Alton Brown Talks ‘The Next Iron Chef,’ Retiring ‘Good Eats’ and Why He’s Not Cool Until He Appears on ‘MythBusters’
But the self-described “mastermind” (or at least that’s what it says on his business cards) has a few more tricks up his sleeve, including several ‘Good Eats’ specials, continuing to offer smart commentary on ‘Iron Chef America’ and returning as host of Season 4 of ‘The Next Iron Chef’ (premieres Sun., Oct. 30, 9PM ET on Food Network).
We caught up with Brown to talk about the upcoming season, saying goodbye to ‘Good Eats’ and why you should never call him a chef — unless you want to insult him.
This season’s cast looks unbelievable. There are some really big culinary names this year, don’t you think?
This is the best of the seasons yet in terms of star power. It’s undeniable. The egos are undeniable, and the skills are undeniable. And of course, here’s what makes this show so different: Everyone has a lot to lose. All of these people have major reputations. We’ve had contestants in the past who have reputations, but nothing like this season. They all have something to lose this year, and that really changes the overall vibe of the show. When I first saw the list, I couldn’t believe that half of these people wanted to do this. I mean, they don’t have to, but people really want to be Iron Chef. It’s the top spot, and everybody in the culinary world knows it.
The structure of the show is also different this season. This year, each show includes a one-on-one secret ingredient show-off that’s going to determine who’s going to stay, and who’s going to go. As you can imagine, that’s an extremely stressful situation.
So are the challenges this season bigger and better, too?
They’re certainly more cunning, because the level of game play has been upped. It’s not enough to cook great food, you have to cook food that answers the Chairman’s challenge, which is far more specific this year.
Do you ever pull for certain contestants more than others?
No, I never let myself do that. As long as it’s done fairly, I don’t root for anybody. I’m not in their club. They’re not my friends. I know some of these people, and I’m acquainted with them through Food Network, but we’re not buds. I’ve got no baggage. If I had loyalties, I would have a really tough time, but my loyalties are for the Chairman. That’s it.
Will we find you competing for the title of Iron Chef anytime soon?
I consider the word “chef” to mean something a little different than most people do. Chef can mean three things: Chef is a word that is used as a sign of respect within the industry, and it’s an earned title; It can be used as an insult, especially when it’s thrown at somebody who doesn’t deserve it, as in ‘Yes, chef,’ which basically means screw you; Or it is a job, it is an actual position. So any of those things are valid uses of the word chef, and I don’t occupy any of them as far as I know, although occasionally a member of my culinary staff says, ‘Yes chef,’ and I know that they’re telling me to go drop dead. But since I’m not employed in the position of a chef, no, I’m not a chef, and therefore, would never be an Iron Chef.
What would you consider your title to be?
I have no idea. My business card says “Mastermind,” but that’s because I always wanted to be one. I don’t have a job description.
On top of hosting and writing ‘Good Eats,’ you were also the showrunner. How does it feel to take a step back on ‘The Next Iron Chef’ and not be in control of everything?
I was the showrunner, the writer and producer, so I like to say that if you don’t like ‘Good Eats,’ it’s probably my fault. Now, if you don’t like ‘The Next Iron Chef,’ it’s not my fault. I can control what comes out of my mouth, but that’s about all I can control. I’m a law man on that show. I’m the sheriff of Cook Town. I’m there to lay down the law, lay down the rules and make sure that everyone plays straight. My main job on ‘The Next Iron Chef’ is to point people where to look, but I’m not the star of that show. It’s a very different kind of role.
I’m sure I’m not the only one to tell you this, but I’m so sad the ‘Good Eats’ is no more.
There are a couple more new specials to come, but I think 13 years is long enough. We did 250 episodes, so I think that’s enough for everyone, including me. But I’m not going to ignore my fans. I have new things that I think fans will enjoy even more.
Like your upcoming Thanksgiving special?
Yes, exactly. There’s a one-hour ‘Good Eats’ special that I sure hope will be on before Thanksgiving. I’m also going to be helping out on a two-hour live ‘Good Eats’ Thanksgiving special that’s coming up in a few weeks.
I loved ‘Good Eats’ because it wasn’t complicated, and you really promoted the idea that anyone could do this in their own kitchen.
Anyone can do it. If I can do it, anybody can do it. We always tried to answer the question: why? Why does something work the way it works? We believe that laughing brains are always more absorbent, so the first thing we wanted to do was be entertaining. We knew that if we weren’t entertaining, then we weren’t going to be any good. So we developed this quirky style that’s just me being me and using quirky props — anything to tell the story. I actually went to culinary school specifically so that I could make the show, which is kind of crazy and backwards, but that’s the way I roll.
Is there any one episode that stands out as your favorite?
I think that the one-hour dark chocolate special — that’s our very last show, and I won’t be surprised if Food Network holds it until February because Valentine’s Day is such a peak for chocolate interest — is almost perfect. It was so close to perfect, which I was glad for because I wanted to go out feeling like I never let it fall. I wanted to feel that I always stayed on point with the show for 13 years and that every episode was the best I could do, and it was. It’s only natural that your last show should be your best one.
Are you a fan of other cooking shows on television?
I don’t watch them anymore, and the reason why is because I put more value on originality than anything else, and I don’t want to be thrown off of my own personal track by something else I see. I stay aware, but I don’t actually watch. I also don’t like reality shows. I don’t like shows that are produced. Luckily, one of the things that I have the power to do on shows like ‘The Next Iron Chef’ is to inflict my will of not allowing producers to run things. It should be about the food. Our show is not heavily produced.
Do you have a favorite show on television?
All of my favorite shows are scripted, except for ‘MythBusters,’ which is not scripted but continues to be just about the best show on television. My daughter, who’s 11, contends that I’m not cool because I’ve never been on ‘MythBusters.’ She doesn’t care what else I do because I have failed to appear on that show, so I’m not cool. It burns. It stings a little bit, but what can I say? I’m a huge BBC fan — I just love British scripted television programs. Every once in a while something will happen to make me fall in love with television, and it’s usually English. I love ‘Doctor Who.’ In fact, at my daughter’s school, there’s been a huge resurgence in that show. There’s a ‘Doctor Who’ club, and it’s just become a huge phenomenon all of the sudden. It’s really fun to watch ‘Doctor Who’ episodes with my daughter. Kids can smell quality. They can tell what’s good and what’s bad.
Would you say that your daughter is your toughest critic?
Well, she likes what she likes. My daughter, above all else, is a carnivore. I swear, she was a T-Rex in another life, and I can satisfy her simply by putting dead flesh on her plate. She doesn’t cut me any slack. She’s never known a life without Food Network and ‘Good Eats,’ so when my wife and I decided to retire ‘Good Eats,’ it actually really stressed out my daughter because she had never known a world without it. So she’s in a higher state of withdrawal than I am.
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