‘I’mnot nor­mal’— the quirky ge­nius that is Al­ton Brown

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE PEOPLE - By MARKKENNEDY in New York As­so­ci­ated Press

Al­ton Brown thinks about food dif­fer­ently than you do. You don’t get ob­ses­sive with hum­mus. He does. You don’t re­search the long, weird his­tory of nut­meg or put sumac in ev­ery­thing. He does.

You never con­sid­ered hav­ing spaghetti in the morn­ing. He did— and made it de­li­cious. “Why aren’t we hav­ing pasta for break­fast? I don’t un­der­stand why we don’t do this?” the TV chef and writer asked re­cently.

You can find Brown at the in­ter­sec­tion of food, sci­ence, his­tory and the­ater. It’s a weird place, as even he ad­mits: “I don’t fit in any­where.” He has a rest­less, in­quis­i­tive mind and a chemist’s rigor. He blends his own red pep­per flakes and yet knows how strange that is. “I’ma freak,” he con­fesses.

Brown re­turns this fall with two typ­i­cally idio­syn­cratic of­fer­ings: A cook­book of the un­ex­pected stuff he eats at home and a live va­ri­ety show that hits Broad­way with a mix of TV chef and writer un­usual food demon­stra­tions, pup­pets and songs.

EveryDayCook: This Time It’s Per­sonal, his eighth book and first in five years, has 100 quirky recipes, from mus­sels in miso to kim­chee crab­cakes. The recipes were adapted from mem­ory; some were scrib­bled on cab­i­net doors.

“Os­ten­si­bly, it’s a self-por­trait in food,” he says. “That is what I eat and cook. If you were to come over tomy house, it would be some­thing out of that book. I think I was at a point in life where it was time to do a self-por­trait.”

How Brown came up with one dish — his break­fast car­bonara — is in­struc­tive: It was an ac­ci­dent. He had been in­tend­ing tomake bis­cuits and gravy with sausage but burned the bis­cuits. So he threw some left­over pasta into the gravy.

“I started think­ing, ‘Wait a se­cond, this isn’t that far away from car­bonara,’” he re­called, and stated adding more in­gre­di­ents. “All of a sud­den, I had a dif­fer­ent dish. That was born of a com­plete goof on my part.”

It was only after he sawthe book’s pho­tos — all taken by his as­sis­tant us­ing an iPhone — of the way he likes to serve his food that Brown, as he po­litely notes, “was made mind­ful that I’mnot nor­mal”.

“Not ev­ery­one plates their chips and salsa in a 1974Mer­cury hub­cap. Not every­body plates crack­ers in a Ko­dak slide carousel. I had not re­ally reck­oned with how odd I am,” he says. “If you don’t like this book, odds are you don’t like me. Be­cause that’s pretty much me.”

Tour­ing show

There will be more of Brown on viewon Broad­way when his tour­ing show Eat Your Sci­ence lands at the Bar­ry­more Theatre. A for­mer ac­tor with a the­ater de­gree who did sum­mer stock, Brown mod­els his shows on The Sonny & Cher Com­edy Hour and de­scribes it as “culi­nary vaudeville.”

“I can fi­nally say tomy mom, ‘Yes, my the­ater de­gree did mat­ter,’” he jokes.

Lee D. Mar­shall, a pro­ducer at Mag­icS­pace Entertainment, says Brown’s stage shows are funny and in­for­ma­tive, draw­ing on his back­ground as a writer, pro­ducer, cin­e­matog­ra­pher and co­me­dian.

“Most folks that are tele­vi­sion chefs, they cook. He ex­plains how things work,” Mar­shall says. “He can make mak­ing scram­bled eggs the most in­ter­est­ing topic on the planet.”

Brown says he doesn’t get caught up in food trends and of­ten doesn’t trust them. He avoided jump­ing on the molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy band­wagon a few years back be­cause he re­ally didn’t care.

“No­body wakes up in the mid­dle of the night crav­ing soy sauce spheres. We wake up crav­ing pizza. I’m far more in­ter­ested in help­ing peo­ple get to the dishes they kind of al­ready want,” he says.


Brown made his name with the quirky Good Eats on Food Net­work from 1999-2011. In each episode, Brown ex­am­ined a new recipe or in­gre­di­ent, the sci­ence be­hind it, the proper tools to use and its his­tory. He plans on re­viv­ing the show as an on­line-only se­ries.

But though he’s a star, Brown is leery of the Kitchen-In­dus­trial Com­plex, telling fans they don’t need to buy ti­ta­nium corkscrews or an $8,000 pizza oven. OnGood Eats, he in­sisted that ev­ery gad­get do mul­ti­ple tasks.

“I have no en­dorse­ment deals and I don’t have mul­ti­ple homes,” says Brown. “At some point along the line, I de­cided au­then­tic­ity above ev­ery­thing else.” He adds: “I like em­pow­er­ing peo­ple.”

His own tastes are, as you might ex­pect, all over the map. He puts harissa and may­on­naise in his scram­bled eggs, and adds curry to wa­ter­melon, sus­pect­ing that since In­dia and the Amer­i­can South both have fear­some heat, they might have com­ple­men­tary fla­vors.

“I’m pedan­tic, I guess, when it comes to my tastes,” he says. “I’m fas­ci­nated by Ja­panese food and, at the same time, I’d rather have a well­made Cuban (sand­wich) than al­most any­thing on earth. And I’m pretty sure french fries are the best food on earth.”

At some point along the line, I de­cided au­then­tic­ity above ev­ery­thing else.”

Al­ton Brown,

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