Cameo: Alton Brown

Chef, musician, author, and television personality.

By Amy Mulvihill - February 2014

Chef, musician, author, and television personality Alton Brown

Chef, musician, author, and television personality.

By Amy Mulvihill - February 2014

First, I want to talk about the Edible Inevitable tour coming to Baltimore on February 22.

It’s fun to say isn’t it?

Yeah, it’s a bit of a tongue twister. So what’s in the show? Is this your first tour?

It is. I’ve done a lot of live shows. But they’ve always been stand alones, and I’ve always wanted to actually put out an entire tour together, and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to do it.

What did you want to include that you haven’t been able to include before?

Well number one, the show is made up almost entirely of things they wont let me do on TV. I’m not going to lie, the show was strictly made for my pleasure, and what I want to do, and hopefully what someone wants to watch. That’s really what it is.

So I’ve always done various unusual food demonstrations because I don’t believe anyone wants to go to a theater to watch someone scramble some eggs, so I tend to do larger more theatrical things. But I’ve never been able to do really big theatrical things. We’ve never been able to do it on a show-by-show basis. So I’m finally going to be able to do big flashy demos that require a lot of special things to be built and that are a lot of fun. And I’m going to be able to do a multimedia presentation. I’m doing a shortened version of a lecture series I’ve done over the last 10 years called, “Things I’m pretty sure of, I’m sure about food.” So it’s more like an excuse for a 20-minute stand-up routine.

Sounds fun!

The thing that’s kind of the biggest kick for me is that my trio and I are going to be performing probably six food songs off the upcoming CD. So, hopefully, people are entertained by funny food songs. That’s something that I have not ever gotten to do before.

Well I read that you haven’t been in a band since you were 21.

That’s true. I am now, by golly. Yeah, it was something I kind of put on the back burner and thought, “You know what? I’m going to get back to this.” And I started to write songs, food songs, about a year ago. But I was writing them much longer than that; I kept a notebook of lyrics and things and finally looked at it one day and said, “You know what? Now’s the time”

Is it sort of like a They Might Be Giants kind of situation? You know, funny, clever, satirical songs?

Oh god, I hope so. I mean they’re a great example. I wouldn’t try to hold it…but I’ll give you an example of actual lyrics, there’s a country and western song “Airport Shrimp Cocktail,” which is about getting food poisoning in an airport. There’s a song called “Pork Chop”, about a guy trying to eat his wife’s pork chop, which is horribly overcooked. There’s a song about caffeine, which is always a lot of fun. There’s a punk rock song called “East Bake,” which is about Easy Bake ovens. So we’re kind of all over the place. But in terms of style, all the lyrics are funny songs.

That sounds great. Another thing that I read about the tour that its also acceptable for all ages? So I was wondering, when you’re putting together a tour, and you want to do things that you’re not allowed to do on TV and you want to keep it smart and sophisticated but you also want to keep it family friendly, how do you decide what goes in and what goes out?

I don’t have to use too much of a filter on myself for that because my work, at least my TV work—Good Eats—was always family friendly, and it always strove to be smart across generational boundaries. We have a lot of kids come to the show, and I don’t feel that I have to dumb things down for them. But naturally, I’m not an off color kind of guy, from a performance stand point. I may occasionally throw in things only the adults are going to get. But its never going to be anything to offend. It’s just not my style really.

Right, you’re not working blue.

No, I’m not. I think about the raciest thing in the show is . . . I can’t think of anything. And its not because I’m trying to make a family show, it just kind of . . .

That’s your sensibility

It’s my sensibility about things and, hopefully, it works in a way kind of like, when Disney cartoons are really good, there’s different takes on different levels for everybody and it all kind of comes off as being smart.

Right, yeah, like a Pixar movie.

Yeah, I mean there are layers for everybody but no ones going to be offended by anything. Gosh, I hope not.

No, it sounds like a lot of fun and its pretty rare these days that there are things you can take the whole family to.

I thought about that. Honestly, I thought about that.

Everything is so demographically targeted now that it’s rare right now to go to . . .

Well, I’ll tell you why I don’t have that issue. It’s because I’m not trying to build a show for anyone but myself.


Honest to gosh, its two hours of me doing some pretty silly stuff. I mean, I’ll be really honest with you, we have a bunch of taped segments that feature puppets. Puppets were a big part of my show Good Eats. They’re cheap puppets; especially puppets that are supposed to be yeast. Yeast cells. They’re sock puppets so they did what yeasts do which is they farted and burped a lot. We have entire segments of video that are nothing but burps and farts. So 8-year-old boys are delighted at the show. And hopefully no one’s offended by that. I mean they’re sock puppets, and at that age, I think that’s pretty mild.

So switching gears now, a couple of years ago I read that you lost I think it was 50 pounds.

