Georgia's Good Eats Guy
When Alton Brown couldn't find a cooking show he liked, he cooked up one of his own.
"I was living in Chicago directing television commercials," he says. "When I wasn't working, I was watching cooking
shows. I noticed most of them were really bad, just a loud guy behind a counter reading some recipes."
He says his wife, DeAnna, finally "got tired of hearing me gripe and told me to do something, so I did." the couple quit their
jobs, sold their house, and moved to Vermont, where Alton attended the New England Culinary Institute.
Two years later, they headed to Atlanta with an idea for "a cooking show for our generation."
"My original plan was to write and direct a cooking show that would actually give you some knowledge, something you could really
use," Alton remembers. "But I couldn't find anybody willing to host it, so I had to do it myself."
Luckily, his years behind the camera paid off when Alton moved to the other side, and now his Good Eats is one the highest rated
and most entertaining shows on the Food Network. With episode titles such as "This Spud's for You" and "Man With a Flan," the program
offers in-depth (and slightly askew) looks at the process, and power, of preparing food.
A Lesson Before Frying
"I think they should teach cooking in high school. I guess I've always wanted to be a teacher; I just couldn't get the hang of
clip-on ties and lesson plans," Alton says during a shooting break in his new kitchen studio. "But to me, you teach all kinds of things when you
teach someone how to cook. When you learn to cook, you learn chemistry, mathematics, history, even Latin. And when it all connects, there's a power in
Although Alton's show is taped inside the spacious kitchen of an Atlanta home, he rarely stays tied to the studio's apron strings. Previous
programs have found him browsing through a local hardware store in search of the perfect cast-iron skillet or sitting in a surreal courtroom on trial for his
reluctance to use margarine instead of butter.
"It's like this—either I can give you directions to my house, or I can draw you a map," Alton explains. "With a map you can
better understand where you are and the relationship of other things to my house. That's how we try to do this cooking show, without directions, otherwise
known as recipes, but with maps."
The secret is keeping it simple and satisfying, he adds. "Cooking is just getting heat to food. So we try to keep it simple and do
things people have a real hunger for. I can talk about making a braised yak with a caramelized sauce, or I can talk about making a simple pot roast. I think most
people just want to know how to make a good pot roast."
Recipes for the Future
This year, some of Alton's continuing-education cuisine courses will include episodes on hot to smoke meat right in your own kitchen
("Bringing Home The Bacon" [Scrap-Iron Chef-Bacon Challenge]), the secrets behind making the perfect chowder ("Send in the Clams"), and
the lowdown on cocoa powder ("Art of Darkness II"). The commercial-director-turned-dedicated-cook will also have a book, I'm Just
Here for the Food, coming out this spring. "I don't call it a cookbook, but a book for cooks," he says.
In between all of his writing, traveling, directing, producing, and cooking for the show, he shares "a tiny kitchen" at
home with DeAnna; their daughter, Zoey; and "one worthless hound dog."
While he does cook a bit at home, "the grill is my domain," Alton adds. "In the summertime, I probably cook out on the
grill two or three times a week." His childhood may have something to do with
that fondness for charcoal-fired meat.
"I was born in Los Angeles, but we moved to Georgia when I was about 10. My grandmother was a true Southern cook, and I guess at heart I
am too," he says. "Southern cooking is very honest and logical; it's making the most of what you have. Nowadays, we hear all this about French
peasant food or Italian peasant food. Well, I grew up on Appalachian peasant food.
"So don't talk to me about polenta. Talk to me about grits."
James T. Black
Good Eats airs on Food Network on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Check your local listings, or visit
www.foodtv.com for show times and recipes.