In 1998, Alton Brown launched his program Good Eats on then upstart cable channel Food Network. For 14 seasons, Brown’s show examined the science behind cooking and food—like a culinary Bill Nye. And now, in addition to writing books and continuing to host and appear on food-related television programming, Brown has taken his show on the road.
On March 24, Brown makes a tour stop at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts with his latest, family-friendly routine: Alton Brown Live: Eat Your Science, featuring large-scale food demonstrations, live music, audience participation, and “multimedia shenanigans.”
Brown took some time to chat with Eugene Magazine about underrated food scenes, Pacific Northwest coffee, popping popcorn in hot sand, and Gordon Ramsay.
EM: You have a successful career in food and show business; some people dream of a career in just one of those things. When did you realize food-related media would be your niche?
AB: It was in the early ’90s. I started directing TV commercials. I’d been a filmmaker my entire professional life. I cooked as a hobby. The more I looked around at the TV shows that were available to cooks, the more I realized there was nothing for me. I became obsessed with the idea of making my own food show, the way I would want to as a filmmaker. Food to me is infinitely interesting and even though people in this country don’t get along with each other a whole lot anymore, everybody likes food!
EM: Can you list some pros, but also some cons associated with the rise of things like the Food Network, celebrity chefs, and the foodie scene?
AB: Probably the greatest pro in “food media” is awareness: awareness of food, awareness of cooking, awareness of ingredients. The con is that, for some people, cooking has become a spectator sport. Family recipes are the strongest cultural currency any person can have. All too often celebrity chefs displace that—Gordon Ramsay doesn’t care about you personally. But your grandmother—your dad, your mother—they do love you. And that makes a difference.
EM: Does the Pacific Northwest still have the best coffee? And are there any underrated food scenes you’d like to call attention to?
AB: There’s a food scene everywhere. You just have to look for it. Anywhere people gather, there’s a food scene.
The Pacific Northwest has great coffee, but you don’t have the best coffee. Wichita, Kansas is as strong a coffee town as anything in the Pacific Northwest. They just don’t have as much of it. One of the problems with the Pacific Northwest is everyone is so inundated; it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really, really good and what’s maybe not so good.
EM: Do you have a favorite food science factoid that you bring out at parties to blow people’s minds?
AB: Early Mesoamericans used to pop popcorn in sand! That always blows my mind. I’ve done it—it’s a little gritty but it works.
See Alton Brown Live: Eat Your Science Friday, March 24, 8 pm, at The Hult Center for the Performing Arts.