“In this day and age, we’re not one culture, we’re not one community anymore,” says Alton Brown. “We don’t have a lot that holds us in common anymore. That’s most certainly evident in our current political landscape. But you know what? We all eat. We’re all held together by food. Food acts like a switchboard that connects everybody. Because of that, because it is a primal, common element between us, it continues to serve as a platform for entertainment.”
It’s easy to get Brown — the mad-scientist host of Food Network’s enjoyably, rampantly insane culinary game show Cutthroat Kitchen (and before that, 14 vastly entertaining and informative seasons of Good Eats) — on a roll. It’s even easier to sit back and relish his encyclopedic waxings about the food industry, recipe development and rise of the cooking show as full-blown entertainment.
“It’s literally a new way of entertaining people,” he says, adding that while “a lot of these shows get, at least for my own personal viewing pleasure, a little too far afield, food remains a very, very fertile chunk of land for growing entertainment.”
The Georgia-raised 54-year-old, who appears at Politics & Prose this Friday, admits even Cutthroat Kitchen, in which chefs are asked to prepare dishes under seemingly impossible conditions, goes too far. “I sometimes argue, ‘Hey, this is getting kind of out of hand,’ but fans seem to like it. And people generally get something on the plate. You have to remember that, in truth, some of that food’s not real good. Let’s just put it that way.”
As for his freshly minted “EveryDayCook” (Ballantine, $35), Brown notes the handsome, hardbound volume “doesn’t look like any cookbook that you probably have.” Unlike his other works, which generally rely on storytelling as a foundation, Brown “purposely avoided” narrative arcs and instead allowed beautifully composed photographs, taken from above with an iPhone, to tell the story of the food he loves most.
“I took basically 100 recipes, none of which were really written down except on little notes in my kitchen, food I cook every day, food that I actually live on, and decided to risk just putting it out there,” he says. Recipes such as “My Big Fat Greek Chicken Salad,” “Seedy Date Bar” and “Lacquered Bacon” (which “feeds 4 to 6, or maybe just 1”) convey Brown’s familiar playfulness. He calls his personal approach to cooking “fun and funky,” admitting that in real life he does “some pretty weird things.”
“Yes, I do pasta for breakfast and yes, I plate on hubcaps. This book is the way I look at food visually, the ingredients that I use, the tools I use, and the food I live on. This is not a presentational book of me trying to teach. It’s a self-portrait. This is me in a book.”
Alton Brown appears Friday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m. at Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Visit politics-prose.com or call 202-364-1919. For more on “EveryDayCook,” follow Alton Brown on Twitter @altonbrown or visit altonbrown.com.
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