Since the poularity and almost cultish status of his television show “Good Eats“, Alton Brown’s succeeding projects have been met with even more acclaim, with his cookbooks “I’m Just Here for the Food” and “I’m Just Here for More Food“, and cookware book “Alton Brown’s Gear for Your Kitchen” getting to the New York Times Bestseller list and winning the coveted James Beard Foundation Book awards. And of course, his job as emcee for Iron Chef America.
His latest project is the Food Network‘s first ever film, Feasting on Asphalt, which is based on Alton’s food adventures on a motorcycle travelling through America and exploring its roadside food culture.
How on earth does he turn the science of food into entertainment? Read on in this recent interview where Alton gives some answers on his new film, cooking, and the food culture of America:
How did you come up with the concept for Feasting On Asphalt?
Yeah, I think I’ve been working on the concept since about 1969 and uh…I was born in California, my parents were from Georgia and, um, they moved back the summer of 1969 and we drove mostly on back roads across America, and it really put the wham on my head because I was this West Coast, North Hollywood kid who, all of the sudden, was seeing what appeared to be a different country a day, and, um, each day was new food, new people, new everything, and for me there were two connection points: There was actually the road itself and the food we were eating every time we stopped.
When did you realise you could cook?
College. I had a pathetic social life, and I couldn’t get dates very easily — at all — and I found that if I offered to cook for a girl, my odds improved radically over simply asking a girl out. Through my efforts to attract the opposite sex, I found that not only did cooking work, but that it was actually fun.
I worked in restaurants all through high school and college. I had always been in a kitchen with my mom and grandma and relatives and then, yeah, I watched cooking shows, although I found them to be uniformly unsatisfying, which is why I ended up where I ended up.
To become a successful chef, which is more important: receiving professional schooling or learning the ropes “on the street”?
I would say that it is like anything else: Professional schooling can get in the way as much as it can help. So I would have to say: the street. Life is always the best teacher, no matter what you’re doing.
When you were on the road filming Feasting on Asphalt, what did you learn about American food culture?
We’re losing it like the rainforest. We’re losing it every day. Oh yeah. Because the problem now is that even the really great little mom-and-pop places are trying to make themselves more like the thing that’s trying to kill them. You know, “I own a little hamburger stand but because the standard for hamburgers is McDonald’s, I’m going to make my hamburgers more like McDonald’s does so you’ll like me.” So smaller places are losing their identity by attempting to conform in order to survive.