Alton Brown Talks Ponchos, Bow Ties and His New Show
Food Network star/host Alton Brown is gearing up for his Edible Inevitable Tour, which shoves off next week in California and winds around the country until March. Early word on the show reveals that there will be food songs, puppets, a stand-up routine and a "poncho zone," so naturally we had to get the lowdown from Brown on what exactly all of this means. He filled us in on the tour and also shared his thoughts about the shift away from the "chef personality" on food TV, his new line of bow ties and more.
Zagat: Tell us all about your new show.
Alton Brown: Anytime that I tackle something, I put a huge amount of effort into originality. What I wanted to do is a culinary variety show that had not been done before. We’ll see if I’ve managed to pull that off. Basically it's about a 100-110 minute variety show that will involve a couple of very large format, very unusual food demos that no one will have seen before in any way, fashion or form. One of which could be potentially messy, which is why we’re giving the first two rows ponchos.
There’s going to be a mini version of a stand-up routine. Well, it started off as a lecture and become a stand-up routine that’s called "10 Things I’m Pretty Sure I’m Sure About Food." It’s constantly changing - it’s never been the same twice so it’s a lot of fun. There are puppets. Something that was very popular on my show Good Eats for many years were puppets. So we have figured out a way to bring that to the big-show format.
And my trio and I will be performing five or six of my original food songs, which I sure hope are funny. I laugh at them, I laugh at them pretty hard. I hope that everybody else enjoys them too. So I’ll be singing, playing guitar and a few other things with my little combo. We’ve got a punk song, a country and western song, a lullaby, a blues song. We’re doing a kaleidoscope of musical styles.
Soo, that’s about it. That’s all I got. [Laughs]
Zagat: Wow. So everything but the kitchen sink.
AB: Actually, I’m bringing one of those too.
Zagat: Is this show something you've been wanting to do for a while?
AB: I’ve done a lot of live demos and stand-up, but I’ve never been able to put it together into a touring act, where I can really put some money into it or build up a show. To be really honest, I haven’t had time to dedicate to something like this, and going on the road is something I’ve been wanting to do for five or six years. Finally, some friends of mine put on a show of their own - Mythbusters - and did their own live road show, and they were like "You gotta make the time to do it."
Zagat: Your career trajectory is totally unique from your Food Network peers. Do you think food TV still values that kind of unbridled individuality in its casting? Do you think there’s been a shift away from the “chef personality”?
AB: It has shifted because the emphasis, certainly at the Food Network, is competition, which is what people want to watch. That’s driven by a whole series of parameters. Very rarely do you have a show anymore that is really driven by one personality. I hope that my shows might be an exception to that. Even my game show Cutthroat Kitchen is kind of infected with me, and though I’m not on frame every second hopefully I still kind of permeate the thing.
But I think the nature of the entertainment has changed away from the “chef personality." There are still the strong archetypes. There’s still Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, Guy Fieri - there are those kind of tentpole people. But I think that it’s harder to establish an individual style. I was fortunate because I had more than a decade of experience in the film and television world before I went to culinary school. So I knew how to do that part of it and do it differently. But I think without that it’s very easy to end up in a cookie-cutter situation. Although I don’t believe that it's something that is being strived for.
Zagat: Speaking of individuality, I see you’ve got your own line of bow ties now.
AB: My bow ties will be out October 21, and I’m expecting them to be gone October 21, because we only made 100 of each style. So there’s only 500 total ties. I think they’ll be gone in about six minutes.
Zagat: So these are super-limited-edition bow ties.
AB: Limited edition. I’m hoping to do more but the fabric I wanted to use you can only get really small amounts. I think that if hook + Albert and I continue to do this we’ll be releasing limited-edition sets a couple times a year, but we won’t repeat patterns once they’re sold out. I think it makes it more fun to collect as well.
Zagat: How has it been to watch Cutthroat Kitchen now that it’s on air - did it come together as you expected?
AB: There are a lot of factors that drive that show. It’s a collaborative effort, though I’m not “in charge.” My role on that show is to be the host, the provocateur and kind of steer the thing. A show like that has to take on its own life. It’s got to find itself, and it can’t just be what one person sees. To be honest with you, the reason I do the show is because it’s fun to do. I like the show. I think it’s original, nothing’s been done like it before and it’s an honest-to-goodness game show. And so far audiences are liking it too. We just finished shooting the second season, which is a whole lot more fun. It’s going to have some pretty evil stuff. And season three is already on the books.
Zagat: Any idea what’s become of Justin Warner’s show?
AB: I don’t because I’m not involved in it in any way, fashion or form. One of the things that’s really unfortunate about how deals are made is that you can’t come to agreements on certain things. I know that they went off and made a show with him that I prepped, but I had to depart, for reasons that aren’t important. I was not involved in the program, nor do I know what it’s future is going to be. I would like very much to work with Justin. I would like for him to have a show. I don’t think the travel show that he did is necessarily what he ought to be doing. But I have absolutely no idea what their plans are for him right now. I wish I did!
Zagat: He’s one of the most interesting and experimental people that’s come up in the last few years. And in those ways he’s the most similar to you.
AB: I agree, but that might also make him harder to sell. I have not meddled in that, because I don’t have any right to meddle with it. If he wants me to meddle with it, then he’ll tell me.
Zagat: Of all the many hats you wear - TV star, instructor, performer, interviewer, cook - which one is your favorite?
AB: I have and always have been a filmmaker at heart. I came up as a camera operator and then a director, editor. I am at my happiest when I’m creating in that way, in that world. So directing is probably the job that I like most. But you know what, I’ve spent most of my time actually writing. Good Eats was a scripted show, every word of that show was written, researched and written. In the end I’d rather be on set with a good crew working to make something that somebody hasn’t seen before that’s entertaining. That’s the biggest rush to be honest. Everything else is frosting.