If you’ve ever spent countless Netflix hours watching Cutthroat Kitchen, Iron Chef America or Good Eats then you’re well aware of who Alton Brown is.
I remember spending summer nights watching Good Eats when I was younger (mainly because Food Network was the only late-night television I was allowed to watch) and learning about food, science and history.
Alton is currently on his nationwide tour of Alton Brown Live: Eat Your Science. While in Columbia, SC, several University of South Carolina Spoon members (including myself) got the chance to see his show.
It was fun and quirky, we definitely recommend checking it out. While Alton was on his tour, I had the chance to have a phone interview with him to ask questions about food, college and even his opinion on the rainbow bagel.
Here are some of the Q&As we discussed!
Spoon: “As college students, we have some pretty weird diets made up of dining hall food, late-night fast food runs, and easy mac. What is a food you remember eating all the time in college?
Alton: “I was a delivery man for a popular pizza place in Athens, Georgia where I went to school at the University of Georgia so I lived for months on end on almost nothing but pizza. Because there would always be pizza left unclaimed or if something went wrong, I would always take pizza home.”
Spoon: “There are a lot of food trends out right now like avocado toast or the rainbow bagel. How do you feel about food trends and what do you think is the next one?”
Alton: “I think food trends are actually, usually a positive thing. Because even if you eventually get really sick of it, it tends to open peoples eyes about certain things. I mean yes, I still like avocado toast. In fact on my show Good Eats, we were one of the first shows to even talk about avocado toast and it opened a lot of peoples eyes to the concept of having avocado at breakfast.
Avocado is such an amazing food that I think it kind of deserves it. Now the rainbow bagel, to me, is just kind of silly. There is not really anything redeeming about that. But I think that any food trend opens peoples eyes to things and then it burns itself out.
A couple years ago everybody started using Sriracha hot sauce on everything and it opened peoples eyes, mouths or whatever to those flavors. And then that food kind of falls back. It’s either going to last, going to take its rightful place in the pantry or it’s going to just go away.”
Spoon: “What is one food item that you’ve never really liked?”
Alton: “If I could go the rest of my life with eating beef liver, I’ll be just fine. Or any other forms of liver, goose liver, rabbit liver, chicken liver or even cow liver, I just don’t have any patience for it.”
Spoon: “What is one food item that you expected not to like but ending up loving?”
Alton: “Cheetos. I had never had a Cheeto, the crispy ones not the regular ones.
Here I got another one for you, equally shocking. This happened about a year ago. I have a friend, she’s a mixologist in New York, and I’m very into bitter flavors, I like it very, very complex. When I have cocktails, I like them to be really, very involved.
She poured a little liquid in a glass at room temperature and gave it to me and I sipped it and it was like wow this is so complex. It was sweet, medicinal, but it’s also herbal and I was like wow this is fantastic apéritif or digestif and I was like what is this? She said it’s Jaegermeister and I was like are you freaking kidding me? I had actually never had it because I associated it with vomiting frat boys. It turns out to be really, amazingly great stuff. So, Jaegermeister.”
Spoon: “What two people in history would you invite to dinner?”
Alton: “Oh I think that for dinner guests, for conversation, I would go with two men who… oh gosh no I’m only going to get to choose two people and I don’t want them both to be guys that would be kind of tragic.
I’m going to go with the great filmmaker Orson Welles, who directed some of my favorite films. He was also a very well-known gourmand and he was a very big man and he was known to greatly relish his food and talk about it extensively.
So I think that I would go with Orson Welles and then I would go to somebody completely on the opposite side of the coin. I would go with somebody who is all about manners… I think I would go with Jane Austen. Jane Austen and Orson Welles, that would be fun just to watch.”
Spoon: “One of our USC Spoon members, Daisy Magner, wanted to know what was your favorite episode of Good Eats to film?”
Alton: “In the fifth season, so relatively early on, we did a show about garlic. We shot it all from the point of view of a vampire who was trying to get over its fear of garlic.
