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MICHAEL
    Some short questions: Where did the dinosaur spray bottle come from and can they get anymore? That's a lingering question on the fan pages.

ALTON
    I think that came from Target. It was several years old when I introduced it to the show, so I don't know. I could try to hunt that down. I don't even know who made it. It has no distinguishing marks on it, but I can try to find out. I think my wife bought that, actually. I'll have to ask. I didn't buy it. I never would have been that whimsical.

MICHAEL
    The paintings in the new house, where did those come from?

ALTON
    Commissioned by a local artist from a local artist that my prop guy knows.

MICHAEL
    Do you know their name?

ALTON
    Actually, I can't think of her name right now. Terrible, but I can't. She also designed and constructed the caveman costumes from Mussel Bound. She built Colonel Cookie from Three Chips for Sister Marsha, the puppet. And she painted those paintings and the cave wall painting from the roast show which is also up on the wall in the house, were all done by this same person, local artist. That's a good idea. I'll find out if she's got a website or something so that I can give to people to get in contact with her. She's quite good.

MICHAEL
    One of the Good Eats fans asked this, "In a recent episode while bowl shopping, you mentioned the preference for stainless steel over glass because glass breaks." However, he's seen you use glass bowls in subsequent shows and was wondering if this was because it makes for good TV or good eats?

ALTON
    Yes. It's because it makes for good TV. There are sometimes when I just need to do something in glass so you can see it. It's a visual thing.

MICHAEL
    Do you do anything else that's …

ALTON
    Yeah. I would occasionally bake something in a glass bowl although I haven't on the show yet. I didn't mean to dis glass bowls quite as much as I did. There are certainly things that could be baked in a Pyrex bowl because you could use it as a mould the way you would a casserole or anything else. So I certainly didn't mean to... I only meant as far as mixing. I would certainly cook in one. And I do have some glass bowls but when it comes to actual mixing I use metal.

    But on television it's really tough. My prop guys and my culinary people often gripe at me about that decision. They're like, "Why did you have to do that? This show would be a lot easier if we just used glass." So, sometimes I do. And I'm glad you asked me that because I do want to be clear about that.

MICHAEL
    Another fan asks, "What is your take on the great female/male eggplant issue?"

ALTON
    One's got more seeds than the other.

MICHAEL
    But, is one really a female and another one a male?

ALTON
    Yes. Botanically, yes.

MICHAEL
    Hmm. There was some discussion that since they're … I wish I had done some more research on it. They were saying that it is a sexless plant, that it doesn't take another …

ALTON
    It is a sexless plant. It is not a sexless fruit. It's offspring is not sexless. Sex is kind of a hard word to use in this application.

    You see, I'm not sure that they're right although my botanical knowledge is rather limited. I do believe in the nightshade family there are such things as male and female fruits but not plants. The fruiting body, the berry, would be the item in question.

MICHAEL
    I'm a little ignorant on the question so maybe I'm misrepresenting the situation.

ALTON
    Hmm. I don't know. I'll probably check that.

MICHAEL
    I've always been interested in where The Big Book of Culinary Lies came from. A lot of fans try to find that book on Amazon.com and I assured them that it was made up.

ALTON
    I think that that's actually a cover that I printed out and pasted on to an old cookbook. I mean, it's an old farmer's journal cookbook or something like that.

MICHAEL
    But, wouldn't it make a good book though?

ALTON
    I don't know if there are enough culinary lies to make up a whole book. I don't know. If there were, yes. But I don't know if there are.

MICHAEL
    Do you know what the back of it says? The back page? It's too small type to see on the TV.

ALTON
    Oh, no I don't Mike. Um, but you know what? We have it. I can certainly go look. It is actually, you know, it's a bunch of lies. [chuckles] There are a bunch of lies.

MICHAEL
    Oh, I see what you're saying.

ALTON
    There is something that makes sense there. You could read it. It's not just gibberish.

MICHAEL
    Like I said, I've got some personal questions, too, that relate kind of food-wise.

ALTON
    Okay.

MICHAEL
    How much of the real Alton Brown do we see as the Good Eats Alton?

ALTON
    I think I'm different on camera than I am in person. I'm a lot more articulate on camera than I am in person. [chuckles] I'm no where near that glib. My persona is probably stolen from a few different places. If you look close—especially in the early episodes—you'll see a lot of David Letterman movements and phrasings in me.

    I'll meet people in grocery stores and places and they'll turn to their spouses and say, "He's just like he is on TV" as if they are somehow surprised. The 'me' that's on TV is, I guess, pretty close to 'me' although I use a different beat in my conversation because it's written. I don't talk like that. I'm not that good, spur of the moment. I'm not that fine tuned. So it takes on a slightly different rhythm on television. But that's just me, otherwise.

MICHAEL
    What chef or chefs do you admire the most, in the public eye or not?

ALTON
    That's a really good question. Wow. Wow. [long pause]

MICHAEL
    Living or dead.

