What are some of the biggest changes Good Eats has gone
through since, I want to say the first episode, but your first episodes were
pilot episodes for PBS which were done in a different format?
Well, yeah. They weren't produced for
didn't know who we were producing them for. They were 27 minutes long because
that is PBS's general format. But we didn't know where the show would end
up. I always wanted to be on Food Network. The story of how the show got on—I
don't know if you even know it, you may know it—the saga of how we even made
it to Food Network, because we came very close to not. We came very close to
ending up on Discovery [Channel].
But the changes... The show's a lot less
straight forward than it used to be. We've received some criticism for that. Actually, the shows
that we're doing now are a lot more like season one,
thematically. Not that they're safer, but that we've returned to some of the
more straightforward methodologies. I got kind of wacky pushing the envelope in
some of the later seasons just trying to see where I could go. But frankly, the
big change... You have to look at it kind of in sequences. There was season one
through three, then there was season four, and then there's season five and
beyond. Seasons one through four were produced with a different production
company [Means Street]. Season four was produced with that production company
knowing that I would no longer be working with that production company which
made it, probably, the most painful year of my life. It was very, very hard.
Then—what I call the Renaissance—of moving beyond the limitations of that
relationship into taking responsibility for ourselves, having control to do what
could be done. Yeah, so the changes are that we're far more sophisticated now
It's mostly things that people wouldn't see. The shows
you're going to see in season six look better than the season before. We've
made changes to the way the video actually works, technical stuff. The shows
have gotten slicker from a post-production... Well, 'slicks' a good word.
We've gotten a lot slicker. Post-production is a lot slicker. The shows are
cleaner. They flow better. There was a lot of very, kind of, rough editorial
things that happened in the first three to four seasons. Now there's a lot
more flow. You may have even sensed that in some of the season five shows, that
they just sort of flow better. They are more focused, I think. And I think that
the humor and what we call 'the gags' are more sophisticated and more clean.
Highbrow? Lowbrow? Slapstick?
There's slapstick. Listen, you're going to
see a show that you do not want to miss. There's a show coming on next weekend
[April 20, 2002] called, This Spud's For You
Too. It's a take-off on the Stephen King book,
of what happens when my car breaks down and I get
taken in by a fan, a female fan. Very different from anything you've ever
seen. It's got an absolute storyline that just happens to have a heck of lot
of cooking in it. And it's got a lot of character development. And it's, well, I'll let you judge for yourself. It's highbrow and
there will be very sophisticated humor and then you'll turn around and
somebody will get hit in the head with a refrigerator door. There's actually a
lot of physical humor in Good Eats and we never lose that. Somebody's always
getting hit with something. [chuckles]
There's a show coming up soon where my
intern, Paul, returns in his Lever Man costume except this time as Lactose Man and
I get beat up by him because I'm lactose intolerant. I get slugged in the
stomach. So there's always going to be Three Stooges humor. I don't think it
lowbrow/highbrow. There are levels of humor. And there are a lot of jokes that
go right over people's heads, some people's heads. And that's not a matter
of sophistication. It's a matter of exposure. The soufflé show is called
Quantum Foam. How many people are going to get that? Well, it just so happens I
read Michael Crichton's, Timeline, and there's a thing about quantum foam in
Timeline. Well, only the people that read that book are probably going to get
Quantum Foam. I love that book.
I adored that book. It was even better on tape, believe it or not.
Oh, it was wonderful on tape.
Anyway, coming up with titles, actually, is
the hardest thing. I had it down to either a U2 joke, Unforgettable Foam from
Unforgettable Fire if you're a U2 fan, or Quantum Foam. And I decided to go
with Quantum Foam because I could literally lift it right out of the book and
of course Quantum Foam for physicists is something that I'll go goo-goo over. So
there are just layers. And I know that some of the jokes are so 'in' that nobody
else on the set even gets them. Well, usually somebody else on the set will get
them. But there will be a joke that the Network will say,
"Why did you say
I say, "Well, because blah, blah, blah, blah."
They'll go, [looking around suspiciously] "okay."
Well, the one that went over me was I think on your
gelatin show when you built something too big, 8 foot, and it was supposed to be
And I had to have other fans tell me what that meant.
Have you seen that since?
It's one of the greatest scenes in film when Stonehenge comes down this
high [indicates]. There are certain films, there are certain pieces of
literature, certain songs or whatever that we kind of use over and over again.
That's probably the third or fourth Spinal Tap reference. The other one being
in the Remains of the Bird when Paul's talking about a toaster going to
That's Spinal Tap.
And that's just completely self-gratuitous, because
it gives me the giggles, or it gives the guys on the crew a giggle. They'll
think that's a funny thing. The little 'in' jokes... When we start
ripping on something, sometimes they're a big broad one. Like in the crêpe
show from season five, the whole take-off from the Sopranos with the therapist
and everything. That was strictly what that came from. And I'll go back to the
same well often to rip off things. I don't think of it as ripping off, really.
I think of it more as an hommage.
