Alton Brown made it all better

Chicago TribuneOctober 12, 2011 

  • Here's what Alton Brown says fans should take away from "Good Eats":

    "You must learn to love heat, or you will never be a cook."

    "Taste your food often while you're making it. Americans hate this. We want to make it by a formula and taste after it's done. If you don't taste food as you're making it, you're doomed."

    "Weigh things. Our fixation with volumetric measurements has kept us in the Stone Age as cooks."

    "The best knives are the sharp knives. Dull knives are just loaded guns waiting to go off."

    "Water makes very few foods taste better. Water tends to dilute things. So if you are not extracting a flavor, if you're not using water as a medium, for example, soup, then ask yourself why it's there."

You never saw a "Good Eats" show about cooking rabbit in the 12-year, 249-episode run of Alton Brown's popular Food Network series.

"They don't want people thinking about eating Thumper," says Brown of network execs. No shows about kidneys or frogs or snails, either. His job was to deliver mainstream food and unearth the science behind it, in his own quirky fashion - with crazy, custom-built models, hand puppets and crew members pressed into acting roles.

"Good Eats," which aired its final regular episode this summer (three one-hour specials will air later), set out to show us how to make a better pancake, green bean casserole and apple pie (see recipe). As a fitting coda, "Good Eats 3: The Later Years" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), the final book in Brown's three-volume series capturing every episode, has just been released.

We talked to Brown about the show.

Inspiration: "Most of the kind of wacko stuff came from home. It's me wandering around the house in the middle of the night ... wondering how to do something better."

One example: "We made a derrick out of a ladder to safely fry a turkey. The crew thought I was nuts. But then when they saw how it worked, they say, 'Oh my god, that's beautiful.' "

The show's influence on home cooks: "My responsibility was to entertain. At the same time, laughing brains are more absorbent. Have I made people better cooks? I have no idea. I have asked, Can people do this and will the dish be better? Will the scrambled eggs be better, the pie be better?"

Brown has several projects in development for the Food Network. He'll continue his roles on "Iron Chef America" and "The Next Iron Chef." Brown was willing to talk about one project: video-enhanced e-cookbooks. "I intend to be one of the pioneers on that new frontier," he says. "I hope we do for that medium what we did for cooking shows, that is, something that hasn't been done before."

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