Alton Brown is an author and host of TV shows including Good Eats and Iron Chef America. He brings his touring variety show Alton Brown Live: The Edible Inevitable to the Saenger Theatre Oct. 24. Brown spoke with Gambit about Warren Zevon, ponchos and his tendency to overindulge in New Orleans.
What can people expect from the Edible Inevitable show? I have heard there's a "poncho zone."
Brown: I have no idea why people talk about the ponchos so much. I think of this as a culinary variety show. In a true variety show vein, there are all sorts of things going on. There's live music — I'm doing some of my food songs — there are puppets, there are filmed pieces, there's a Twitter-based Q&A and there are two very large, very strange, very unusual culinary demonstrations — the likes of which people have never seen. The reason we give out ponchos is that one of the demonstrations does tend to create a fair amount of particulate matter that is airborne and can settle on people's clothing. We don't want to upset people, so we hand out ponchos to the first couple of rows. It's not that we're trying to make a mess, it's that messes sometimes happen.
I'm not sure it's a three-ring circus, but there are definitely two rings. There's a fair amount going on in the two hours.
I'll gain 15 pounds while I'm in New Orleans. I'll eat 12 meals at Cochon Butcher. I'll have beignets every morning. I'll have one muffuletta a day. I can't stay long. When I do it gets ugly. I get fat very, very quickly.
What's been your biggest food experiment success?
B: The thing that I smile to myself the most about is the invention that I came up with called the "turkey derrick," which is a way to turn a ladder into a device to safely fry a turkey. Every time I see it, or every time I make it and fry turkey with it, I think, "You know what, this is pretty frickin' great. I'm proud of this." It's so difficult to fry a turkey safely otherwise.
When I'm cooking or in the kitchen, I like to listen to music. I'm really all over the map with what I like, from '70s funk, to modern-day rap, to jazz to opera. I really dig opera. Lately, I've been on a Warren Zevon kick. I just keep listening to him over and over and over. I miss that guy.
There are still things I really can't do very well. On a day-to-day basis, I make pretty crappy coffee.
Your show Good Eats was largely based around using exacting measurements, but this is different from the "pinch of this, a dash of that" method you grew up with in Georgia. Where do the two intersect?
B: It all has to do with how things are communicated. The reason that we had "a pinch of this, a pinch of that" was because we were learning how to cook from direct interaction with our relatives — moms, grandmothers — so we actually learned from a person who was watching us do it, so there was constant feedback. When that chain was broken or became less prevalent, people started getting their culinary information from media. The problem is: Media doesn't have the feedback part down. I can show you how to make a pie crust, but I can't give you notes on your pie crust. We can't eat that pie crust together and talk about it. The best that I can do is make it precise to help you understand what is going on, to understand what you're doing and what the food needs.
Georgia's vegetables are really the stars, and Georgian cooking is very agrarian and very vegetable-based. I think that there are few things better than a bowl of well-cooked field peas, stewed tomatoes or black-eyed peas.