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Exclusive interview with Alton Brown as he wraps up ‘Good Eats’

Publicity shot before his 10th anniversary doing "Good Eats" in 2009

Publicity shot before his 10th anniversary doing "Good Eats" in 2009

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 plans to keep this painting of the chicken with the bowler hat once the "Good Eats" set is dismantled. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Brown plans to keep this painting of the chicken with the bowler hat once the "Good Eats" set is dismantled. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

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.

Another prop Brown plans to keep: the paper mache chicken on the set counter.

Another prop Brown plans to keep: the paper mache chicken on the set counter.

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.”

Join my Facebook fan page and Twitter.

By Rodney Ho, rho@ajc.com, AJCRadioTV blog

93 comments Add your comment

Odis

August 26th, 2011
3:18 pm

AB is such a smart sensible guy. Kinda reminds me of a great high school chemistry teacher I once had.

AJ

August 26th, 2011
3:24 pm

Love Good Eats. Have the 1st 2 books. Will get the 3rd. I’d love to get the ENTIRE series on DVD. Doubt it’d happen though :-(

Bob

August 26th, 2011
5:59 pm

I learned so much about the origins of many types of foods from this show. I would watch the show and would often say to myself “I didn’t know that!” The origins of certain apples, potatoes, tomatoes, and various other foods is sometimes astounding.

Wendy

August 26th, 2011
6:14 pm

Say it isn’t so???? Alton Brown is some of the smartest and most enjoyable tv that is has ever been produced. Thank you for the gift you gave us all Mr. Brown! You have touched my family with your gifts and for that I’m most grateful.

Bino

August 26th, 2011
6:20 pm

Enjoyed the shows…loved the retro shirts!

Scott

August 26th, 2011
6:29 pm

Thanks for a decade-plus of good, entertaining and educational cooking!

All of my family, and most of my friends, have learned a thing or two about cooking from the years of enjoyment of watching and trying meal prep I picked up from Good Eats. Adding a pinch of salt to ground coffee in the morning is one of AB’s lasting legacy’s in our kitchen.

Favorite dish/show … cooking rib roast in a Terracotta planter!

Highlander

August 26th, 2011
6:51 pm

Thanks, Alton, for all the information, fun food facts and wit dished out over the years – both with ‘Good Eats’ and ‘Feasting On Asphalt.’

Barbara Chumbler

August 26th, 2011
7:01 pm

Good Eats made learning fun, and everybody was nice! I am so sick of TV shows where people are rude and constantly insulting one another (on one program I even heard Paula Deen say in a haughty tone, “my grandson can cook better than this!”) Good Eats is one of the last “feel good” shows where you end up smiling at the end and everybody wins. I capture it every time with my DVR and watch it over and over because it is fabulous!

Tommy Maddox

August 26th, 2011
7:06 pm

Thanks for the work Alton. I’ll never make home-made pad thai. See ya at Superior…

John

August 26th, 2011
7:25 pm

Loved Good Eats!, best mix of food and fun I have ever seen. Taught me so much. Alton is the man!!

CAR

August 26th, 2011
7:34 pm

Thanks for all the great shows, and thanks for inspiring people to learn about cooking and baking. I still refer to your cookie episode all the time when I want to bake a specific kind of cookie! We went to your 10th anniversary show at the Cobb, and we enjoyed hearing what got you started down this path. I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us in the future, and I know I can count on you to be credible, no matter what! In the meantime, we’ll keep watching ICA and TNIC! PS – I don’t blame you for leaving Twitter! I miss you, but I don’t blame you! =)

Trip

August 26th, 2011
7:49 pm

Anybody notice the no cooking shows on the food network (formerly food tv)? It is like the no music videos on MTV parallel. PS I have learned a lifetime of cooking info by watching Alton. Sorry to see Good Eats go.

Steve

August 26th, 2011
9:05 pm

Good Eats is a good show, but Food Network absi=olutely SUCKS these days. It’s no longer about cooking. It’s about faked drama and stupid cupcake contests. Sorry to see GE go, though. I learned a lot from it.

Bacchus

August 26th, 2011
9:19 pm

So long, Good Eats. Great show, I learned a lot about cooking and food history from it.

It’s nice to know AB isn’t gone forever or throwing in the tea towel, because TV needs more guys like this with some class, humility, and captivating ways of presenting a program. See you around the local farmers markets…

-BL

terrybear

August 26th, 2011
9:41 pm

Alton told you “why” things are or should be cooked in a certain manner, and in a way that taught rather than condescended. I actually learned things from his show that were usable. I hope that’s what he and his producers intended, and for me, it was.

epic quibble

August 26th, 2011
9:47 pm

Oh, bother.