ALTON
    Well, you admire different chefs for different things. It's like, I admire Escoffier because he tried to apply order. I admire Careme because Careme was a poor street boy that finally got to eat all he wanted to. You know a lot of French food came from appetite. A lot of the French cooks during Grand Cuisine were hungry. They were 14 years old when they were put into apprenticeships and they never had enough to eat so they cooked their whole lives from the memory of hunger. We don't cook from the memory of hunger anymore. We cook from sensation which is why I probably don't have that many chefs that I just say, "Ooo."

    I don't go to many famous restaurants. I get very uptight paying more than $100 for a meal—and that's two people—because I expect so much of it that it makes me uptight. And I don't go out much. I eat in more places like this than I eat in fine restaurants. I have to say the first time that I was aware—I'm going to divert the question a little bit—the first time that I was aware of the greatness of a chef was in 1988 and I had just moved to Chicago to direct commercials and I went to Charlie Trotter's

MICHAEL
    Charlie Trotter?

ALTON
    Charlie Trotter. I don't know if you're familiar with Charlie Trotter. He's got a bunch of books now which I don't like. And I don't like his show. But Charlie Trotter's is an artist. And I ate that meal and it was like, "I didn't know food could do that." So as far as, like, big chefs, it's the people that everybody else looks up to. When I occasionally go to great restaurants in New York, places like Nobu and like Bolud and places like that, I appreciate that food for what it is. When I start having problems with chefs, though, when they start writing books making the rest of us feel bad that we can't do what they do. I can't cook like those guys.

    It's kind of like, I'd love to own a Picasso. I like Picasso. If I could own a Picasso one day, that would be swell. But I don't want to paint like Picasso. It's like the really great chefs are artists and it's like, I'm going to go to the restaurants and enjoy it. I don't want to cook like that at home and I don't want them to publish books that tell me how because you know what? You can't! You can't. You can not do it. They can write that stuff down, you're still not going to be able to do it. That's why, I think Joseph? [sic, Thomas?] Heller, amazing chef, French Laundry, out in Napa, amazing guy. I can't cook any of the stuff in his book because it's not enough to have it written down. It isn't enough. No more than it would be enough for Picasso to have written How To Paint A Picasso book. That's what we're talking about.

    There's a level... It's like, I don't call myself a chef. I'm not a chef. I don't have the creative chops to call myself a chef. Can I hack out a decent meatloaf? Well, yeah, because I understand the meatloaf and yackety-yak. But I am I going to create a great dish? No? I'm not going to create a great dish. Those guys have that artistry and I wish they'd just do it and sell it and let those of us that want to eat it and enjoy it and stop writing cookbooks. Because I know more people that have given up on cooking because they couldn't make Charlie Trotter's friggin' Rabbit Reduction sauce. It's so intimidating. It infuriates me that those guys feel like they don't make enough money already that they have to make the rest of us feel bad with their cookbooks. So, I don't buy them. I don't buy those cookbooks. I very rarely buy cookbooks, to be frank.

MICHAEL
    Well, let me rephrase the question.

ALTON
    Yeah, do. Because I don't know how to answer that one.

MICHAEL
    What cooks do you admire the most?

ALTON
    I admire any cook. I admire anybody that goes into a kitchen... You know who I admire? I admire the cooks that'll walk into a kitchen without a recipe looking at what's in the refrigerator and make dinner. And I admire anyone that will cook and invite you into their home and be gracious enough to serve you food. We have forgotten what an act of generosity that is, to simply be fed. Any cook that does that is to be admired. Otherwise, I am as happy with a hamburger as I am foie gras. Actually happier. I'd rather have the hamburger. A good cheeseburger is by far superior. A decent pizza beats the pants off a cassoulet in my book. That's where I'm from. I'm not French.

MICHAEL
    Yeah, your French shows give me a hard time transcribing because French is my last language.

ALTON
    Actually, I owe a great majority of anything I've done to a Frenchman. My first internship when I was in New England Culinary Institute... It's like the beginning of Apocalypse Now when Martin Sheen asks for a mission, "and for my sins I got one." I asked for the hardest internship, the hardest Frenchman that I could have, because I wanted that experience. And so I signed on to a restaurant in Vermont that was run by a guy that other students that had studied under him called him Captain Ahab. I went to work for this guy and it almost killed me. Actually, he's mentioned in my bio. He's mentioned in my book. Patrick Matecat His name is Patrick Matecat. [link is source this picture] And I was scared to death of this guy. He could instill fear just by looking at you from across the room. You have to understand, I was like 35 years old. I wasn't used to being kind of … I've never been in the military so I wasn't used to that whole, kind of, French system of tearing you down and building you up thing. I actually called the drive between the restaurant and where I lived the Trail of Tears because I would always either cry going home or driving there. I would cry, "Oh, I don't wanna do this. I wanna go to …" And he was French. Once I survived … I decided, well all I can do since I clearly can't cook, never will be able to cook because I'm an incompetent idiot, I'm going to stay. I'm just going to keep showing up for no other reason than I refuse to quit.

