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Alton Brown's Recipe for Success With the Ladies

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Wednesday, July 26, 2006; Page C03

Food Network's Alton Brown -- hyperactive wit, biker dude, mad scientist and misanthropic Betty Crocker -- came to the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum on Monday night, where a sold-out crowd of 580 greeted the spiky-haired cook like a rock star, hung on every bon mot ("If God had intended low-carb desserts, he wouldn't have invented sugar cane"), then stood in line for two hours to get his autograph and a picture.

Officially, Brown was here to flack "Feasting on Asphalt," his four-part special (debuting Saturday) on his trip across the country on his BMW motorcycle, eating classic road food. Unofficially, he was here to spread his offbeat, unpretentious take on food: "Cooking is simple. That doesn't mean it's easy."

His favorite exhibit: Alton Brown at the Natural History Museum on Monday. (Roxanne Roberts -- The Washington Post)

The 43-year-old married father of one started his career as a cinematographer, but decided he could cook up a fun food show and grab a piece of the exploding celebrity-chef market. He headed off to the New England Culinary Institute , worked briefly in a restaurant, then launched his "Good Eats" show in 1998 -- followed by three bestselling cookbooks and a gig as commentator on "Iron Chef America." Brown's approach is all about the science of good cooking: "You buy a piece of fish. Some animal died for you. The least you can do is not screw it up."

Washington foodies got a sneak peek at his history of road food heroes (Henry Ford, Duncan Hines, Colonel Sanders), best and worst (curry soup, pickled pig's feet), tip for the best places ("Look for Mercedes and pickups in the parking lot") and an update on the right clavicle he broke biking in the Nevada desert (the part about swerving for bunnies was a lie, kids).

The audience Monday night included a surprising number of men and boys who waited patiently for Brown's signature. "You want to be a chef when you grow up?" Brown asked one 8-year-old. Yes, the boy nodded earnestly. "Good plan," said Brown. "Helps with the chicks."