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Video: Alton Brown Chews the Fat with Ed Levine, Part I

Due to popular demand, we're introducing a few more Chewing the Fat videos. In today's episode, SE Overlord and Founder Ed Levine takes the hotseat across from Alton Brown (Good Eats, Iron Chef America) as they discuss the merits of a Chinatown breakfast, the perils of being a food personality superstar, and more.

These videos are minimally edited in order to maximize that great fly-on-the-wall feeling. All the better to hear about that time Alton's mom forgot how to boil water.

To take a closer look at Alton & Ed's pearls of wisdom, we've also included a transcript.

Watch the Video

[Videography: Jessica Leibowitz; Doodles: Robyn Lee]

Read the Transcript

Alton Brown: It's like a Chinese Parker House roll with garlic.
Ed Levine: Exactly, come on, it's a beautiful thing.
AB: It is, it's gorgeous, and I'm going to eat it.
EL: You should eat it!
AB: Well I'm waiting to make sure that...you know. So this came from Golden Steamer?
EL: This came from Golden Steamer, which is our go-to steamed bun place and they obviously do baked things too, I also bought a couple salted egg ones because they do filled ones too. But they're just kind of perfect little....
AB: It's delicious.
EL: Isn't that?
AB: It's delicious. If I lived here and worked here we wouldn't be in these chairs right now because I wouldn't be able to wedge my fat butt into it. Luckily I live in Atlanta where there is no go-to steamed bun place. Well, where I live a steamed bun place would be like the gym.
EL: We love this place, and they do pumpkin buns, which are our favorites, salty egg which I bought a couple of, one for you to try, pork buns, what else have you eaten there? Oh they do those hot dog, those weird hot dog buns.
Kenji: (off camera) I grew up eating things like those.
EL: You did?
AB: What's weird about it?
EL: It's just odd to me that Chinatown is filled with things like where they take a Chinese construct and put a hot dog, and put just like American things in. And it's become, you see it everywhere, right? Like hot dogs have become, and you don't see hot dogs in China, right?
AB: Yeah you do, but they're actually made of dog.
EL: They're dog hots.
AB: Yeah. Dog pops, they're a different kind of thing altogether. You occasionally find veins in them. Like C-Lobe foie gras. Like, "I got a vein."
EL: That's funny. So yeah, that's what's cool about the neighborhood. We can get a steamed bun, we can get one of those baked ones. And they're really carefully made. I took Susan Feniger there and she was like, "I gotta figure out how they do this." She kept looking at it like, "How do they get it this way?"
AB: It must be terrible to not be able to just enjoy your food. To look at it and have to figure out how they did it.
EL: Well I think that's what chefs do.
AB: I can completely turn it off. Like I'm not going to dissect, I'm just going to eat this.
EL: Really?
AB: Like I use my lizard brain as opposed to any other functions and just enjoy it. Yeah, I can do that.
EL: That's interesting because I would think that you would be also thinking about it.
AB: If I want to, but I can turn that stuff off. Absolutely I can turn that stuff off.
EL: So you can compartmentalize.
AB: Oh yeah, oh yeah, absolutely. There some people who see me and say, "Are you going to be real critical about the food?" Look, at one level, if you lose your ability to just enjoy the food, without thinking a whole lot about it, then you've cut yourself off from what got you into food to begin with, so no. You know, the active dissection and examination should be, I mean, that's pathology, that's way downstream of the pleasure centers.
EL: You need to scrub in for that.
AB: Yes. I'm going to scrub in for that. Absolutely I'm going to scrub in for that. That's work, and work's good, work's fun, work's pleasurable, but just eating. If I'm in the south and I go to some great barbecue place I'm not going to immediately try and figure out how they did the barbecue, I'm just going to enjoy the barbecue.
EL: Right. And that was fun, like when we did those things for Feasting on Pavement.
AB: Feasting on Asphalt.
EL: Feasting on Asphalt, whatever it was, it was just like...
AB: Feasting on Pavement, that's just the crappiest title. Feasting on Asphalt, good title. Feasting on Pavement, bad title.
EL: The point is, that was really great to watch you in that context because you weren't, you didn't have the lab coat on, it was just, "what makes this great?" You know? Not just from a food perspective and from a pleasure perspective but also from a cultural context, which is what you were interested in.
AB: That was the part that was most interesting, yeah, and if I ever got a chance to do that again I would go even more into that and the personalities and the people and how they got where they are and why they do what they do. Because people that cook for other people that are interesting to me. There's something about the mentality of people that are willing to prepare food for other people that I think is interesting.
EL: And you know chefs always talk about the pleasure of cooking for other people. Do you feel that same tug?
AB: I do, yeah, absolutely. The thing I like about cooking is cooking for people. It's that act of service that's actually, the one side of the hospitality equation, there's the giving and the taking and both need to be done graciously, both have a lot of pleasure in them, but I do find that cooking for people is very satisfying, at any level.
EL: And my wife claims that we don't get invited to dinner very often because I'm in the food world, do you find that people are intimidated by the idea of cooking for you?
AB: Yeah...until they've done it once. Because I never complain about the food and I always offer to wash up. So we get asked back, if we can get asked one time, we'll get back. But a lot of people are like, "Oh no I'm too worried to cook for you." And I'm like, "What have I possibly done to make it look like I would criticize your food?" What do you think I'm going to do, come in and say, "This salad sucks. Nobody eat this. Just put your fork down. If you can't do better than this, we're just, look, let's just go out." I've never done that, I've never been anything but grateful for any morsel put in front of me, I might complain about it later, but never then and there. But yeah, because of that people don't want to cook for you.
EL: And before you were on TV and doing what you're doing, that wasn't the issue. That was never an issue, right?
AB: No. It's also amazing how once you're on TV doing food of any type, all the people around you who used to know you, all of a sudden no longer know how to cook. My mom, who had successfully cooked for a lot of years, suddenly couldn't boil water any more and would call me up to get instructions on it, "So do I put the water in the pot and then turn on the heat?" I'm like, "What are you talking about? Why did everybody get dumb all of a sudden?" Because everyone just assumes that once you take on a mantle of expert that they should come to you for everything, which is ridiculous.
EL: Yeah no it's true.

More 'Chewing the Fat' Videos

About the videographer: Jessica Leibowitz is in charge of all things video at Serious Eats. Follow more of her adventures at mycameraeatsfood.com, or on Twitter at @photo_delicious.

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