why is he famous?
Alton Brown shot Food Network’s first-ever movie, Feasting On Asphalt, which combines Easy Rider with informative cooking shows. In Feasting On Asphalt, Alton travels across America with only his motorcycle, a few buddies and the clothes on his back. He rediscovers the disappearing people, places and stories of great American road food.
Alton Brown spent eight years working in the film business as a cameraman and video director, and he spent a lot of his spare time watching cooking shows. He found them dull and uninformative, and felt that he could do better. So he left the film business and went on to study the art of cooking at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont.
Shortly thereafter, Alton fused all of his training to create Good
Eats, a food show that combines history, humor, pop culture, and
science to make a highly informative and entertaining series on cooking
with common sense. In addition to his television career, he has written
I’m Just Here for the Food,
Alton Brown’s Gear for Your Kitchen and
I’m Just Here for More Food, which became a New York Times
Q-1:Tell us how you came up with the concept for Feasting On Asphalt?
Yeah, I think I’ve been working on the concept since about 1969 and
uh…I was born in California, my parents were from Georgia and, um,
they moved back the summer of 1969 and we drove mostly on back roads
across America, and it really put the wham on my head because I was
this West Coast, North Hollywood kid who, all of the sudden, was
seeing what appeared to be a different country a day, and, um, each
day was new food, new people, new everything, and for me there were
two connection points: There was actually the road itself and the
food we were eating every time we stopped.
Q-2:What places did you visit?
We started in South Carolina and ended up in Los Angeles, in a very
zigzaggy, strange path. Well it wasn’t as zigzaggy across Missouri
and Kansas -- those were pretty straight -- and then it went all
zigzaggy again because we didn’t know where we were going on a daily
basis. We were very vulnerable to suggestions of people saying, “Ah,
you know if you go 50 miles up this way you’ll find blah blah blah,”
and so we followed a lot of that kind of stuff.
Q-3:What was the most interesting food you discovered on your trip and where was it from?
Well most of them were subethnic foods, uh, things like, I got to
spend the day cooking and eating with a Navajo family out in Arizona
in the Navajo nation and I certainly had my eyes opened to some
ingredients that I had not fully exposed myself to, you know, I had
never for instance, grilled fat -- the fat from around cow kidneys;
they literally just grill it, um, so that was a big experience and
some other ingredients -- they cook with a great deal of mutton
which, although I’ve certainly experienced, I haven’t dealt with
quite in that much of a…in those numbers and um sheep or lamb
entrails and things that you just don’t see that often.
Q-4:When you were on the road filming Feasting on Asphalt, what did you learn about American food culture?
We’re losing it like the rainforest. We’re losing it every day. Oh
yeah. Because the problem now is that even the really great little
mom-and-pop places are trying to make themselves more like the thing
that’s trying to kill them. You know, "I own a little hamburger
stand but because the standard for hamburgers is McDonald’s, I’m
going to make my hamburgers more like McDonald's does so you’ll like
me." So smaller places are losing their identity by attempting to
conform in order to survive.
Q-5:When did you realize you could cook?
College. I had a pathetic social life, and I couldn’t get dates
very easily -- at all -- and I found that if I offered to cook
for a girl, my odds improved radically over simply asking a girl
out. Through my efforts to attract the opposite sex, I found
that not only did cooking work, but that it was actually fun.
Q-6:What's the best way for a chef to impress his lady friend? Would it be knowledge of place, food or wine?
No. Not at all. Um, hospitality all the way. Hospitality -- you
know, showing that you love or care about the simplicity of
having someone at your table and serving them from the heart. I
know people that could serve me canned tuna and saltine crackers
and have me feel more at home at their table than some people
who can cook circles around me. The more you try to impress
people, generally the less you do.
Q-7:What is the strangest thing you've ever had to eat?
I had a sheep eye one time. That was pretty strange. There were some interesting textures involved… not all of which were pleasant, in my opinion, yeah, I didn’t really like it.
Q-8:What's the strangest thing you've ever had to prepare?
No one asked me to cook the eyes, thank god. I was asked to cook turkey feet one time, I guess that was pretty strange. I didn’t know how to cook turkey feet until I thought about what a turkey foot is probably composed of, and then I kind of worked it out from there. It was for a private event. They actually wanted me to cook chicken feet but I couldn’t find any so I had to make turkey feet taste like chicken feet -- long story.
Q-9:To become a successful chef, which is more important: receiving professional schooling or learning the ropes "on the street"?
I would say that it is like anything else: Professional schooling can get in the way as much as it can help. So I would have to say: the street. Life is always the best teacher, no matter what you’re doing.
Q-10:Did your experience in the film industry help get you where you are today with your TV series?
The thing that helped me get into the film business was that I
went to school in Athens, Georgia and managed to get on, um,
working on music videos for a band called R.E.M. and that kind
of opened up a lot of doors for me.
Q-11:What is the most important factor for a restaurant to be successful? Is it food, decor, location or reputation?
It’s no one thing, it’s an equation. I’m the last guy to isolate
the food as an issue. I can tolerate really pretty crappy food.
I tend to not focus just on the food. For me, there are
constantly three factors: you know, location-slash-mood, service
and food, and they are constantly in flux with one another.
Q-12:Are you concerned with the way Americans are cooking at home?
Sure, it’s my business to be concerned about that. The thing that concerns me the most is our almost utter reliance on recipes over know-how, because you know you can’t send your kids out into the world to feed themselves on recipes. You definitely have to teach them how to cook.
Q-13:How do you feel about the increasing trend of Americans eating food in front of the TV?
Oh yeah, you know, we get the words "community" and
"communication," uh, and "communion" -- all have the same root
and, as far as I’m concerned, food’s number one purpose, besides
making our bodies go, is connecting us to one another.