Food Network’s “Good Eats” has devoured Alton Brown’s life for 13 years over 250 episodes. Next week, the metro Atlanta resident is planning to finish taping his last episode, a one-hour special on dark chocolate.
In an exclusive interview earlier this week at his Atlanta office, Brown said the relentless pace of producing the meticulously crafted, assiduously researched and always entertaining food education show hindered time for other pursuits.
“I feel after 250,” Brown said, “I can walk away from that library of work and feel good about it and know it’s had an effect to some degree on somebody besides me and those who worked on it. And it will hold its own for awhile. We wanted to make sure they were dense, juicy and succulent and last a long time.”
Besides, he said, the six-year-old set is “worn out. If we kept going, we’d have to replace it.” Instead it will be dismantled. He plans to keep a handful of props for himself including the painting of a chicken with a bowler hat and the paper mache chicken on the counter. “Maybe the bongos, too,” he mused.
The move was mutual. He never paid attention to ratings, which were consistent. Food Network has cut back on the number of “Good Eats” episodes it airs. (In April, 2009, it was airing the show 24 times a week. In April, 2010, 14 times a week. By this past April, just twice a week.) But it plans to air the repeats on its sister station the Cooking Channel more frequently down the road.
Brown said nostalgia has yet to set in. “I haven’t had a chance to stop and look back like at the end of ‘Toy Story 3′ when he’s driving off to the next point of his life and says goodbye to his toys. I’m proud to have been able to provide employment to a bunch of people for a good many years and hopefully more. I’m proud to say I’ve never phoned it in. I gave every one of those 250 episodes my honest-to-gosh all.”
Brown isn’t disappearing any time soon. He’s set to release the third of three “Good Eats” books September 27. He’s still a spokesman for Welch’s Grape Juice. He remains the sardonic commentator of “Iron Chef America” and co host of ‘The Next Iron Chef.” In March, he signed a three-year extension with the Food Network with new projects forthcoming.
For instance, he’s producing a mini-series about how food such as nutmeg and cod has influenced history. “Cod!” he exclaimed, with that smart-alecky grin. “Cod actually changed the world!”
Brown, after much resistance, joined Twitter in May and enjoyed corresponding with fans. But when someone pretended to be his wife DeAnna and used a photo of his family as the avatar earlier this month, he went ballistic and quit Twitter in a huff.
“I always want to protect my daughter Zoey,” he said. “I blew a gasket. If they had done anything but use that picture, I would have laughed it off. It’s like killing Mad Max’s dog. That crossed the line.”
He hasn’t ruled out other social mediums such as Facebook and still maintains his website. As for Twitter, “I’m not cut out for that environment. I’ll get mad again. Life is too short.”
Above is the column that will appear in the print edition on Monday, August 29.
Here’s bonus information he gave me that didn’t make it in:
Why no more “Feasting on Asphalt” specials: “We were going to do an international ‘Feasting on Rails’ in Europe but then the economy changed. We put it on hold and it never came to be.”
After the third book: “I want to do enhanced E-books. I’m working with a company that is pioneering this work but must remain nameless.”
His favorite episodes: “I tend to grab hold of odd ones for strange reasons. Those I like tend to involve strange camera things. Several of my favorites from the last two years include the second oatmeal show and lasagna. I also liked one we did on devil’s food cake. I like shows from our last two seasons. We’ve gotten more polished. Plus, there are shows I remember now better than they actually were. I have often said I loved this garlic episode where we see things through the eyes of a vampire. That used to be my favorite because it seemed so clever. Then I saw it again two years ago. That’s not that good after all! That’s why I’ve stopped watching reruns.”
Running out of topics? “If we’re limited, it’s by my imagination. Food Network has been sensitive to keep us very mainstream. That’s why you’ve never seen a rabbit episode or episodes with unusual ingredients… Plus, I didn’t feel the right to go into ethnicities. We’ve done some Japanese some Mexican, a little Chinese, but not in a way that we are experts… We certainly didn’t run out of food. Sometimes, we’ve done a second pass on things. You can’t say everything about oatmeal in one episode. So years later, we’ve gone back.”