Good. I lost too much, actually. People started thinking I was sick. I got a little crazy with it, thinking that skinnier is better; it’s not always.

No. Have you gained a little bit back since then?

Yes, I put on about another 15 pounds. And my dermatologist pointed out to me like, “You look like a turkey. You need to put some weight on it.” And I’m like “Oh, crap.” And when people ask you like “Did you just have chemo?” That’s not what you want.

That’s not what anybody wants, no. But you did it largely without giving up the southern cooking and recipes that you love and are known for. So how did you do that?

I did a whole show about it and you can look this up on the Internet and it was called, “The Diet of the Five Lists.” And I made a series of lists. I tried to make the diet on things I had to eat, not things I couldn’t eat. So I made a list of things I had to eat everyday. Things I had to eat at least 2-3 times a week. . . . Oh wait, it was 4 lists, not 5. Things I could only have once a week. And things I could never have ever.


And so I ate off of that list. And I started exercising a lot. Basically a man heading into middle age needs to exercise everyday and I do a lot of weight lifting.

Well, everybody heading into middle age needs to exercise.

Well you know what, muscle is your friend. Muscle eats, muscle hold up your skeleton, muscles good and it’s really hard to argue with. When you have more muscle you can eat more.

Yeah, which is the best thing ever.


So, I did want to ask you about your tour schedule. It’s pretty grueling. You’re really doing back-to-back shows, and you’ve lamented the fact that it leaves little time to explore the cities you’re visiting.

Very little. I sometimes get an hour or two break time, either around breakfast or midday, where I can go just walk around. And I think anything that’s within walking distance of the theater, I’ll find.

Is there anything culinary or otherwise that you would like to see in Baltimore?

You know what, my fantasy would be that somebody who really knows and loves the town would just pick me up in a car and just take me someplace to eat because if it’s what locals are proud of or what locals eat, then that’s what I want. And very often that’s not something that anyone could know about. But the thing that I mostly stay concerned about is getting sick because of the grueling schedule. Like am I going to get food poisoning? Something like that. And if something happens to me, we’re pretty much in trouble. So that’s always something I keep in mind. But, you know, Baltimore is famous for so many things, but I want someone who is really part of the scene to pick something.

Makes sense.

Something I might do is I might go on twitter and get people to start making suggestions. “Give me 15- or 30-minute walking distance around this location” before I go.

Well, you’re playing the lyric in Baltimore?


Well, that’s toward the west side, and I know you didn’t ask me but . . .

Well, I was going to.

Oh, okay, well, my two cents is, if your going to come to Baltimore, you’ve got to have a crab cake, right? So probably the most famous place for crab cakes in Baltimore is Faidley’s in Lexington Market. I would say it’s like a 10-minute walk from the theater.

Lexington Market has got a bunch of stuff, right? I mean, it’s a landmark all on its own.

It does yeah. It is a landmark on its own. It’s interesting. But Faidley’s crab cakes, I mean, I think they’re the best crab cakes in Baltimore, and everybody’s got an opinion about crab cakes in Baltimore, but I really do think they’re the best.

And around the area, do you think I could walk there without dying? Also its going to be cold. It’s going to be god awful cold.

It’ll probably be cold, although we’ll be heading towards spring then, so it’s possible it could be in the 40s or something.

Really? That warm? That’s the perfect time. All right what else?

Well, I’m trying to think of what’s around the lyric. There’s a good Ethiopian restaurant called Dukem. That’s pretty popular in Baltimore and very cheap. A lot of people like that. And another thing Baltimore is known for are these cookies. They’re called Berger Cookies, and they’re kind of a shortbread cookie with fudge icing on them. And they’re just sort of like a local staple.

A Berger Cookie?

A Berger Cookie. And they’re really sweet. So probably one of them will fulfill all your sugar needs for the day. But they’re pretty good. So I mean those would be my recommendations.


Yeah. But I’m sure Twitter will have a lot of other recommendations.

So, I’ve got one more minute, any other questions?

Yeah. You were part of the first wave of chefs to become television personalities. Do you want to take credit or blame for the celebrity chef wave that followed?

Gosh, no one has asked me that before. Well I’m certainly not going take credit. Um, blame? Hmmm. I think I’m a little bit different because I actually came from the television world. I came from film production and then quit and went to culinary school. So, I actually know what I’m doing. The job that I have I have trained for and worked for my entire life. But I came at it from the world of big art rooms and studios and cameras. So the roles of commercials, director, cinematographer, it’s all I’ve ever done, and I took the side trip in order to get the culinary training I would need in order to do what I do culinarily.


So I feel like I’ve always been different from everybody else in that regard. Whether that means that I require some blame? Sure I’ll take 20 percent blame—and no credit.

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