I did a thing with the Sopranos,
mostly, because I was at a party in New York—this doesn't happen to me very
often—I was at a party for Gourmet Magazine for the launch of somebody's
book and there was this guy there that came up to me and said, "Wow. I just
want you to know that me and all the guys that I work with love Good Eats. We
watch Good Eats all the time." And I said, "What do you do?" And he said, "Oh, we write the Sopranos." And I was like [puts hand over heart and
struggles as if having difficult breathing]. I was like, "Oh, my god.
You watch Good Eats?" And I was like … oh, I was floored. And I immediately
felt like going home and start writing scenes that were hommage to the
Yeah, you know. Highbrow, lowbrow, I don't think in
those terms. I think things are either funny or they're not funny. There are
things that are going to be funny to an eight-year old and I want that there
because I'm still and eight-year old in a lot of my brain. And then
there's stuff that I want people that have only read certain things to enjoy,
because I want them to feel, like, a sense of community of, maybe, what I think
was funny. I just don't think about it sometimes. There are probably have been
jokes that only 6 people got, but that's okay, you know, as long as it
didn't get in the way. You know there are a lot of people who didn't get the
opening of the duck show. They didn't realize that was a whole take off on
Monty Python. They didn't get that. That's all right.
You were nominated for a James Beard award.
Yeah, in 2000.
Two thousand. But the [James Beard] website calls it,
Hand. That's wrong, obviously, unless there's another show I don't know
What happened in the early days is there was a
discrepancy between... There's a rather elaborate system for the way shows
get coded. And what happened in that case is that a show will start with a
title, but I'll very often change the title at the last minute. Now that's
not a problem because the Network works off code numbers. We have show codes and
you can never break a show code. We're now at, like, E-A-blah-blah-blah-
dash-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. But in the beginning when the
shows would first get listed for what was, like, in the works, they would have
the working title put on them and the working title would change. So the
show would very often end up getting even listed on the website with something
other than what was on the beginning of the show. And so certain shows ended up
getting two names. For instance, um, [pause to think] …
Oh, I know them.
[thinking] Yeah, well let's see if I do. Um, the rib
show went from, I think it was originally called A Rib For All Seasons and ended
up being Pork Fiction. And because of that—in the first two seasons
especially—that happened. There were, all of a sudden, contradictory names for
certain shows which I just took as being part of our mythology. It's just one
of those things that happened in our history where shows ended up having two
I was always intrigued by the fact that with the X-Files,
they had show names but they never put the name of the show up at the beginning of the show.
So there was never any way to cross reference a show name with a show. Like,
there would be an episode name but it was never up at the beginning of the show.
And I thought, "Well, that's just wacky." And I thought for awhile that
we'll take advantage of that. Why have one title when coming up with titles is
so much fun? We'll have three. We don't do that anymore. We don't do that
anymore because a lot of people are like, "Well, wh … ? Wh …?"
never wanted to lock in a show title until the end because I put a lot of...
For some reason, coming up with the name for a show just, it was real
important for me for some reason. It still is. Coming up with that just-right
moniker. And sometimes it's really, really hard to come up with a name that
really applies itself well. Or you realize that you goofed on some song title
when you really should have saved that one for another show. But there have been
times when I've actually wanted to write a show for no other reason that I had
a really great title. [chuckles] Which still happens. I have this list …
[gaffe #2] Very few of your shows actually follow the
title. Like, Mission: Poachable, the title went with the show but most of them
don't seem to go with it. Do you just like the names?
Give me and example of one that doesn't.
Maybe I'm misspeaking.
I'm thinking that you are, but let's see.
[pausing to think] Um, um, I guess I am misspeaking. What I'm thinking of is
the storyline that goes with the show.
Oh, that doesn't matter.
Yeah. That's what I meant to say.
Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. I don't
let that get in the way. It's usually a pun. I'm trying to think of names
that are coming up this season. Some of them are easy: artichoke, "Choke's
On You." Easy. Yogurt, "Good Milk Gone Bad." That was pretty easy.
Strawberries, very tough. Very tough. I ended up calling it Strawberry Sky. I
don't know why. Because I wanted to call it Straw Buried Alive, but everybody
thought it was too morbid, so I didn't do that.
But sometimes the names really
get me down, really, really, really get me down. I'll be like, "Man, I can't come
up with a decent title for this gosh darn thing," and it bugs me. Because when I
can't come up with a title it makes me think that I'm not paying attention
enough to society. I'm
not casting a wide enough net which has actually been the hardest thing about
working on Good Eats is that I'm so busy working that I don't often get a
chance to pay attention to everything that's going on out there. And that's
not good. I'm trying to fix that, but it's real challenging.
Tell us why you don't endorse any products by name
for the most part.
On the show?
On the show. Not on your website because you do.
Two reasons. One, I'd rather talk about attributes.
Now if I was really into attributes that were only in a product made by one
company, I'd probably be all right talking about that company except that they
can change their line. It's like I've quit using Polder probe thermometers
because they've upgraded and made the damn thing so complicated I can't use it.
