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Alton Brown On 'The Next Iron Chef' and Jumping Through Flaming Culinary Hoops

by Allison Waldman, posted Sep 30th 2010 2:00PM
alton_brown_good_eats_food_networkThere's no more ubiquitous and beloved star of the Food Network than the Peabody-award winning host of 'Good Eats,' Alton Brown. In addition to his 12 years as the host and creator of 'Good Eats,' Brown has also hosted 'Feasting on Asphalt,' 'Feasting on Waves,' is the expert commentator on 'Iron Chef America' and host of 'The Next Iron Chef America.'

'The Next Iron Chef America' begins its third season Sun., Oct. 3 at 9PM on Food Network. In anticipation of the competition, Alton shared his thoughts about the show, as well as a few other revelations. For instance, how did Emmy-winning TV chef Ming Tsai end up in 'The Next Iron Chef'?

What will be different about this season of 'The Next Iron Chef'?

You know what? A lot. It's a happier show, in a lot of ways, than it's been before. Season 3 had a real positive vibe to it, even for a show that's incredibly grueling. And it is more grueling from a competitive standpoint than either season that came before. The tasks are much harder, but for some reason if felt like a friendly shoot.

the_next_iron_chef_season_three_food_networkWas it a friendly competition?
Yes, and a positive one with great personalities, really good food. It was certainly more fun to be there than either of the previous seasons. It was also more tense because everybody was so gosh darn likable, and yet we were making them jump through these incredible flaming, culinary hoops. Of course at the end of the day, somebody's got to go home. There can be only two that wind up in kitchen stadium battling it out for the crown. There are probably more thrills and chills because of the level of the competition.

Who creates the challenges for 'The Next Iron Chef' competition?
I wish I could claim that it was me, but it's really is the producers at Triage Entertainment, who also do the 'Iron Chef America,' and the executives in charge of the production for the network and the culinary staff. Each year we try to come up with a certain kind of a story line. This year it's really America and American cuisine as it's reflected in our presence in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York. Some times the ideas come out of what we want to see them do. For instance, how would they treat a humble, everyday ingredient?

In the end, we are storytelling. This is television, but we also have a huge vested interest in making sure we get the best iron chef we can possibly get. We have to live with whoever wins this competition, and we want the best person. The flaming hoops are dual purpose; they're there to provide great entertainment for the television viewer, but it's also to weed out everyone but the one.

Have you ever been tempted to compete in kitchen stadium yourself?
Sure, I've been tempted and yes, I've been asked. But I don't want to give anybody a shot at my job. If I'm not doing my job -- and I'm real protective of my job -- someone else has to.

Are you worried that Bob Costas may be after the play-by-play role?
Well, you know, it is more a sporting event than it is a culinary event. I didn't have any experience calling an athletic event before 'Iron Chef.' It's really just a matter of how many televisions can I watch at one time and how much knowledge can I pull out at any moment. It is challenging, but it's a lot of fun.

ming_tsai_the_next_iron_chefHow did Chef Ming Tsai, who starred in PBS's award-winning cooking show 'Simply Ming,' wind up in the competition?
It was very ballsy of him. We ask a lot of chefs of his level and almost all of them says no. They simply have too much to lose. It's three things: one, they can't be out of their organizations that long; two, they haven't kept their skills sharp enough to actually do the work; or three, they just don't have the guts to maybe lose. It's a huge, huge testament to Ming Tsai's fortitude and character that he would man up and jump into it. Because, let's face it, he didn't have to. He's got nothing to prove.

His appearance reminded me of Jimmy Johnson, the Super Bowl-winning coach, appearing on 'Survivor' this season -- just for the thrill of the adventure.
For the fun of it, yes. I think you'll find when you watch the show, a lot of times, Ming's the guy who sets the pace. He's got the chops. So it's really, really admirable to have him doing battle. It's an honor to have him there.

Is 'Good Eats' still the favorite program in which you're involved?
Yes, I'm compelled to do it. It's so overwrought and so handmade. Every word is written, every shot is crafted, every shot has to be this precious snowflake. There are days where we barely break even on the show because I'm so busy trying to make every little thing perfect. It's tiring, but still my identity is wrapped up in the show.

You have a new book coming out, 'Good Eats 2: The Middle Years.'
Yes, It's the second of the trilogy. When we came to our 10-year mark, we decided to go back and do a chapter-by-chapter, episode-by-episode version of the show. I went back and literally rewrote every single application/recipe. In some ways it was like remastering your early hits. There's also a DVD with some material I'm really fond of. Next year, we'll put out the third volume.

good_eats_food_network_alton_brown'Good Eats' has always reminded me a bit of 'PeeWee's Playhouse.' That's a compliment, by the way.
Thank you for that. 'PeeWee's Playhouse' was a model for me. It was in there [as inspiration], as was the BBC show 'Connections,' and a few others from Monty Python to Julia Child. Certainly in the early days, I wanted a vibe somewhere between PeeWee and Mr. Rogers. We have a sign over one of the studio doors that says, "Laughing brains are more absorbent." Our whole thing is if you can entertain for half an hour, some of this knowledge is going to seep in and take hold.

Do you ever watch other culinary shows that aren't on Food Network, like 'Top Chef' or 'Hell's Kitchen'?

I don't watch television. I make it; I don't use it. I have seen snippets of things. My daughter is a fan of Andrew Zimmern's show, so I've seen that and I liked it because he has such a respectful take on things. I've seen a little of 'No Reservations' with Anthony Bourdain and I've been a fan of his writing, but I'm always afraid that he hates my guts.

I've never seen an episode of 'Top Chef,' and the only time I flipped by and saw Gordon Ramsay he was not very nice to somebody, so I didn't watch. I'm really anti-reality. We're kind of breeding this whole level of TV performer that's based on taking amateurs and poking them with sticks to make them do things. That breaks my heart, because I love television.

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I was already going to watch this due to AB's involvement, but Ming Tsai being a contestant just made it appointment viewing. I would love to see him back on FN. (Repeats of his old shows on The Cooking Channel wouldn't suck either.)

October 01 2010 at 3:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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