Alton Brown is still going through “Good Eats” withdrawal.
The Atlanta food maestro retired his quirky Food Network show last fall after 13 years and 252 episodes.
“It’s difficult to let go,” Brown said in a phone interview this week from New York. “When one decides to put a stop to a life’s work, you kind of float in a funny state for a while. I’m working on it.”
Not that Brown is sitting in his Atlanta office eating bonbons all day. He continues to host “Iron Chef America” in New York and “The Next Iron Chef” in Los Angeles — and has been given regular duties on the upcoming season of “Food Network Star.”
The show, in its eighth season, has been given its first major revamp. Instead of individuals competing directly with each other to host their own Food Network program, the contestants are now broken into three teams. Each team will be led by one of the network’s mainstays: Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and Brown. Their mentoring roles are similar to the way NBC’s “The Voice” is structured.
Two Food Network executives and regular judges on the show – Susan Fogelson and Bob Tuschman — will pare the 15 contestants down to three. Those three create “mini-pilots” of what their shows would be like, and America will vote on who wins.
“I’ve moaned and complained about the quality of the people who came out of the ‘Food Network Star’ machine,” Brown said. “Now I have to put up or shut up. Can I do better? I took that as a challenge.”
Brown said he sifted through 100 tapes and watched 20 live auditions. Competing for contestants with Flay and De Laurentiis, Brown said he got three of his first choices and two second choices.
Each team, he said, reflects the mentor’s sensibilities. Flay, for instance, wants cooks.
“He believes if you’ve got the cooking chops, he can teach you television. Giada is diametrically opposed to that. She is looking for personality, sparkle and charm.”
Brown, on the other hand, sought out oddballs, kind of like himself: “People who can communicate a unique culinary point of view,” he said.
“I got the geeks. My people don’t look normal. They’re all interesting looking, not classically beautiful. Giada’s team has no ugly people. They have stunning skin and fantastic dental plans.”
He admits getting attached to his contestants and teased a Food Network first: Brown will cry on camera. “Not something I do very often,” he noted. “My tear ducts have not been used in decades.”
Heck, he said didn’t even cry over the end of “Good Eats.”
Brown’s studio in Atlanta where he shot the combination food education/sketch comedy show has not been dismantled yet. He still uses the space for Food Network webisodes, but said he doesn’t go in there unless he has to.
The goofy “Good Eats” props — the big cow, the oversize meats and vegetables, the chicken with the parachute — are still strewn about the building. He hopes to eventually hold a charity auction. “Fans cherish these strange little items from this strange little food store.”
Nonetheless, Brown’s glad “Good Eats” lives on in reruns on the Cooking Channel, Food Network’s sister station.
“They’ve taken on the cloak of classic episodes, which is nice,” he said. “We put a freaking lot of work into those things.”
“Food Network Star”
9 p.m. Sundays, Food Network.