“Good Eats” breaks down the techniques and science of cooking to simplify and demystify the process, but what goes on behind the scenes is anything but simple.
Host Alton Brown, whose second book in the series “Good Eats 2: The Middle Years” goes on sale Monday, Sept. 27, likes to call his trademark show “The Precious Snowflake Machine” — no two episodes are alike. This means constant innovation, whether it’s new skits, new metaphors or new filming techniques.
The Halloween candy episode, which will air in October, is the reason he’s running a tad late for his interview.
“I was doing this very involved shot about syrups that involves not only moving cameras but also moving mirrors and magnifying glasses,” he tells Zap2it. “Oh my gosh, it’s one of the things where you know, every day I tell myself, ‘I’m going to shoot something I’ve never shot before.’ It’s our mantra.
“So today, the precious snowflake that I’m building involves being able to see things from different angles by having mirrors in the shot. It’s enough to make you pull your hair out. This is why it takes me three days to shoot an episode.”
It’s this passion, however, that makes for entertainment, 11 good years of entertainment on The Food Network.
As one would surmise, “The Middle Years” takes a look back at a good chunk of those shows and features remastered recipes, or as Brown likes to call them, “applications.” It’s all about technique after all, and this is probably why there’s a discrepancy between the book’s Top 20 Classic Recipes listed in the press release and the Top 20 Applications that Brown prefers.
The former includes items like chocolate frosting and blueberry muffins — simple, identifiable, everyday recipes. Brown’s Top 20 Applications, however, include sweet potato waffles, pineapple upside down cornmeal cake, pressure cooker chili, avocado ice cream, beef jerky and deep fried turkey, among others.
“My list is about basic techniques,” Brown explains. “Look, if you only need 20 of these things, if you were to only tear 20 recipes out of this book and walk away, after paying of course, what techniques will take you the furthest? Which techniques are the most adaptable? ‘Good Eats’ is always about technique, about walking away with more technique than you walked in with.”
The book isn’t merely a collection of applications though. We’re talking “Good Eats” after all. Besides behind-the-scenes photography and scientific or culinary trivia, the book also includes a DVD of short-form “Good Eats” interstitials that aired on Food Network
“They’re actually some of my favorite pieces from a filmic standpoint,” says Brown. “There’s one about Sucralose, comparing Sucralose to Frankenstein, but in a good way. There’s a short about free range chickens. It involves me playing five different farmers at one time. There’s one about grog. There’s one about cowboy speak in the culinary world. They’re kind of crazy, all over the place little bits. It’s actually worth the price of the book I think.”
Celebrity Chefs in Our Culture
Done hawking his book, Brown takes time to ponder the bigger picture. As one of the faces of Food Network, he has mixed feelings about the rise of the celebrity chef and their effect on our culture.
“I think that our culture’s awareness of food is increasing,” he says. “That’s good. We have big problems in our food system that need to be addressed. I don’t think that most of us in the media are doing as much as we could to address that. But hey, we’re entertainers. By and large, that’s the first thing that we’re here to do.”
On the downside though, Brown observes that culinary schools are flooded with people who aren’t necessarily interested in cooking but want to become TV stars.
“And there has got to be a correlation between food media and Americans becoming big fat pigs,” he says, “I’m not going to say Food Network’s responsible for American obesity. I’m not going to say that because of course what you put in your mouth is your own fault and your duty. But the fact that the rise of the celebrity chef has happened hand-in-hand with people becoming big fat pigs, someone’s going to reckon with that.
He also points to the Travel Channel’s popular eating challenge show “Man vs. Food” as “disgusting.” “I think it’s a sin,” he states. “That show is about gluttony, and gluttony is wrong. It’s wasteful. Think about people that are starving to death and think about that show. I think it’s an embarrassment.”
So, which culinary or eating shows are doing it right? Brown responds well to information, and thus his favorites highlight either technique, instruction or broadened horizons. Among them are “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” Canada’s “French Food at Home” with Laura Calder, Michael Symon’s “Cook Like an Iron Chef” on the Cooking Channel and PBS’ long-running “America’s Test Kitchen.”
“I also like ‘Bizarre Foods.’ I like Andrew Zimmern a lot,” he says. “You know why? He can go to strange places and he never disrespects anybody. So there’s a show about a guy eating stuff, but it’s the other side of the coin of ‘Man vs. Food.'”
He also gives love to “Iron Chef America,” for which he’s the expert commentator, and props to its Japanese predecessor.
“The original Japanese ‘Iron Chef’ is still absolutely stellar. It’s the opera of it,” enthuses Brown. “I’ve actually wanted to get a collection of them and re-dub them again just for the fun of it. Like a ‘Mystery Science Theatre 3000’ kind of thing and just release them on YouTube. I mean, who’s going to stop me?”
Return to Zap2it for more with Alton Brown when he discusses hosting “The Next Iron Chef 3,” which premieres on the Food Network on Sunday, Oct. 3.
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Photo credits: Stewart, Tabori & Chang; Food Network