Back in the 1990s, TV cooking shows were all over the map. The recipes were often untested — think limp tacquitos and runny quiche — while the format managed to be both dull and uninformative. Then Alton Brown came along, and the kitchen has never quite been the same.
Brown started out directing commercials and music videos. (He was actually the director of photography on R.E.M.'s trippy video, "The One I Love." Make of that what you will.) After attending culinary school in Vermont, he created the concept for Good Eats, his path-breaking cooking show, which he described as equal parts Julia Child, Mr. Wizard, and Monty Python.
The results were pretty tasty. Good Eats ran for 14 seasons on the Food Network, won a Peabody award, and made Brown a food icon. Its signature style — funny, fast-paced, and heavy on science — has been widely copied and changed the way we think about food.
Since wrapping up Good Eats, Brown has written several books and appeared on shows like Iron Chef, Cutthroat Kitchen, and The Next Food Network Star. Now he's taking his show on the road. In "Alton Brown Live! The Edible Inevitable Tour," Brown brings his signature mix of culinary science and tomfoolery to the stage, complete with standup comedy, cooking demonstrations, and live music.
The Flyer recently caught up with Brown to talk about splash zones, gassy sock puppets, and the Food Network executives who wouldn't take his calls.
Flyer: So, let me get this straight. At the live show, there are splash zones?
Alton Brown: Long story. Basically, when we started doing the tour, we ended up shelling out about 150 bucks a night to people to help cover their dry cleaning. In the end we decided it would be cheaper to just hand out ponchos.
Back up. Why do I need a poncho?
There are two very large, very unusual culinary demonstrations during the show. One of them tends to produce a large amount of airborne particulate matter. Not because I want it to — it's just a byproduct of getting this particular experiment done. And we have found that in certain theaters, some of that particulate matter tends to settle on people in the first couple of rows.
Can we talk about the sock puppets?
Anybody who's a fan of Good Eats will recognize the yeast puppets. They're really gassy. All they do is produce gas, so they have to express themselves through gaseous emissions. Let's just say that 7- to 9-year-old boys really love the show.
When did you start cooking?
I got pretty serious about cooking when I was in college. It was strictly to get dates. I had a fairly miserable social life, and I found that girls who wouldn't talk to me otherwise would occasionally come within range when I offered to cook for them.
What dishes were a hit with the ladies?
Really, anything French. I remember, I got a recipe out of Bon Appetit called Sole Au Gratin Florentine, which sounds very impressive. Of course it's nothing but fish with spinach and cheese sauce. But anyway, that one went over pretty big.
When did you make your pitch to the Food Network?
I never made a pitch. Honestly, I never got the opportunity. The short version is that I couldn't get a meeting. I had been told to give up, that the execs at Food Network were not interested. But then somebody saw part of my pilot [episode] online, and all of a sudden they were interested.
Are the people who wouldn't take your calls still working at Food Network?
(Laughs) All gone. All gone. That's kind of the sweet part of this. Yeah, all the people who said no to me are gone. I don't know where they are now.
Your onscreen persona can be pretty diabolical. Is that really you?
Yes and no. If you've watched Good Eats, that's pretty much me. If you've watched Iron Chef, that's me busy and in a hurry. If you've watched me on any competition show — Next Iron Chef, Food Network Star — that's a gruffer, more professorial version of me. And then, my game show persona on Cutthroat Kitchen — that's the evilicious, diabolical, James Bond villain version of me.
You've said that eggs are your favorite ingredient. How can people start cooking better eggs today?
I'm a big fan of hard-cooked eggs, but I don't boil them — I bake them. And that always seems to befuddle people. They're shocked that you can put an egg in the oven, and 30 minutes later, it comes out perfect. But for me, it's all about texture. It's a much creamier egg white, and you never get that nasty line of blackish green around the yoke. [To find out how to make Alton Brown's Oven Eggs, visit youtube.com/altonbrown.]