Vaya con Elvis, AB. You shall be missed.

Rick

August 26th, 2011
9:58 pm

As a 49 year old life-long batchelor, I’ve eaten out for most of my adult life. As a nerd, I found his program interesting, educational, and enjoyable. I can actually cook a few things now, thanks to this show. I’ll have to purchase the DVD collection so I can continue to watch w/o filling up my DVR. Thanks again Alton!

William

August 26th, 2011
10:03 pm

I’ll miss those great shows. Well done sir!

Love the show

August 26th, 2011
10:10 pm

Alton Brown is an evil egomaniac. His on-air persona is so different then if you were to actually know him. And yes, I have. He’s an a$$.

bhorsoft

August 26th, 2011
10:14 pm

I’ll miss the shows, but I keep some of my favorites (and ones I use) on the DVR. Would love to see another Feasting on Asphalt. Whenever I travel on a motorcycle, I follow three of his rules: Only back roads, only mom & pop places – no chains, and no whining. I’ve found some amazing places on the road using Alton’s rules and “following my front wheel”. One of these days I’d like the chance to ride with Alton.

Tim

August 26th, 2011
10:30 pm

Research my butt. At least dictionaries never were used- A.B. constantly mispronounced arthropod, astaxanthin, and plantain. He also said 2% milk has had 98% of its fat removed. Whole milk’s only 3.5-4% fat to start with, so 2% milk has had about 50% of its fat removed. Alton’s last show should be a corrections episode.

Neil

August 26th, 2011
10:30 pm

The end of an era. The best food show ever.

Doris M

August 26th, 2011
10:32 pm

Sorry to see Good Eats go. I learned a lot about the science of cooking by watching his show. Guess I’ll look for the DVDs. And as Steve stated, the Food Network is not as interesting lately. Most shows just do not draw my attention. I’ll be looking for specials from Alton Brown.

AdvRider

August 26th, 2011
10:51 pm

Alton,

You body of work has been incredible and taught me lots about food and cooking. I had the good fortune to meet you in person and you were most gracious in talking about pizza with me. TV needs more shows like yours, and I agree with those above who think Food Network has lost its ways unfortunately. We look forward to your future works.

Winnie

August 26th, 2011
11:04 pm

I loved watching Good Eats and I loved Alton Brown. I’ve been a home cook for more than 45 years and as a nerdy kid loved to read cookbooks. I was always excited to see what I would learn when I watched his shows. Feasting on Asphalt was fun to watch, too. I always wished there were more of those. Best of luck, Alton!

Dyan R

August 26th, 2011
11:10 pm

I am sorry to see Good Eats go. I have learned a great deal about cooking and the chemistry of cooking from this show. I agree that the Food Network is not interesting any more. I started watching to learn something now someone has to be eliminated or Food Network won’t show it. I am not going to waste my time on this.
Alton shops at the same stores that I shop. It was kind of fun seeing my stores on TV.

@ Tim

August 26th, 2011
11:13 pm

Lemme guess…. You are an in-town “metrosexual” (wink-wink) elitist snob who points out other people’s typos. Oh yes- and you voted for Obama! Sounds like you strike out on all counts.

David Galloway

August 26th, 2011
11:16 pm

Good Eats was the first show that caught my imagination. Its production values were superb with remarkable creativity and writing. I have been a big fan of Alton for a long time. I hate that it is ending must his explanation as to why this is the time makes good sense. I wish him well as he begins a new adventure in his life journey. Always enjoy the ride, which is what I sensed made Good Eats so winsome. I will miss you in this venue.

Queen Nerfballteedi

August 26th, 2011
11:30 pm

Good Eats was a very entertaining show, but when he started talkin all scientific my eyes would glaze over and I would get up and eat a cold pop tart.

I met him once at a restaurant in Midtown, he was very humble and sincere. Talked with me for couple of minutes and looked me in the eye whole time. I think he’s good peeps.

patrick

August 26th, 2011
11:45 pm

Alton is a rarity in modern television. A true visionary who looked after those who helped him get to where he is and rewarded them with true loyalty beyond anyone of his stature. He has helped the local economy in Atlanta greatly, and will keep doing so. Good Eats might be over, but the future will bring other things. I’m sad to see Good Eats end, but it never jumped the shark, and the next evolution will be brilliant. I expect nothing less.

Rich

August 26th, 2011
11:47 pm

Today my wife’s new deep-fat fryer arrived. I immediately asked her to go out and buy a proper thermometer, based solely on the episode, some years ago, when Alton taught us how to fry properly and that by holding the temperature of the oil in just the right narrow range, fried food is not only super-tasty, it won’t harm our health. Between the books and the shows, I learned almost everything I know about cooking well and food-shopping well. Thanks Alton – you’ve been an outstanding and entertaining teacher.

