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Alton Brown and the Myth of Multi-tasking

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

In a thread about home grain grinders, IheartToCook wrote:

 

I think it's good because then you don't have to have a piece of equipment for only one use... this one is very multi-purpose. 

 

Frankly, I don’t understand the fascination people have, today, with multi-task tools.

 

I know that Alton Brown is always pushing this concept. He’s often stated, categorically, that he won’t have a single-use tool in his kitchen. And then he goes on to tell us all about things like waffle irons, and deep-fat fryers, and pasta makers, and equipment like that---single use every one of them. And, of course, he’s always seeing single-use (sometimes one-of-a-kind, custom built) tools on Iron Chef and insisting, “I’ve got to get one of those!”

 

What we find, on close examination, is that the number one proponent of multi-tasking doesn’t quite believe it himself. So why have so many other cooks jumped on the bandwagon?

 

Don’t get me wrong. I have no objections to a tool that can perform more than one function. What bothers me is the idea that multi-tasking has become the primary criteria for choosing it. That’s just counter-productive, IMO.

 

When you get down to it, the only essential multi-task tool in the kitchen is a good knife. If you have a task that cannot be accomplished with it, then you need a specific tool. That’s the whole point of specialized equipment---it performs a job you either cannot do with other tools, or does it more efficiently.

 

You can grind grains with other tools; with food processors and some blenders, for instance. But they do not do the job as effectively as a mill which is designed for that specific job.

 

In the original thread, for instance, the OP is looking for a mill to grind rice and chickpeas into low gluten flour. So, yes, you can “grind” those products in a food processor or blender. But you will not get the kind of flour a mill produces.

 

I am not dissing Iheart. Just using this as an example of my point. There are reasons why many, perhaps most, home cooks have both a food processor and a blender; why we use meat grinders instead of the food processor; why we have deep fat fryers, and waffle irons, and both hand mixers and stand mixers, and pasta makers, and toasters. Indeed, the whole market for immersion blenders is based on the fact that they are a better tool, for certain jobs, than the countertop blender. So it’s not a matter of choosing one or the other, it’s a matter of having both, and using the one that best does the job at hand.

 

There are, to be sure, reasons why multi-task equipment makes sense. Storage space is certainly one of them. And cost factors enter into the equation as well. If a particular task is something you only do occasionally, then a multi-tasker that performs it almost as good as a dedicated tool is surely all you need.

 

What I am saying is that if there’s a job you do on a regular basis, then a dedicated tool makes much more sense than a multi-tasker that doesn’t do the job near as well. And that if you choose a particular tool only because it’s a multi-tasker then you might be selling yourself short.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #2 of 14

Yah. Have you noticed that a lot of the multitasking tools don't do their jobs as well as a single tasker would?

 

One thing about Good Eats that really grinds my gears, is that he sometimes uses ersatz gimmicky DIY bits of equipment instead of a more sensible option. Like on the episode where he needed a steamer for making steamed wontons. Ok, I can see not buying a bamboo steamer or a metal steamer if you don't do a lot of that type of steaming. But instead of using one of those 'flower' folding type of steamer baskets that have lots of different uses (as shown on good eats), he makes a kludgey apparatus out of tuna cans and pie pans with holes punched in them.

 

post #3 of 14

While we're on the Alton Brown pile on, I thought I'd mention his lasagna show. He makes his in a crockpot (first wtf), naturally using a lamp timer to turn the pot on and off. Second, his lasagna doesn't have cheese or dairy aside from some powdered milk. (second wtf) He adds a layer of cheese on the top begrudgingly (if you must have it), and melts and browns it with a heat gun and a blowtorch, natch.

 

I think he's letting the gimmicky side of the force take over.

post #4 of 14

Have never seen the show.

 

But reading through your post, K.Y., a question remains:

 

Who are the sponsors of the show?

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #5 of 14

food channel=money

Fluctuat nec mergitur
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Fluctuat nec mergitur
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post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 

FoodPump and Rat: There's no question that Alton Brown, indeed, everyone associated with FoodNetwork, is driven by dollars. That's just the nature of the business.

 

But I wasn't looking to start an Alton Brown bashfest---much as that's deserved. After all, I've made no secret of my dislike for that man and his rather juvenile schtick.

 

The point of my post was that I don't understand this big push to multi-task equipment as the primary reason for choosing it. For instance, given the criteria expressed by the OP in the original thread, I wouldn't consider anything but a grain mill. I would then, as the OP was doing, try and determine which was the best make and model for my financial and production needs. Multi-tasking wouldn't even enter the equation. Alton Brown enters the picture only because he's the number one proponent of the concept; and has, it seems, influenced numerous people to think in those terms.

 

Have you noticed that a lot of the multitasking tools don't do their jobs as well as a single tasker would?

 

You betcha, TinCook. Which was one of my points. F'rinstance, if both a countertop blender and an immersion blender did the same job, equally well, nobody would own both. But thousands of people do.

 

There's something to be said for the old cliche about jacks of all trades being masters of none.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #7 of 14
Thread Starter 

he makes a kludgey apparatus out of tuna cans and pie pans with holes punched in them.

