Alton Brown—food historian, scientist, and TV commentator—will be donning another hat, a pilot’s cap, when he flies his own plane into Baltimore for the second Foodie Experience at the Hippodrome Theatre on March 19.
He’s as wildly enthusiastic about his two planes as he is about the cooking demos he does on his Food Network show Good Eats or as the commentator on Iron Chef America.
“I just bought a twin-engine plane from the ’70s. It’s as old as my high-school diploma,” he says, joking, during a phone conversation today. “It’s just beautiful.”
Hopefully, there will be no blizzards that day. Alton has tried twice in the past to get to Charm City, only to have mountains of snow divert his efforts. “It’s the great American city where I am a virgin,” he says of our town. “It’s a bright, shiny, new thing for me.”
He won’t be here long, though. He flies in on the morning of the event and leaves the next day. Alton is a fan of aquariums, so maybe he’ll have a chance to visit ours, although his hometown Atlanta—where he lives with his wife and 11-year-old daughter—has a nice one, too.
At least, he’ll have a chance to sample food from some of our top restaurants after his presentation at the Foodie Experience. The list for the after-party includes several of our 2011 Best Restaurants: Vino Rosina, Langermann’s, Aldo’s, B&O American Brasserie, and more.
Of course, if you’ve shelled out $250 for a VIP ticket, you’ll be able to attend a pre-show cocktail reception with Alton, where he’ll give a cooking demonstration.
But he assures me that us regular folk ($94 a ticket, includes the post-show eats with open bar) will be well entertained during the main gig in the theater. “It’s what I like about the event,” Alton says. “It’s two different shows—an intimate club show and an arena show.”
During the main event, he’ll be using a PowerPoint display with his quirky, hand-drawn illustrations to back up his talk. And this year, guests will be able to send e-mail questions to Alton during the show as well as step up to microphones during the Q&A time.
He says that while personal questions may give him pause, he can wing his way through most people’s culinary queries: “I can answer 70 percent, trick 20 percent, and hope the other 10 percent don’t show up.
“The first thing I ask is, ‘Is there a chemist in the audience, is there a doctor, or a lawyer. If not, I can do what I want.”
He’s kidding around again. If you’ve ever watched his Good Eats show or read his books, you know he’s serious about food.
His book Good Eats 2: The Middle Years was published last year, and the third book in the trilogy will be released in October. There’s no title yet, but Alton says he’s happy with the cover: “It’s a nod to my favorite action film actor.”
He’s not telling who that actor is, so we’ll just have to wait.
Our 20-minute-limit phone call was going by quickly, but I asked Alton about the six-volume, 2,438-page Modernist Cuisine book by wealthy entrepreneur Nathan Myhrvold, which will be ready for your home library on March 14 at a cost of about $600.
“I can’t afford it. I haven’t read it,” he says. “It uses tools you can’t get, the practical applications are nil. … It’s the difference between what a billionaire would cook and a thousandaire—what I am—cooks.” (There’s that sense of humor again.) But he adds that he appreciates anything that furthers the knowledge of food.
When asked about the best uses of molecular gastronomy and the worst, he explains that all cooking is molecular gastronomy. He sees the current trend to create fanciful food creations with a variety of chemicals and techniques as a good thing because “it reinforces that food is something to play with. It breaks out of the old molds and lets us play with food.”
But there’s another side. “Food already tasted pretty good,” he says, subscribing to a do-no-harm Hippocratic oath of food. “I don’t need hot Jell-O—call me old school—I want cold Jell-O. But I want people to have that freedom. I’m glad it’s there. It’s fun.”
Throughout our conversation, Alton is witty, charming, and personable—obviously, comfortable in his own skin. And he’s patient with me. I explain to him that I’m asking several questions from Facebook friends, and he quips, “Oh, there’s a use for it.”
So, here's what Alton had to say about his corn-on-the-cob eating style given three choices: typewriter, rotator, and random patch (thank you, Henry Hong), he answers, “Rotator.”
Okay, moving along, who’s his favorite Top Chef: “I’ve never watched Top Chef. I make TV. I don’t watch it.” He says that shows that poke, antagonize, or get personal with people stress him out. “I have enough stress in my life.”
And his favorite Atlanta restaurants: He doesn’t go out that much, but he likes Blue Ridge Grill, where he can get a “good steak, a good martini. I’m happy.”
He wraps up our talk by saying that he’s done his on-the-road show several times and each is distinctive. “Doing live shows is the high point of my work,” he says, explaining that the taping of “Good Eats is extremely controlled” and doing “Iron Chef is like cramming for exams” because of the tight schedule.
“With a live audience, every show, every audience is different,” Alton says. “It’s one of the things about my work that I love foremost.”
For tickets to the Foodie Experience, go to ticketmaster.com.