Mike

August 27th, 2011
12:54 am

My wife and I have enjoyed Good Eats from the beginning and will be sorry to see it go.
My wife and I were fortunate to have seen Alton at Jack’s Cosmic Dogs in Charleston, SC around New Years about the time that Feasting on Asphalt came out. We thought about approaching him, but he was there with others and we didn’t want to intrude. Alton, thank you for your time and effort on Good Eats.

TrishaDishaWarEagle

August 27th, 2011
1:08 am

I still love the ‘atlanta blizzard’ episode best!

irish

August 27th, 2011
2:46 am

Enter your comments here

irish

August 27th, 2011
2:52 am

Mr brown loved your show and anything you choose to enter into i am sure will be a huge success! You entertained me,taught me and encouraged me to look further in my self to accomplish more. Thank you and God Bless in your next endeavour. Good Eating!!

Janice Scott

August 27th, 2011
6:21 am

Only untrue comment in this article is that AB maintains his website……it is old and rarely updated. Wish he would!

Rufio

August 27th, 2011
7:22 am

I am no longer a big fan of Food Network but I or I should say We are big fans of Alton and Good Eats. How many cooking shows get the whole family to watch. My son ,a senior in college, grew up on Good Eats. He wrote several school papers on Good Eats or in their style. There was a point that his hair and glasses looked like Alton. So, Alton will always be part of the family. I wish I knew where to buy the turkey with the bowler hat!

Marietta Native

August 27th, 2011
7:34 am

I don’t believe there will ever been another program on TV that will give me glimpse of the town I was born in and grew up in. Ah…the episode when you went to Mr. Ragsdale’s Hardware Store, priceless to me.
Thanks, Alton for a great, informative and vastly entertaining program. Your “Good Eats” will be missed!

[...] Alton Brown taught science via his show, Good Eats.  He is now working on an e-book – betcha it is an interactive e-book — wouldn’t that be a great model for textbooks – dynamic updates, multi-media, allow reader to easily connect to the internet for more Q&A… [...]

PTC DAWG

August 27th, 2011
8:30 am

Good luck AB in whatever you do next. Your show got me to think about cooking. And I’m a much better cook for it.

Thanks…

Marietta Dog

August 27th, 2011
8:31 am

AB has always been cool. I get a kick out of seeing him at Harry’s in Marietta picking through the fresh produce just like the rest of us.

Ms Mayers

August 27th, 2011
8:51 am

We really enjoyed Alton Browns shows, Food Network though is nothing more these days to us as the
” Cake Network ” what the heck happened there ? it used to be something to look forward to but thats all gone ,we never watch anymore, theres not one single show on food network in our opinion worth watching anymore,sad……..they could at least do re-runs of some of the good shows like Two Fat Ladies,The Best of, Food Finds etc,bt oh,no, its stupid “Cakes ” and reality type non cooking yuck.thats my opinion, Best of luck to Alton !!!!

Vashtai

August 27th, 2011
8:58 am

I like the Cooking Channel and I’m glad Good Eats will soon be in heavy rotation there. They also show old episodes of The French Chef with Julia Child and I love those!

Tweaky

August 27th, 2011
9:09 am

He is not hurtin’ after his loss leader show. A very nice house in Marietta near the square, a near million dollar house on St. Simons.

a reader

August 27th, 2011
9:14 am

that show and that alton always makes me want to cook. almost as much as the frugal gourmet used to.
i never watch the cake shows. how dumb.
best of luck to AB in the future.

Jo

August 27th, 2011
9:45 am

Love Alton Brown!! However, he said he never does endorsements? Kroger has to love, love, love this guy. He is always shopping there on his shows!

Daniel

August 27th, 2011
9:51 am

Paula Dean could learn something about integrity and class from Alton. Notice he says nothing to dispute Bourdain’s comments about the other Food Network stars and only says how much respect he has for Bourdain. Alton is likely embarrassed to be on the same network as them.

HP

August 27th, 2011
10:46 am

We have enjoyed every Good Eats show. It will be missed.

Glenn

August 27th, 2011
11:15 am

Alton, I anxiously await your next endeavor. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the reruns. Thanks . . . for the memories.

Kay

August 27th, 2011
11:22 am

Agreed about the content on FN these days. I miss Emeril and had totally forgotten about Food Finds. Used to love that show! Have also enjoyed Good Eats and will continue to watch on Cooking Channel. Best of luck in your future endeavors, AB!!