Why dark chocolate for the final show? “Dark chocolate is much more popular now. It used to be just bittersweet, semisweet and milk. Now it’s 68 percent cacao or 70 percent cacao. And people never get tired of watching chocolate shows!”
Impetus for losing 50 pounds: “I wasn’t in anywhere near as good a shape as I could’ve been. I couldn’t keep up with the show. I looked clunky doing it. I can keep up now. Before, the show was beating me up so bad, I’d be laid out by the end of the day. That’s not happening anymore.”
His diet: Drinking a La Croix flavored water, he said he has cut out a lot of foods from his diet including most sweets and red meat. “In the mornings, especially during shoots, I’ll eat oatmeal or a fruit smoothie. I don’t eat lunch. I snack throughout the day. Eating lunch slows me down. I’ll eat nuts. If there’s a salad or beans, I might eat that. They do a nice lunch here. Then I take leftovers and eat that for dinner with my family.”
Why Thanksgiving as his second-to-last special? The first Thanksgiving special was from 1999. Food Network airs it every year. It’s become their Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It does huge ratings every year. But they wanted a new one. They wanted me to go out with one more look at Thanksgiving. It will be a way to do a low-stress Thanksgiving meal starting four days before. We create a modular meal to allow you to follow a set of instructions. And this also gives me an excuse to bring back a bunch of old characters from the past. Lucky Yates will be back as the dungeon master. Sid the sports agent will be there [played by Bart Hansard]. Widdi Turner will play a very cruel nurse to Colonel Sanders. Merrilyn Crouch will be back as my older sister Marsha. Chuck the next door neighbor will be there [played by Daniel Pettrow.].
Jeff Mauro winning “Food Network Star”: “I was in the first episode. When I left the shoot that day, I told the producers if there was one person I’d put my money on to win it would be Jeff. He knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to make sandwiches. Most don’t know what they want to do. Most are so desperate to be liked, they can’t figure it out. He stuck with it. Maybe he’ll pull it off.” [As he noted, most "Food Network Star" reality show winners have not become huge stars, save for Guy Fieri.]
His single encounter with tart-tongued Anthony Bourdain, who recently dissed many Food Network stars but omitted Brown: “Back in 2000, when ‘Good Eats’ won a James Beard award, I met him and I was incredibly intimidated. He’s such a good writer. [Bourdain had just published "Kitchen Confidential"]. I wanted him to sign a book. I chickened out. We have not encountered each other since. I love his work. ‘No Reservations’ is one of the best shows on television.”
His Welch’s deal: “We just finished a new set of commercials up in the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. We did three… People who see the ads may have never seen me before. Your cred goes up. Someone likes you enough to give you money to do this. For me, there’s no down side. Welch’s is owned by farmers. It’s a co-op. They’re extraordinarily finicky about their product. And it’s the most American of foods. Every other fruit comes from somewhere else… Concord grapes are American.”
The purity of his show, which features no endorsements (all kitchen appliances have logos taken off): “Food Network has never asked me to place product ever. For any reason. It’s never been suggested… Endorsements can weigh you down. I don’t want to be a dancing monkey. And I’m way too mouthy. I don’t like being bullied. Of course, nobody has come to me with the big payoff. Nobody has said, ‘Mr. Brown. We want to pay you $10 million!’ I’m not the kind of guy that happens to. If this was the music world, I wouldn’t be Britney Spears. I’m Tom Waits. I get some sweet medium-sized love from fans and companies that I serve very well. That’s fine. That’s enough.”
“Good Eats” was a loss leader: “We don’t make enough with ‘Good Eats’ to keep my company open. We can with speaking fees and publication fees. ‘Good Eats’ is a loss leader, the prime rib on the buffet in Vegas. It’s my sweet little Faberge egg. I get to fawn over it. We treated it well. It built credibility. Once you’ve lost that, it’s hard to get it back.”
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog