When PR folks offered one of many “media op” phone interviews with culinary wiseguy Alton Brown, we took it — even though it was ostensibly to hawk a show for which we haven’t seen the previews: “The Next Iron Chef: Redemption,” which premieres Sunday, Nov. 4, on Food Network.
America fell in nerd-love with Brown when, in 1999, he began hosting the first of 14 seasons of “Good Eats,” the reruns of which still attract their share of viewers on the Cooking Channel, in addition to the new “GE” material he produces for Food Network. He’s a bestselling author, magazine columnist, husband and dad, winner of Peabody and James Beard awards. He created a chewy chocolate chip recipe that’s hard to beat; he tweets in analog on Twitter (via images of his scrawled Post-Its); and flies his own Cessna 414A.
Furthermore, he dialed All We Can Eat all by himself; no patch-through-the-flack call. We’re hoping he remembers the number. Excerpts follow:
BB: Aren’t chef competition shows getting a little old?
AB: I don’t know. I only watch the coveted ‘Iron Chef’ ones. ‘ICA’ is not a competition show. It’s like a sports broadcast — with strategy, tactics and tests of durability. That makes my role The Sportscaster.
Redemption’s the key aspect of the new season. What makes chefs do this? What keeps them coming back?
There are two things I’ve learned about chefs: They like to compete and they like to show off. Those who have been through it, and lost, know that it’s addicting.
The [show’s] production company is constantly looking for the best mix of people and for those who can make a real commitment. It’s five weeks; it starts in L.A. and moves to Las Vegas then to New York. The chefs who are chosen have to show real promise. They must be world-class.
How about Spike Mendelsohn [one of the new season’s contestants]. Would you say he’s world-class?
All the time, every time? No. But you know, I see something on his plate. He wants a win. Real, real bad. He gets people’s attention. He is interesting.
What inside/cool thing should we be on the lookout for?
Check out the auction in Episode 5. We did one last year. I like it when the chefs have to put up stakes — that’s S-T-A-K-E-S, you know. I like the complexity of game play.
Can we see Alton Brown influence?
I get to throw in my two cents’ worth. My steering capacity’s usually limited. I might add to the game play, or advise the production team about which elements will be feasible for the chefs and which won’t be.
Saw some new videos of yours on FoodNetwork.com. What else have you been up to?
I do 20 to 25 short forms a year; it’s the kind of thing I started off doing. I did ‘Next Food Network Star.’ I write a column for Mental Floss magazine, and I’ve done three books in three years. So I’m taking a little time off. Oh, and we are getting ready to do Thanksgiving Live again.
How do you think that went last year?
It was our first time, and I think we pre-planned a bit too much. We didn’t quite know what to expect. This year we’ll try to loosen things up.
What are you cooking for Thanksgiving?
Last year for the first time I did a dry-rub-cured turkey, then spatchcocked it. It’s the best bird I’ve made in 45 minutes. There’s no reason to do it any other way. I don’t even carve it. I serve it butterfly-style at the table, and let everybody have at it — almost like a pig picking.
Name one thing you’re getting tired of in the food world.
Molecular gastronomy. Foams. I just don’t enjoy eating them. I’m still cooking out of James Beard’s “Fireside Cook Book” , you know.