    And after about 2 – 3 months working with this guy, I suddenly 'passed the test'. I was worthy. I didn't quit. I didn't break. And when that happened, all of a sudden this guy started teaching me the most amazing things. He's actually the chef I admire most, Patrick Matecat, actually. Because in tearing me down, he actually taught me to eat. Because he understood that to be a chef, you actually have to start by knowing how to eat and I didn't. I didn't know how to eat. I didn't even know how to taste my friggin' food. And this guy taught me from the ground up.

    By the time I left there, he was like a father figure. And we're still really close to this day. I owe huge amounts to this guy. Amazing cook but kind of, also, a guidance counselor. So I went from being scared to death of him to hating him to absolutely worshiping him and eventually to being just deeply respectful of him. And that's something you get... Only people that have trained in French kitchens will ever understand that or in German or Swiss kitchens can get that process of what it is to take amazing amounts of abuse and kind of mental warfare that exists in those kitchens. It's like going to war everyday and then to come out of it at the other end and somehow not only a better cook but a better person, which I certainly did. I certainly did. I think I owe him a lot.

MICHAEL
    One of your fans asks, "Do you have a favorite meal or food you enjoy making?"

ALTON
    I greatly enjoy the interaction of meat and charcoal above all. I'm a cooker of meat. As a cook, I would say that my only talent lies in that. I have to work hard at everything else, but I have an innate sense of meat cooking, of meat cookery. And because of that I very much enjoy smoking and grilling and grill-roasting.

    One particular meal? Nah, I can't nail it down. I'm as satisfied with a properly fried egg as I am something that takes hours and hours to do. I'm a very simple cook and I tend to be more satisfied with meals that are made up at the spur of the moment on what's there. I like to improvise. If cooks were musicians, I'd be a jazz musician because it's about improvising within a structure. That's as close to an answer as I can get.

MICHAEL
    Another fan asks, "How 'into' cooking were you before you had the idea for Good Eats and before culinary school?"

ALTON
    Oh, very. It was my hobby. I think it was my hobby since, uh,...  I cooked through college, I cooked through high school and I was always a cook from a hobbyist standpoint. Always. But I never really thought about cooking until, I guess, I was in my late 20's, once as I was out of college. I used to use cooking strictly to get girls. Yeah, cooking in college was the only way I got dates. Pathetic, but true.

MICHAEL
    What's your fondest memory of your grandmother's cooking?

ALTON
    Breakfast. She was just great with breakfast. I don't know why that, but just everything she did for breakfast was just great. Something about the way she could get up and make so much happen in a small amount of time is really great. But she was one of those people that cooked without thinking about it. For them, you didn't 'think' about cooking; you weren't 'in' to cooking. You cooked because you had to eat and we don't do that anymore. We're more into cooking for different reasons now. She cooked to get us all fed and that is just amazing. She probably would have rather not have done it.

MICHAEL
    A fan asks if you'll ever get over your sweet potato phobia?

ALTON
    Yeah. Actually, I already have.

MICHAEL
    Will we see a show on it?

ALTON
    Yeah, probably. Yeah. Yeah. I think so. There'll be a sweet potato show. There will. I've gotten over it mostly because my daughter likes them so I make them and started eating them. It's like, "Well, you know? This isn't bad. I can live with this." And the truth is, is that they're so darned good for you. They're amazingly good for you. The nutrition is hard to argue with. I've gotten over that. I'm still not going to go out and "Ooo, let's get sweet potatoes." But I don't shy from them anymore.

MICHAEL
    Lamb's eyes, though? You still won't eat those?

ALTON
    You know, the next time I'm served lamb's eyes I'll give them a shot, but by and large the cornea keep getting caught right here. [indicated between his front teeth.] I don't have any foods that I'm not eating right now, nothing that I really dislike too much. I'm still not big on the cow liver thing. I can't do that.

MICHAEL
    A fan asks, "What is your take on using irradiation as a food preservation technique?" Any issues in there?

ALTON
    I don't know if they're asking that question correctly. The question would more be, "do I agree with irradiation as a method for controlling the sanitary aspects of food." It's not being used as a 'preservative' so much as a method of assuring sanitation.

    I haven't come across anything to make me really disagree with it yet. I really haven't. Here's the thing: let's say we have product 'x' that comes from the processing plant and goes through irradiation to me. Well, sure, I would rather things be done correctly here [indicates processing plant area] to bypass further handling. It's not that I have something against the process per se, it's that I have something against the fact that it's necessary. I think there are a lot of issues in the manufacturing or the processing of food stuffs in this country that needs to be addressed at the source of the problem as opposed to the fixing of the problem.

    Irradiation will definitely will make certain foods safer. Does that mean that there will be more abuses at the processing end? I'm afraid I think so. The second they know there's a safety gap downstream, maybe they'll be more lax and then maybe this will happen and maybe... I'd rather it not be necessary. It's not that I have a problem with irradiation per se.

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Copyright © 2002 by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010