I can't figure it out. The other reason is that Food Network will not allow me
to. But that was not a dictum that came down until season five. The reason for
that, people started buying everything I touched. And rightfully so, Food
Network applies ... that can interrupt, will get in the way of ad sales. If I
pick up a Lodge cast iron skillet, well, everybody was going out buying Lodge
cast iron skillets. Well, what's in it for the Network? And that's
completely understandable and I support that.
The other reason is that the
second that you hold up that logo, you're bought. It looks like your bought.
Every product... Well, that's not true. Most of the products that we use on
the show we buy retail because I want to be able to judge it. I don't belong
to anybody. Sometimes people donate things to us and sometimes they're really
good. All-Clad provides me with cookware. I accept it because if they didn't,
I'd still go buy it. Up until the time that All-Clad said, "Here. Have some
cookware" I was using mine. I would empty my house, hang it on the rack.
We'd end up cooking at home with two pans because I already used it. So I've
only accepted freebies in the case of, I would have used it anyway. I have never
been swayed and will never be swayed from one product to another.
has kept me from making a lot of money because there have been a lot of
companies, Mike, that have come to me and offered me endorsements that've
said, "If you'll use blah, blah, blah on Good Eats …" And I've said, "Understand something: Good Eats is off limits." By the same token, I told
the Food Network, "You will never dictate to me what tool I use on the show,
ever." That is the only reason people will trust me. Because if I pick
up something on that show, it's because I believe in that thing. No one will
own me that way. That is not to say that I won't do endorsements. I may have
some endorsement deals this year. I'd be a fool not to. But they will a) not
be involved with Good Eats in any way and they will never be with
products that I don't believe in, okay?
You think Emeril drinks Fetzer Wine at
I didn't know he drank Fetzer.
No. And yet he's got a stand up this big [indicates]
at the Fetzer thing. It doesn't mean that I dis Emeril. I'm just saying that
I'd rather have people trust me and so if I'm going to endorse something
outside of Good Eats, it'll be something I already believe in.
On the show,
it's not ever going to be... Since season five you'll often see shows that
at the end give a mention to Viking Range Corporation because Viking cut us a
very, very attractive deal on the ranges and the appliances that are in our new
kitchen and I would have chosen those, probably, anyway. And to get a mention, a
credit, on Food Network, you have to cross a certain financial line. I can't mention what it is, but that's why they get
So I guess it's safe to say that you use these
gadgets that you have in your own personal kitchen.
[sheepishly] Well, actually I don't own any Viking stuff because I
can't afford it.
I meant the smaller things like vegetable peelers.
Yes. Most of that stuff is my personal stuff or stuff
that we have acquired in our never-ending search for 'what's the right
Are you gadget complete now or are you [still] looking?
Never stop. Never stop. Not because I want more. My
dream is to have less. To have things that multi-task so efficiently and so
wonderfully that I can... I get joy out of finding a great use for a tool that
nobody's come up with yet. That's a rush. It's the MacGyver thing. It was
really great that Amazon.com finally posted their
critical review of the book
and that they actually mentioned, it was like, "Jacques Pépin meets Mr.
Science meets MacGyver" and I was like, "Thank you." That feels good.
Except for MacGyver's bad haircut, I like him.
It's a product of another decade.
Is there something you want to do with Good Eats that
you can't because of some limitation: financial, Food Network, personal …
Yeah. Yeah. I'd like it to be an hour long.
So would your fans.
We have an hour-long special coming up which took me
almost a year to make called, Down And Out In Paradise. Have you heard about
I have heard about it.
I think it will be airing in the summer. Unlike
anything you've ever seen, I hope. I like having an hour format. I'd rather
do fewer shows and make them an hour long. I get frustrated by how much I have
to leave out. I could make every show last an hour easily. It would be a lot
easier than what I do now. But by the same token, I'm forced by what I do now
to narrow down the range of every show to try to purify it, reduce it, only use
the most important stuff. But it would be great to make an hour show.
Well why can't you make it an hour?
Why won't they let you do an hour?
Well the way that programming really works on Food
Network and Prime Time is it works in half-hour blocks. It's just the way it
is. It's just the form. It's not like they're saying, "Oh, my god, we
could never let Alton Brown make a one hour show." It's just not the way
that the Network's set up. I mean, I haven't gone to them and said, "By
golly, you've got to give me a one-hour time slot." You've no idea how lucky
I am to have my original time slot. We premiered Wednesdays at nine, we still
have Wednesdays at nine. It's very unusual to not be moved after this much
time. It's really nice.
Is that the best time slot for Food Network?
I don't know if it's the best time slot. I know
it's been really good for Good Eats. We were originally given that because
they wanted to slipstream off of Emeril's audience. But we knew that we were
really... It's called tent-polling. We knew we were really tent-polling the
nights we were on by the shows that were putting on around us—you know that
you were kind of helping to hold up the evening. Or they'll work new shows in
around you to slipstream off your audience. If you look at Saturday night and
the position of Naked Chef and other shows, it's a really great line-up and we
fit real well into that. So I'm really glad not be moved off of that.
Wednesday at nine was originally a really tough slot because we're up against
West Wing. That's difficult to be against West Wing. Luckily, TiVo kind of
helps us out in that regard.
Lot of fans have appreciated their TiVo.