freak them out even more, so if you make it a riddle, that lets them show off their knowledge.

So what I always do is I always order an odd number of cheeses because it looks best on the plate. I always ask for cow, goat, sheep and I always one of them to be either blue-veined or wrapped in something mysterious looking, like ashes, because that just looks good on a plate.

BLOCK: Alton Brown, you were named, if I have this right, Bon Apettit's Cooking Teacher of the Year in 2004.

BROWN: Well, 2004 was a long time ago, but I do seem to remember that, yes.

BLOCK: Okay. Well, you would assume, then, that your preference would be that people actually learn stuff, know what they're talking about.

BROWN: Yeah.

BLOCK: Rather than faking it.

BROWN: I would rather people actually learn and there's absolutely - unless you're really trying to impress somebody, there's absolutely nothing wrong with simply pleading, you know, ignorance in these situations.

I only really fake it anymore with sommeliers who are being really snotty to me and I don't want to take their grief and so I try to do something to kind of throw them off or put them on the defensive, even if I don't know what I'm talking about.

BLOCK: We've been pretty high-brow on our list here, Alton, but what about your favorite low-brow food that requires just no faking whatsoever on your part?

BROWN: I'm an absolute connoisseur of cheeseburgers and like to think that I can detect even mere percentages of shift in fat content in ground meat in a burger and can actually name the temperature to which it was actually cooked to the degree if I'm, you know, really on my game.

BLOCK: If anybody really wants to know.

BROWN: If anybody really, really wants to know. It just goes to show how many hamburgers I've had, specifically cheeseburgers.

BLOCK: And it could be that your friends are just faking their interest in hearing your stories about cheeseburgers.

BROWN: Now, that's just something I didn't need to think about. Come on, Melissa, you didn't need to do that. I mean, now I'm just going to be paranoid every time I start talking about cheeseburgers. Thanks for that.

BLOCK: Sorry. Alton Brown, the host of "Iron Chef America." He's also the author of "Good Eats III: The Later Years." Alton Brown, thanks. Bon apetito.

BROWN: Bon apetito to you.

BLOCK: And one last thing. We did google that cheese quote from T.S. Eliot that Alton Brown mentioned. For the record, it actually goes like this: Never commit yourself to a cheese without having first examined it. Words to live by.

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