Alton Brown, creator and host of Food Network's 'Good Eats,' set to speak in SLO

'Good Eats' creator and host, set to give a talk in SLO, shares how he stirred up the cooking show world

slinn@thetribunenews.comOctober 21, 2012 

Correction: Alton Brown will speak at 8 p.m. Friday, not Wednesday, at the Performing Arts Center at Cal Poly. Also, his appearance is part of the 25th anniversary celebration for the Cal Poly Dairy Products Technology Center.

Here’s a fun factoid. Before Alton Brown became the award-winning creator of “Good Eats,” he made his living shooting music videos for the likes of R.E.M. 

“I am still a filmmaker,” the kitchen science expert said when reached recently at his home in Atlanta. “I just happen to make films about food. I don’t make a living cooking for people; I make a living entertaining people about food.”

Brown will share his wit, wisdom and wide-ranging knowledge of the culinary arts Friday at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo. His visit is part of the 25th anniversary celebration for the Cal Poly Dairy Products Technology Center.

Brown can trace his fascination with food back to childhood.

“I liked hanging out with women in the kitchen because it was more fun than sitting out with the men talking about sports and politics,” he quipped.

As a student at the University of Georgia, he used his culinary talent to get dates.

“If I managed to get a girl to the third meal, I’d cook sole au gratin Florentine,” Brown explained. “It required a lot of ingredients that my hopeful male mind … knew could be used to put together breakfast.”

Once, Brown was in the middle of crafting “the closer” meal when his date called and dumped him.

“That was when I realized, ‘Hey, this is actually fun, even if there’s no girl involved,’ ” he said.

After graduation, Brown worked as a cinematographer and commercial director before switching gears and enrolling at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt. Brown said the move was prompted by the subpar cooking shows he saw on television.

“There was nothing very entertaining and nothing that was actually teaching something, anything,” he said. “It was just recipes, recipes, recipes.”

Determined to do better, Brown decided to create an intelligent, entertaining show that would use characters, skits and pop culture quips to teach viewers about cooking.

“In my mission statement for the show, I wrote down, ‘Monty Python, Julia Child, Mr. Wizard,’ ” Brown said. “If I could put those elements in a show, I would have something.”

The result, “Good Eats,” premiered on The Food Network in 1999. 

Initially, Brown wasn’t sure that the show was a success. Then he went on a tour to promote his first cookbook, 2002’s “I’m Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking,” which won a James Beard Foundation Award.

Sitting in the parking lot before an Atlanta book signing, Brown’s wife asked him, “How many people are going to (have to) show up for you not to be despondent?” 

“I said, ‘Let me have 59,’ ” he recalled. “There were 950 people waiting. That was a real eye-opener.”

Brown said he realized the public has always been curious about the reasons bread dough rises and soufflés fall. 

“People would say, ‘Thank you for telling us why.’ That word became a battle cry,” he said. 

“Good Eats” ultimately ran for 14 seasons, earning Brown — who served as the show’s writer, director and host — a Peabody Award in 2007 and a James Beard Award in 2011. He’s published three books based on his “Good Eats” experiences, as well as two more cookbooks and a book inspired by his Food Network miniseries “Feasting on Asphalt.”

Brown, whose other TV credits include “The Next Iron Chef” and “The Next Food Network Star,” has also gained acclaim as the knowledgeable host of the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America.”

Now in its 10th season, the cooking competition pits celebrity chefs such as Mario Batali, Cat Cora and Bobby Flay against competitors in a stadium setting.

“It’s a phenomenal blast to do that show, to be around the level of talent,” Brown said, describing the show as Monday Night Football for foodies. “It’s a thrill for me because I’m always learning.”

Appearance scheduled

"Good Eats" host Alton Brown will speak at 8 p.m. Friday at the Cohan Center at the Performing Arts Center, 1 Grand Ave. in San Luis Obispo. Tickets are $21 to $47 and can be purchased by calling 756-2787 or visiting http://www.pacslo.org.  

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