So, what's cookin'? For Food Network chef and cookbook author Alton Brown, the ingredients of his success are 252 helpings of his created-and-hosted "Good Eats" and 228 so far of "Iron Chef America," a pinch of "Feasting on Asphalt," three portions of "Cutthroat Kitchen," plus other odds and ends -- including, starting Sunday night at 9, the 10th season of "Food Network Star," the third in which Brown is a mentor/ judge alongside Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis.
Brown, 51, was born in Los Angeles and raised there and in Georgia, where he lives with his wife, DeAnna, and their daughter, Zoey. He shot and directed TV commercials and music videos while nurturing a desire to do his own cooking show. After graduating from the New England Culinary Institute in 1997, he self-produced two "Good Eats" pilots, bartered a deal to let Chicago PBS station WTTW air them free in exchange for ratings data, and went on to become, himself, a Food Network star.
Brown, who won a James Beard Foundation Awards in 2003 for his book "I'm Just Here for the Food" and another in 2011 as TV Food Personality/Host, spoke with frequent Newsday contributor Frank Lovece.
With all the Food Network shows you've done, are you now sort of the network mascot?
No. You know why? Because I think that, unlike megastars of the network, of which there have really been three -- Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri -- I'm kind of a journeyman. I'm not at the top of the totem pole, but I hope I'm one of the things holding the totem pole up. I've been fortunate in that they've allowed me to play in a lot of different genres -- instructional, documentary, reality competition and now a game show, which is what "Cutthroat Kitchen" is. I'm a good multi-tool that can be put to use in a lot of situations.
And we know from your shows you do not like single-use tools in the kitchen.
I'm not a big fan of them at all. And I don't like it that much in people, either. Not that it isn't great to be really good at one thing. I grew up and went to high school in the '70s and then college in the '80s and always thought, "Wow, it must be really great to be [guitarist] Eddie van Halen," doing something so perfectly wonderfully nobody else in the world can touch you. But that's not me. I'm a Swiss Army knife, at least as far as my television skills go.
Yeah, it must be terrible to also be a licensed pilot, an author of 10 books, a podcast host . . .
And you used to ride motorcycles. For "Feasting on Asphalt," you went around the country on a BMW bike and ate along the highways and byways . . . you were like "Then Came Bronson"!
Funny you should say that -- "Then Came Bronson" was one of the main influences on the show, and no one I talked to during the entire process knew what the hell I was talking about when I referred to it!
"Taking a trip?" "Yeah." "Where to?" " Wherever I end up, I guess." "Man, I wish I was you." I loved that show.
Speaking of classics, in the movie "The Women," Joan Crawford's philosophy of cooking is, "If you throw a lamb chop into a hot oven, what's gonna keep it from gettin' done?" What's your take on that?
I think it's fantastic. She's right -- it's a cause-and-effect thing: Put it in the oven, and what's to stop it from cooking? Cooking, by definition, is the application of heat to food.
It reminds me of that famous anonymous quote: "Cooking is an art, baking is a science."
I've heard that, and certainly with baking it's a very scientific thing. You can't just go in, start throwing stuff into a pan and expect a cake to come out. You have to understand the rules, the chemistry. With cooking, you can get away with a lot, you really can. A lot.
One of our readers is a 16-year-old girl who's a fan because, I quote, "He's funny." You not being One Direction, are you surprised to have teenage-girl fans?
I think there's just that one. Having done a few live tours now, I really only remember ever seeing one teenage girl in the audience. I'm pretty sure it must have been her!