Good Eats gerent and Cutthroat Kitchen king Alton Brown follows up his hit Edible Inevitable live tour with a new culinary variety show, Eat Your Science, that fills two hours with music, comedy and, of course, gastronomic experiments. Before Brown drops by the Boch Wang Theatre on Oct. 28, he spills on his onstage antics and cooking at home.
How did you discover your love of cooking? I started cooking in college to get dates. I’m not going to lie. It just turned out that I kind of liked it and started pursuing it as a hobby, but it was originally just to get girls.
How did you become interested in cooking through a scientific lens? I think that that happened when I realized that I really wanted to make a food television show, but I knew that I didn’t know enough so I quit my job directing TV commercials at the time I quit to go to culinary school and almost the moment that I got into culinary school I realized that if I was going to be anything of a cook that I had to understand what was going on I can’t just follow recipes I can’t just do what I’m told I’ve got to get it, I have to understand it and the answers to that, inevitably, are always scientific, everything that happens in the kitchen is scientific so I found that if I understood what was going on in the … I understood what was going on with proteins and fats and water molecules the things that I could be a better cook so for me it was just a natural evolution of becoming a better cook.
How do you come up with new recipes? If I’m doing it for a television show, there has to be a story. The recipe has to provide a narrative space for a story to be told. It’s not just about putting food on the table, so in that case, recipes are always designed with a story in mind and information in mind. What does it say what is it going to do? If I’m just writing a recipe for a website or a book, I’m typically going to build on an experience that you already know. For instance, if I say to you macaroni and cheese, somewhere in your head, the odds are very good, you’ve got some idea or notion or precept about macaroni and cheese. So we can build on that. We’re not starting from scratch, so what I’m really trying to do is not only devise a plan to get this really great macaroni and cheese, but to write it in such a way that allows you to make a really great macaroni and cheese. So that’s what I’m usually doing with a recipe. I’m not starting from scratch. I’m not inventing something that’s never been done before. I think that that’s something that’s more appropriate for restaurant chefs, where you’re going and you’re eating their food. I want to help you make better versions of food that you already are familiar with in some way.
What is the inspiration behind your Eat Your Science show? It’s two-fold. One, there’s so many things that I like doing for an audience that I could never do on television—it just doesn’t suit a television audience, it suits a live audience. But the main thing is that when I was a kid in the ’70s, I was really, really a big fan of variety television shows, which we don’t really have anymore. Things like, you know, Carol Burnett and Sonny and Cher and all these shows where there would be comedy skits, there would be a musical number, and then there would be something else. And I always, well, not always, but in the last like 20 years, I thought, you know, why don’t people do something like that with food? There ought to be a culinary variety show, and I finally decided to do something about it and make one myself.
Which element of Eat Your Science are you most excited about? It’s always the audience interaction. There’s a lot of audience interaction and volunteers used in the show, and without them the show would be the same every night. But because we let volunteers have a lot of say in the way that the show goes, it makes it a different show every night. Having that unexpected “what’s going to happen tonight?” kind of feel is very seductive for me.
What can an audience member expect if you pull them on stage? [Laughs.] Well, I don’t want to scare people away, so loads of fun. I put people to work. There’ll be things to do, stuff to taste. It’s a pretty full-immersion experience. There might be a little mess, but we provide plenty of protective garments so you know people are OK there. And it depends on which act they come up in, so we’ll say, “expect the unexpected” and leave it at that.
What’s your favorite dish to make at home? I am an extremely simple cook at home. … I’m a carnivore and I’m pretty good with meat cookery, so I’m going to say a simple roasted chicken would be my favorite thing to do.
What is an item that you stock in your kitchen at all times? A lot of them. I always have, I’m sitting here looking at my refrigerator I could go open it. I always have hummus, homemade hummus, because you can do a lot of things with it. I always have a bottle of Champagne, not that I drink a lot of Champagne, but it’s just nice having it there. I always have clarified butter, because I like cooking with clarified butter. There’s almost always at least three different kinds of mustard, but everybody’s got a lot of mustard in their refrigerator. I’m big on that. And what else is in there? I think I always have broccoli for some reason.
What Food Network chef would you challenge to a cook-off? [Laughs.] Wow. That’s tough. I think that I would probably go up against Iron Chef Morimoto, if I could pick one. I mean, why not, right? Pick a legend, go up against somebody that, you know, odds are you’re going to get your ass kicked so you might as well go ahead and go for it.
What is the most difficult twist you have given contestants on an episode of Cutthroat Kitchen? Ultimately it’s the simple stuff. I know that because it’s television people like the really big flashy things, but you know taking away somebody’s ability to taste their own food that’s—when you think about it—that’s just savage. You have to make this food and you’ve got to make it in a certain amount of time, and by the way you can’t taste it. To me, that’s still the best sabotage of all time.
What food trend do you wish would just end already? I don’t ever want to see another cupcake for the rest of my life. I hate cupcakes, I don’t like cupcakes, I’ve never liked cupcakes, so anytime I see cupcakes on my Instagram, I’m like, “Damn it, I’ve had enough of these cupcakes. No more cupcakes!” People seem to really like them, so I don’t know if I’m going to win on that one.