It was a fun show because it had so many visual challenges of story-telling like how to get the hands right. Although we did things later on that were more involved and visually complex, that was the first time that I realized that that show could go to whole new places as far as story-telling went.
So I think that I would have to choose, it was called “In the Bulb of the Night” and it was our garlic show… so yeah I’d have to pick that one.”
Spoon: “Another one of our USC Spoon members, Kristian Ko, wanted to know what are some of your tips to refine your palate and become a better cook?”
Alton: “Practice, for one thing. Choose a dish that you really want to learn and really, really, truly learn it. Change things in the recipe so that it becomes a learning tool.
It can be anything, it can be a cake, it can be a plate of scrambled eggs, it can be literally anything. A lot of people tend to try something once, then they move on because there is so much to try but I really believe in building a repertoire.
Becoming a better cook is about practice, it’s also about reading, it’s about traveling, and it’s about eating out whenever you can. When I was in college and started really getting into food, I saved up. I would save up money that my friends would use to buy booze or something, and I would save up money to be able to buy some better ingredients or to eat at a restaurant that I normally wouldn’t be able to afford to go to just so I could learn about food.
Here’s another thing, my life was changed by international travel during college. I saved up so I could do a semester of study abroad. I stayed in Italy for my semester and just even, the cheap food in Italy completely opened my eyes and changed my ideas of what food could be.”
Spoon: “Other than work or cooking-related activities, what can we find you doing on a Sunday afternoon?”
Alton: “Well I fly airplanes, so you might find me flying. I’ve kind of gone through a phase in the last few years of being a very, very serious reader. I’ve realized that there’s so many great books that I have stacked up around my apartment and I’ve really got to read these.
I’ve actually got scheduled time now that I set aside just for reading. There’s so many great classics that I would like to have inside my head, to make me more creative.”
Spoon: “I read that you grew up and currently live in Georgia. What excites you about southern cuisine today and where do you see it going?”
Alton: I enjoy the fact that, despite all of the preconceived notions that non-southerners have about southern food, the great tradition of southern food is actually heavily vegetarian.
It’s about agriculture, it’s about fruits and vegetables more than it is meat and that is finally coming back into southern cuisine. It’s really, to me, the bedrock of southern cuisine as I know it.”
Spoon: “How did you get involved in the food industry after college? And what in college inspired you to pursue that?”
Alton: I’ve gone on record saying this several times; I got into food/cooking pretty much to get girls. Back in the 80’s, it was still pretty cool for a guy to cook for a girl and so girls would say no to going out with me but would say yes if I said I was going to cook for them. That’s where it came from…
I would get recipes and figure things out and then I came to the conclusion that cooking was a pretty cool thing to do by yourself.”
Spoon: “What is your advice to college students wanting to explore the culinary world?”
Alton: “It still comes down to reading and traveling, more than anything else. I know that people complain about not having a whole lot of money, so don’t try to buy expensive cookbooks and ingredients. Try to make the most out of where you are and read, because you have access to a lot of books.
Travel whenever you can and figure out how to make the most of whatever food you have available. Find a way to cook, that’s something I want to emphasize. No matter what the restrictions are in your lifestyle, find a way to cook. There are all kinds of ways of doing that. Even in dorms where you’re really not supposed to do cooking, you can buy yourself a panini press, a couple of little things you can put in a drawer that you can use to make something really delicious.
Just the sheer act of cooking for oneself is important, even if what you do is very, very simple.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling very inspired. Alton Brown understands us hungry college students and encourages us to cook whenever we can. I learned a lot from this interview.
I learned that Alton is a recent fan of Cheetos, cooking dinner for your date is the way to go, travel whenever you can and that you should never underestimate Jaegermeister.
So this week, make a plan to cook something. It can be a fancy Italian dish or it can be grilled cheese. It doesn’t matter what you make, it’ll make you feel accomplished. Also make sure to look up Alton’s show and see if it’s coming to your area.
Now I’m off to binge-watch Cutthroat Kitchen for the next few hours.