Theater major, camera operator and renowned television host of Good Eats―Alton Brown shares how he got his start.

Adrienne Martini
August 28, 2008

Alton Brown, host of the Food Network's Good Eats and author of I'm Just Here for the Food, wants to teach people how tocook. Really.

One part epicure, one part Einstein, Brown describes himself asa "really twisted home ec teacher." He blinds his viewers with foodscience, dispensing informative nuggets such as the vector approachto seasoning or the thermodynamic principle of the Maillardreaction, wrapping each mind-boggling concept in a candy shell ofpop culture to help the information go down.

"I'm like a big piece of Velcro," he says, over a lobster club(two slices of seven-grain bread stuffed full of lobster chunks,crisp lettuce, and fresh tomatoes) and a side of taro chips atAtlanta's Blue Ridge Grill. "I roll through culture and pick upbits and pieces of stuff. All of those little pieces of culturalflotsam are, to me, ways of getting straight into different partsof the brain."

For instance, Brown might explain the chemistry of smoking fishand the practicality of using a cardboard box as a smoker whilesimultaneously weaving in an homage to the cult TV show Twin Peaks. One way or another, he figures, themessage―that smoked fish can be cooked at home with just alittle ingenuity―will get through.

A theater major turned foodie after doing summer stock inTuscany, Brown got his start in the television biz as a cameraoperator for an R.E.M. video. After a stint directing televisioncommercials, he attended the New England Culinary Institute andworked in the trade before going in front of the cameras in 1999for his self-produced show.

"I make a food show because I'm interested in everything," Brownsays. "And the results of my knowledge are on the plate. And,hopefully, on the plates of other people, as well. If I can getsomeone who hasn't walked into a kitchen in 15 years to get up andgo in there and make a terrific hamburger," he adds in asuperhero-like voice, "my work here is done."

Over cappuccino, which adds more fuel to his high energy, Brownexplains his thoughts about healthy cooking. He believes there areno bad foods, only bad attitudes about food.

"The more we try to cover up our true desires, the worse troublewe get into," he says. "The single healthiest thing you can do withfood is make it yourself. I don't care what it is. The actual actof food preparation is in and of itself a very healthy thing to do.You become more aware of it, of what's going into you, because youknow what went into it."

"It isn't about recipes," he says, of his show, his book, andcooking in general. "A recipe can only serve as an illustration ofa bigger picture. It's all about the power of knowledge."

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