Etiquette

A second helping! Entertaining Advice from Alton Brown

The food savant opines about leftover distribution, white velvet suit maintenance, and the breadth of the human experience. (OK, as it relates to cooking.)

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Each week, our listeners send in questions about how to behave, and this time around, Alton Brown is sitting in the etiquette expert hot seat.

He talked with us recently about his new cookbook “EveryDayCook.” He is also a man who, among other things, was the toughest judge on “Food Network Star.” So he clearly has a few ideas about how things should be.

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What do you do with Thanksgiving leftovers: send ’em home or throw another party?

Brendan Francis Newnam: This first question comes from Nancy, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. And Nancy writes: “Given that Thanksgiving leftovers are the best, should you send your guests home with leftovers in Tupperware or just invite everyone back the next day? Which leads to the next question: should you have everyone intentionally make way too much food?” So Nancy’s a leftovers fan.

Alton Brown: You know, typically, there’s gonna be leftovers no matter what. I don’t think you have to ask people to make a huge amount of food. I mean, because, like if everybody brings something, and that’s the rule when I’m cooking. I’m just like, “I’m gonna do turkey and one side and everybody else better bring something else or you don’t get any turkey.”

I am a big believer in the reusable, re-sealable containers. Zip lock bags, whatever. And I send people away with food because number one, they’ve already been in the house, I don’t want them back tomorrow. And in getting out all those containers and setting them out is kind of a symbolic invitation to get out.

So take your leftovers and be gone. Which, I think at the end of the day, you’re ready. You’re ready for them to just go.

Rico Gagliano: But it sounds like maybe Nancy’s a little less misanthropic and maybe wants to have them come back the next day. So, I mean, would you actively dissuade her from-

Alton Brown: Absolutely not going to dissuade her at all. If she wants to be that kind of control freak and word over people using the power of leftovers to control them, OK. I’m willing to let it go.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Sure, Nancy, if that makes you happy.

Rico Gagliano: Great.

Alton Brown: Yeah! if that’s what you’re all about, Nancy.

Who gets the dry cleaning bill when a suit is ruined?

Rico Gagliano: Here is something, and this isn’t a specifically holiday themed question, but it does seem like a scenario that could happen in a holiday party situation.

It’s from Jason in Seattle. And he writes: ” I was just married. During the reception, I went in for a hug from a close friend who was holding a glass of red wine and it spilled all over the back of my suit jacket. My friend apologized and took the jacket to the bathroom to clean it up but it was mostly in vain. The suit went to the dry cleaners, came back unwearable. Problem is, this wasn’t just gonna be a suit for the wedding, but also for the future. It had been tailored. Should I expect my friend to help cover some of the dry cleaning or to pitch in to help replace the jacket?”

Alton Brown: The answer is clear and abundant: absolutely not. You’re responsible for the clothing you wear in any situation where people are going to be hugging while holding glasses of liquids.

You know, and what kind of suit? I mean, look, I don’t go into any public environment unless I’m wearing a dark suit in which case the wine doesn’t matter. What was he wearing, white velvet?

Rico Gagliano: Well it was a wedding, maybe.

Alton Brown: Who is this, Liberace? Was it sequin? I don’t know. But whatever decision he made, he should have known the risks before he went in. And, so no, absolutely he should have to bare the cost of that completely.

I mean, the fact that he would even think of, kind of, showing that off onto a friend makes me question yet more of his choices.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Jason’s from Seattle, it might’ve been a flannel jacket.

Alton Brown: It could have been. It could have been but you can get wine out of flannel pretty easily. And if he really, really is from Seattle, wouldn’t he not care because his backs behind him and he can’t see it?

Rico Gagliano: Wow. There’s a little love letter to you, Seattle.

Alton Brown: No, I actually, I love Seattle. But no, you go into any environment like that and etiquette would definitely suggest, rules of engagement would say you’re responsible when you go into a situation like that.

Overly helpful holiday party guests

Brendan Francis Newnam: There’s your answer, Jason. This next question comes from Joan. And Joan asks: “How do you get super helpful holiday party guests to stop being so super helpful in the kitchen?”

Alton Brown: By giving them something else to do. That is a classic problem. And so what I do when– because I have members of… well, let’s just say this happens to me. We’ll leave it at that. I make sure that I have certain jobs that are set up just for them. It’s almost like a PlayStation, “Look, you peel the potatoes.” Like, “You wanna help? Peel the potatoes.”

First off, nobody wants to peel the potatoes, but I just make sure that there are a few things that could be helped with that I can assign. The quality of the work is not critical. That’s the only way to do it because you don’t wanna shun people, you don’t wanna say, “No, I’ve got it. Why don’t you go watch TV?” Because what that says is, “I don’t appreciate you.” And that’s not hospitality. That’s not hospitable. So have some jobs laying around that you don’t care that much about.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, and then they’re like, “What are we gonna do with these peanuts I just shelled?” And you’re like, “Oh, nothing. Thank you.”

Alton Brown: “Those are for later. We’re gonna make those into peanut butter later.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: “That’s right, later. Thanks for your help.”

Mixing drinks for the sober and designated drivers

Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from Jose, via Facebook. And he says: “Do you make a special non-alcoholic punch/eggnog/holiday drink for the loved one in recovery?”

Alton Brown: Whenever I entertain during the holidays, I make sure that there is a high-quality non-alcohol beverage. Because look, a lot of people are gonna be designated drivers during the holiday. A lot of people wanna have maybe one drink and then lay off and have something else. So I think it’s my responsibility as a host to always have, and I’m not just talking about like, pouring ginger ale in a cup and saying, “There, you loser.”

I mean, I put real, I put real effort into making usually a tea-based punch. Which is something that I like a lot with some real complex flavors and some bitters and maybe some tonic water so that it’s something that you taste and you’re like, “Wow, somebody really put some work into that.” So I always make sure that I have a non-alcoholic beverage around.

When is it OK to ask Alton about food?

Brendan Francis Newnam: We have one last question. And this comes from a guy named Dana in Costa Mesa, California. And Dana writes: “How do you deal with the fact that people always ask you food questions? How would you recommend someone at a holiday dinner avoid that type of question that they’ve just grown tired of?”

So I think he’s asking that for you, specifically. How do you deal with people probably must constantly ask you food questions?

Alton Brown: I answer them. Or of I don’t know the answer I make one up. Because I don’t want to disappoint them.

Rico Gagliano: But do you not get tired after a while, it’s just like, “Oh, man, like everywhere I go.”

Alton Brown: No. I mean, if I get tired of anything it’s the assumption that I know of nothing else of the world or human experience other than cooking, you know?

But I mean, if you specialize in something, you have to accept the fact that people, if they value you, are going to ask questions for that. So if people stop asking me those I’m gonna have to start worrying.

Rico Gagliano: Oh no, you’ll be out of a job. But what should we ask you about, though, other than food? What’s a specialty you’re not often asked about?

Alton Brown: …All right, so there’s nothing else that I actually know about. But hey, that doesn’t matter.