The Science Behind Alton Brown's TV Fare

Alton Brown brings science (and cleverly placed cameras) into the kitchen. chef food network good eats
The Food Network cooking show "Good Eats" has a good-sized following ... not least because of the good chemistry that lies behind this science-minded chef's every move. Our Mark Strassmann went to see him in action:

Here's a different kind of recipe:

Take some food - any food, really. Add one filmmaker. Mix well with a hot-shot performer . . . and blend in a chef.

Voila! You'd be serving up culinary star Alton Brown.

There's also magic in the mix. Brown showed Strassmann one of his behind-the-scenes tricks.

"Everything in this kitchen has a hole in the back," he said, peering out from a hole in the back of an oven for a camera position.

Forty-seven-year-old Brown heats up the kitchen 14 times a week on the Food Network. He's quirky and theatrical, coming up with characters like a demented version of a famous colonel to make Southern dishes.

"We got ourselves six cherries red as a blushing bride!"

Brown peppers his programs with zaniness, topical references and wit.

His current show is "Good Eats," and it's hotter than burning oil. It's also the name of his best-selling fifth book.

So he's cooked up a lot of fame, without using what he considers a dirty word: recipe.

Brown prefers "Applications." Because? "Because it's applied knowledge."

. . . knowledge you'll never hear him dish over a white table cloth. Alton Brown is a blue-collar Georgia boy.

When asked to describe what he does on his hit show, he says, "We're mechanics. And we're just figuring out what's wrong, what needs to be fixed. How can we make it better? We work it out in our heads. We work it out on paper. And then we go do it."

And his studio isn't a kitchen: "It's a garage."

Most famous TV chefs began their careers in a kitchen, and rose like cream to the top, starting with Julia Child.

"Julia's original show is still the gold standard," Brown said. "You know why? Never before or since has a show brought so many people into the kitchen."

But Brown took longer to FIND the kitchen. He was first a cinematographer - and a good one - working on movies, commercials and music videos.

"I'm a filmmaker who decided to go to culinary school," he said. "All I picked up was the fact if I didn't understand what was going on with every single ingredient, I could be qualifying for, like, the lunch food job at my daughter's school."

In 1995, he graduated from the New England Culinary Institute, and stepped into television's kitchen with a different approach: Cooking isn't an art - it's a science.

"The kitchen's a laboratory," Brown said, "and everything that happens there has to do with science. It's biology, chemistry, physics. Yes, there's history. Yes, there's artistry. Yes, to all of that. But what happened there, what actually happens to the food is all science."

Like any good chef, he knows: presentation matters. And he knows his shows are really good.

"I thought you once said it was the best cooking show, period? Ever?" Strassmann asked.

"I did say it was the best damn cooking show. I'll stand by that. Yeah. Yeah!"

One of his shows took him by motorcycle in search of American road food. He almost became road KILL - as his cameraman recorded in a scary scene. Brown broke his collar bone. So he gave up the bike - and took a healthier approach in the kitchen, too.

"A balanced diet may be the best medicine," he said. He says he's lost fifty pounds this year.

"I was eating too much good eats," he said. "But people consider that part of your job, you know? Eat. And I do!"

"Because so many Americans struggle with weight, did you feel in some way responsible for them?" Strassman asked.

"Yeah. I can't be in people's homes and have an influence on them food-wise, and be unhealthy. It's not right."

What was the key to his losing weight?

"There's an amazing truth: If you quit putting so much stuff in the hole in the top of your head, wonderful things happen!"

So in his newest shows, Brown and his food are both leaner - like his newest application.

"You can get a little more flavor on to them while not loading them up on butter and sugar and things like that."

One thing won't change, however. Alton Brown will ALWAYS be cooking up SOMETHING.

Strassmann asked Brown what he found more fun: cooking or television?

"I am a filmmaker. That is all I've ever been. You know, Martin Scorsese makes films about the mob. And I make movies about food.

Eat hearty, Alton!

"Applications" From Alton Brown:
Stuffed Squash

For more info:
"Good Eats" with Alton Brown (Food Network)
Check out the CBS News "Sunday Morning" Recipes Index for more tasty selections from our guests, contributors and Bon Appetit magazine!