From The Charlotte Observer, 9.10.2003

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TV chef's favorite ingredient? Fun
Alton Brown keeps `Good Eats' going with high energy, innovative ideas
Food Editor

Fast camera action, fast lessons and even faster at cracking wise.

A minute after you turn on Alton Brown's "Good Eats" on the Food Network, you can tell this isn't just another cooking show. Brown is like a high school science nerd who just discovered caffeine.

He's just as funny on the phone, as we found out. Reminded that he was appearing at a festival with Sara Moulton, he said, "Sara Moulton? I can take her. She's shorter than the average Ewok."

Brown gave us a fast few minutes from the car, where he was stuck in traffic in his hometown, Atlanta.

Q. (Actually, we didn't get in a question before he started talking.) My mother-in-law, when she's not in jail, gets your fine paper. (She lives in Cornelius. And no, she's not in jail.)

Q. Wait. You were in TV production before you went to culinary school, right? I really wanted to make the show. So I went to culinary school to learn what I needed to know.

I'd always been a hobbyist cook. And I'd been frustrated that when I watched cooking shows to learn more, I didn't. They were all "OK, here's another recipe."

Q. What's the message you want people to take from your show? First and foremost, I want to entertain them. It is television. My biggest thrill is when families come up at my appearances and say "we love your show -- it's the one we watch together."

If I can educate people without them knowing it's happening, that's what I want. When people understand what's going on, they derive a lot of enjoyment from the understanding, the knowing. It's a powerful thing, to understand something.

Q. So much of your show's appeal is that fast, fun approach. How do you translate that live? It doesn't work very well at all. Which is why most of the audience leaves in the middle.

It does translate. People are used, volunteers are used, abused sometimes. There are props. Whatever it takes to make it fun and informative.

I've been told the live shows are more like a standup routine. And I think that's probably accurate. Not that it's funny, it probably isn't, but the energy, the interaction, the spontaneity.

Q. Your new book is on kitchen equipment, "Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen." And you do strange things with gear, like attach a blow dryer to a trash can to make a smoker. I've been called "the kitchen hacker."

Q. Have any of them backfired on you? Some things you try work and some don't work as well. I don't work things out randomly. I have an end result I want, and then I backwards-engineer. I spend a lot of time theorizing before I actually spend money. I'm intrinsically lazy.

Q. Who do you watch on the Food Network? I watch everything. I go through periods where I don't see much TV at all; I force myself to watch "Good Eats" just to see who's buying the commercial time. But most of the time, I'm kind of a giant Velcro ball. I watch everything.

Q. How about books? There's so many. But I'm more interested in food writing than recipe books. I like having thoughts, not just another recipe.

I use real church cookbooks, community cookbooks, that I buy at yard sales. Most of those come out of experimentation, from cooking for families. They're highly evolved. You get a great cross-section of a culture's cuisine. They're ingenious. They're like culinary anthropology.

Q. What are you cooking tonight? A wonderful dish called Chinese takeout. My mother-in-law is on parole right now, and I've got a 3 1/2-year-old daughter. Getting ready for a tour, at least one night a week, it's the little box.

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010