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Playing With Food

Alton Brown's unorthodox cooking show has many fans too short to reach the range.

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Alton Brown knows the recipe for a hit TV show: - French toast and American yuks.
  • Alton Brown knows the recipe for a hit TV show: French toast and American yuks.

Pack up the junior chefs, because Brown is in town this weekend as part of Food Network's Great Big Food Show, a gastronomic blowout featuring appearances by the channel's stars (including Rachael Ray, Mario Batali, and Marc Summers), educational seminars, cooking demonstrations, vendors, and the Food Network Kitchens Stage.

The 42-year-old Brown began his career as a filmmaker. He spent most of his spare time watching cooking shows, preparing meals, and eating. After attending the New England Culinary Institute, he packed up his wife and headed to Atlanta, where he put together Good Eats, a weekly show -- now in its fifth season -- that combines ingredients of Bill Nye the Science Guy, Pee-wee's Playhouse, and any number of Food TV's how-to programs. "I was really fed up with the quality of cooking shows," explains Brown, who has dressed in period clothing, dragged in his "nephew" for a kids-themed show, and gone on field trips to demonstrate lessons. "I wasn't learning anything, and they were very boring.

"People thought I was crazy to make a show. But I was combining the two things I love most -- making films and food."

And there's plenty of useful info intermingled with all the wackiness happening on Good Eats. Brown's just released his latest cookbook, I'm Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking. And he was named Cooking Teacher of the Year by Bon Appetit last month. "I can't express the value of that," he says. "I don't think there's anything more noble than being a teacher."

But don't ask him what he likes to cook and eat around the house (which he also shares with a finicky four-year-old daughter). "That's the question I fear the most," he laughs. "I really don't have a [favorite food]. This sounds really silly, but the food that always gets me excited when I cook it is eggs. Life gets reaffirmed for me every time I cook an egg. They never cease to amaze me. I'll get up in the morning and make an omelet and be reverent -- no matter how many times I do it." Moms and dads like Alton Brown. But it's the grade-school set that goes totally gaga over the host of Food Network's Good Eats. "I never planned on that," says Brown. "I never really knew who the fan base was for the show until my first book came out . . . When I started doing my first book tour in 2001, it was like, man, there are a lot of kids here. Families full of kids. And then I started getting letters from teachers, and we realized that we were on to something. It was never intended, but it's a great honor."

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