Like most avid Food Network fans, I have long admired the work of Alton Brown. His trademark show Good Eats began airing in 1999 and is still wowing audiences with its savvy combination of food science, humor, and excellent recipes. He now has several other projects under way, including gigs on Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef, as well as publishing the Good Eats books.
We chatted with him about what he's up to these days.
How did you find your passion in food science and facts? Why did you want to do that kind of show instead of a "normal" cooking show? Because that's just me. I make Good Eats for me. I've always done that, it's not a strategy. It's just an expression of who I am. I didn't say, "Well, I'm gonna be the food science guy!" I was thinking of a show that was like little half hour movies. It was never a conscious decision to go after that sector.
So you have a new season of Next Iron Chef coming up. What's your impression of the next round of competitors? When I first started doing NIC I was very much a fish out of water. I'm not a fan of the "reality competition space," as they call it, and had to find a way to be comfortable in that space. But this is my favorite group of competitors. I think these competitors have a better sense of fun than in the past, a more positive attitude going in. But the competition is tougher than it's ever been before. The production company knows that whoever we put in kitchen stadium, has gotta be the best person for the job.
Do you get to know the chefs at all, or are you kept at a distance? This year I think I got to know them far better than in years past. There was a very different atmosphere between myself and the judges, and among the judges and competitors. It was a lot friendlier and I spent more time with them this year. We talked a lot about food.
Which is your favorite show to film on Food Network? I have polar extremes: Good Eats is my child (sometimes I think it's going to kill me). Pretty much 80% of my waking hours of the year are spent writing or producing Good Eats. The other side is Iron Chef America, which is completely unscripted. There's a huge adrenaline rush of doing that show and trying to cram enough knowledge in my head to do two of those battles a day. [Both of these shows are] me, but they're the antithesis of each other.
Do you get to taste any of the food on ICA? It always seems mean that they just make you watch them eat. No I don't, because it's not appropriate for me to do so. Unless I'm filling in for the Chairman I don't partake because there's no reason—I'm not judging or commenting. On Next Iron Chef I'm part of the panel that discusses and even though I don't vote, I have to know what they're talking about and steer the conversation based on what I'm tasting.
You have a new book coming out, Good Eats 2: The Middle Years. Where does this book pick up and what can readers expect to learn from it? It picks up at Episode 84, I think. I know it's heavier than the last one. It kind of continues along the same journey, which is that we went back and remastered everything and made corrections so it's information and culinary know-how. It's for the Good Eats enthusiast, as well as the home cook who'd just like to know these great recipes.
Any other exciting projects coming up? Well I'm on the set of Good Eats right now—actually we just broke for lunch. Working on a squash show, just wrapped up a Halloween candy show. I'm almost done with the third Good Eats book which will be out next year. And then I don't know what's going to happen. We'll be shooting through February, and then beyond there be dragons, as they say.
What's for lunch? I'm looking down from my office...grilled chicken, fresh buttermilk biscuits, some kind of slaw. Oh, a mixed cabbage and broccoli slaw and mango cupcakes for dessert. But I usually work through lunch and I've got to watch my weight - so no cupcakes.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves consuming and learning about as much food as possible. She blogs at Feasting on Providence.