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.

quick bio

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 three books: 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 Best Seller.

Alton Brown appears regularly as a commentator for Food Network’s new series Iron Chef America, and he is the creator and star of Food Network’s new movie Feasting on Asphalt, in which he and a few cameramen take a road trip across America to discover the different foods, people and places the country has to offer.


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.

Now I have a kid -- my daughter who’s now 6 -- and I realized that whenever we went anywhere, it was more likely that we were going to be eating the exact same food, or that we could eat the same food every day because of the interstates and because of the way the big chain restaurants had taken over the landscape, uh, uniformity and homogenization was kind of the rule, so I wanted to do a project to go out and try to pretend that the big freeways don’t exist and the big fast-food restaurants don’t exist and that you can still have yourself a high old time if you pay attention, are willing to meet strangers -- which, in this culture, we’re not so big on anymore really -- and um, and kind of be willing to let the unexpected happen.

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.

We had a general direction, which was west, and we did not go on freeways, so it was just a matter of finding what we call the blue roads -- the little state roads and the original federal roads, most of which have been decommissioned. They were the roads people traveled on before there were interstates, and we ate when we got hungry.


Alton was in a motorcycle accident while filming Feasting On Asphalt. He broke his collarbone and bashed a few ribs, but it didn't stop him from filming. The show went on as planned.

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.

In South Carolina I stayed at a little motel in a town called Estel and um a young Indian family was running this little motel and ended up inviting us back to their apartment to cook curry and uh, I didn’t even realize at the time that a real curry -- a true curry -- is always a soup. It’s actually a spiced, yogurt-based soup that’s thickened with chick pea flour. That is what an actual curry is.

Fry Bread in Western Colorado and Utah, which is very much an American Indian food, and uh…you know, in Indiana they eat a lot of brains, um because of the German heritage um, every area has its own little niche, although some of those niches might seem to be something that we’re all sort of culturally aware of, for instance barbecue -- well everybody knows what the hell barbecue is, but when you travel certain roads you start to see these kind of microclimates or microgenres inside of the barbecue genre, so it’s interesting that you can only really get a sense for the uniqueness of these things when they’re taken in the context with the changing landscape.

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.

You can’t look at a food just because it is a national icon and just toss it aside, you know? For instance, I didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on hamburgers -- not because I don’t appreciate hamburgers. Gosh, I love hamburgers, um, but I ended up putting only two hamburgers in the show -- one from a little bitty hole-in-the-wall kind of place in Sunbright, Tennessee and the other one in, um, in a bar of West Los Angeles -- and they’re not even in the same show, but when you look at them kind of side by side, they’re very much kind of peasant food but in a very kind of specific way.

You know most of the food that Americans hold so dear -- things like hamburgers and hot dogs -- were road food, but even before they were road food, they were peasant food.
They were cheap ways for people without that much money to feed themselves, and it is interesting and perhaps significant that the most affluent country on Earth holds peasant food as its most dear.

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.

I worked in restaurants all through high school and college. I had always been in a kitchen with my mom and grandma and relatives and then, yeah, I watched cooking shows, although I found them to be uniformly unsatisfying, which is why I ended up where I ended up.

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.

And as far as getting to a woman’s heart through her stomach, I don’t think that there’s anything that is more important than just simply being yourself and sharing what you like. For the people that come into my house, I cook very simple food. My number one rule for cooking is just to do no harm. You know, buy simple, good ingredients and don’t mess them up. And don’t try to cover them up with your ego and your ability to use 15 different herbs and spices -- how about just cook the chicken and don’t screw it up?

You know, a lot of men want to make it look like they can conquer the food, um, and I think that’s the big mistake. You should just simply do it right.

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.

Alton says his most important cooking tool is his mind.

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.

I started as an assistant cameraman, and then moved up to the camera department, and then finally was directing television commercials for about eight years before I went to culinary school. 

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.

I’m the kind of guy that would much rather go and have a good time with a $20 meal than to sit down at a $200 meal. I don’t want that much responsibility, you know, I don’t want to have to be counted on to taste all those nuances and blah blah blah, it’s all fine and good, but in the end, I’m much more about the overall experience, you know, a whole meal can change for me if there’s paper on the table that me and my daughter can draw on with crayons.

I’m a family eater and I tend to enjoy those meals more often. Now, that will shift and change depending on where I am. If I’m at a sushi bar in New York, I’ll change my settings over to the sushi setting, then I am far more aware of flavor and that becomes important to me but… put it this way: Good service can save a bad meal, but there is no level of food that can save bad service. So I guess I have to say, in the end, service is the biggest thing for me.

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.

You know we fixate on the food so much itself: “Oh, the ultimate brownie or the ultimate this or that” -- well let me tell you something: It’s all poop in about 12 hours, okay? The real power that food has is its ability to connect human beings to each other -- that’s the stuff right there and, to me, everything else is secondary to that.

So, yeah, in my house we put a heck of a lot of emphasis on family dinner. Do we eat every single meal with each other? No. But we place value on it.