 

Yet, there is a coterie of people---they think of themselves as the ultimate do-it-yourselfers---whose eyes light up at the idea of doing that.

 

I used to use an example of this from the outdoor field, where there's one magazine that appeals 100% to that sort of person. If you give them a choice between a new, top of the line, trolling motor, for free, or charge them ten bucks for a set of plans on how to convert a weed eater into a trolling motor, they'll be lining up to send you those sawbucks.

 

Merely proving that there are all kinds in the world.

 

 

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #8 of 14

KY!

    Do you remember the famous Rube Goldberg. The man invented things that went thru various intricate steps to do easy or stupid things. And it usually replaced a tool that was already on the market to do the task correctly

 

Most tools or gadgets are engineered to do 1 specific thing and in most cases do it well. Sure you can use them for other things . The handle of a screwdriver can be used to hit in a nail, but does it  or should it replace a hammer?  Maybe for Alton it would but not a person who wants to do it correctly and safely.   A can opener is for opening a can. A knife could be used as well.   CAN I TURN MY BLENDER UPSIDE DOWN IN A POT OF SOUP TO PUREE IT ? I don't think so. Therefore I use my immersion or stick blender.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #9 of 14
Thread Starter 

Sure, I remember Rube and his inventions.

 

The difference is, Rube was spoofing, whereas Alton Brown is serious---or would have us believe so.

 

Take the example TinCook used. If I needed to steam something, and didn't have a legitimate steamer, I'd grab a collander, fit it into a pot so it was supported, add the food and a cover, and voila!

 

But I reckon that would be too simple for the likes of FoodNetwork's class clown.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 

Therefore I use my immersion or stick blender.

 

Precisely the point, Ed. There are jobs the countertop blender does well, and jobs better left to the immersion blender. So you have both, and use the one best fitted to the task.

 

Similarly, you could use a food processor to chop beef. Would I do so? No so long as they make meat grinders designed for that job. If I wanted to make my own flour, I'd get a grain mill. For steaming I reach for my bamboo steamers. Etc.

 

At base, I do this not because I have all sorts of storage & counter space (the opposite is actually the case), nor an unlimited (ha!) budget. I choose dedicated tools because I'm lazy. They perform their particular tasks easier and more efficiently than anything else.

 

The handle of a screwdriver can be used to hit in a nail, but does it  or should it replace a hammer? 

 

If you're willing to really push the envelope, virtually anything you pick up is a multi-task tool. Just think about all the things folks have used to open a bottle of wine when they can't find a corkscrew. But, usually, as with the corkscrew, there is a specific tool for that job, which does it better than any makeshift multi-tasker.

 

 

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #11 of 14

I'm in agreeance with very much of this.  Many tools can be used for mutliple purposes, but sometimes you need a specific tool for a specific  purposes. 

 

Comments - home environments of course vary from professional environments.  So. a stick blender may be substituded for a blended or a food processor or something else.  All these sorts of things.  Like a hand driven grinder is more likely to be replaced by an electrical grinding machine.

 

A person may have preferences for different tools for different jobs.  There are a myriad of tasks and a myriad of ways to complete them successfully depending on the situation. But, some tools are definitely multi-tasking.  Ingenuity takes hold and you make do with what's at hand.

 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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post #12 of 14

"CAN I TURN MY BLENDER UPSIDE DOWN IN A POT OF SOUP TO PUREE IT ? I don't think so. Therefore I use my immersion or stick blender."

 

 

Uncanny. I bet this is what it was like the night the immersion blender was invented.

post #13 of 14
Thread Starter 

But, some tools are definitely multi-tasking.  Ingenuity takes hold and you make do with what's at hand.

 

Certainly that's true, DC. But that isn't my issue. I have nothing against multi-tasking, per se. My problem is when a tool is choosen simply because it's good for more than one purpose.

 

Let's go back to the thread that started this. Keep in mind the OP is asking about a home grain mill, and the respondent is recommending, instead, one of the most expensive blenders on the market. She says:

 

"I think it's good because then you don't have to have a piece of equipment for only one use... this one is very multi-purpose." 

 

The way I read this, the priority isn't getting the best tool for the job, but, rather, choosing a tool simply because it is multi-purpose---even if it doesn't do the particular job near as well. That's my concern.

 

It's gotten to the point where it's almost a sin if you buy anything that isn't multi-tasking. Well, if that's the case, I'm an unreformed sinner who will continue buying the best tool for the job, whether it's useful for other purposes or not. Example: Right now, on my wish list, is one of those curley-fries cutters. Can't think of anything more singularly single-tasking---it cuts vegetables into spirals, period! Serves no other purpose. But, by the same token, nothing else does the job the way it does.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #14 of 14
Thread Starter 

I bet this is what it was like the night the immersion blender was invented.

 

Ya think, TinCook? I always figured it was one of those guys converting a weed eater to a trolling motor. Somehow or other he mounted the propeller horizontally instead of vertically, looked at it, scratched his head, and said, "Wow! Betcha this would be great for pureeing soup." peace.gif

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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