Alton Brown is a culinary kingpin. He’s dominated the food scene for nearly 20 years — and he’s not slowing down any time soon. As host of a number of TV shows — including Good Eats, which ran for 14 seasons — Brown has become a reputable staple in the culinary world.
After 14 successful seasons on Good Eats, hosting shows like Iron Chef America, Feasting on Asphalt, and Feasting on Waves, and authoring 10 books, Brown was inspired to try something new. He embarked on a “culinary variety show” in the spring of 2016, visiting over 100 cities, and he’s just added 20 more to the list.
Brown feels that he’s able to engage with his audience in a unique way while on tour, something he feels he isn’t able to do in the same way on TV.
“TV slowly sucks the soul out of your body,” Brown said jokingly. “Live audiences are the exact opposite, they give you energy.”
Embarking on a new chapter in your career isn’t easy, especially following the success of a long-running show. Travel + Leisure spoke to Brown about his career, his fans, and the future of Good Eats.
T+L: How did you come up with the idea for the “Eat Your Science” tour?
Alton Brown: “I’ve always wished that I could do something bigger and more elaborate and “Eat Your Science” was just that. I mean, the show has a dance number and a game show in it. It’s like the variety shows that I used to watch when I was a kid, like Sunny and Cher meets me. It’s a wonderful anecdote to television work.”
What inspired you to take your show on the road and do a live culinary variety show?
“You should always be reinventing yourself to push yourself forward. It’s easy to ride the coattails of a previous success, like Good Eats. I love that show, but I’ll never go back to that, exactly. It’s easy to go back to that, orbit around it. I don’t have a rear view mirror, I never look back.”
Having worked in the culinary TV space for a number of years, how do you keep your shows innovative?
“It’ll be 18 years this July. I’m obsessed with originality, I’d rather be original than good. Good is fine, but in the end I want to find out the nooks and crannies of what culinary storytelling can do. That obsession with pushing myself into new areas, using new technologies, keeps me going. All of the shows that I’m creatively involved in, I do for me. I don’t worry about what the fans or market wants. I do it for me and I hope it’s what the audience wants. If not, then I won’t be doing it for that long.”
How do you engage your audience now, compared to when Good Eats first aired?
“When I first started making Good Eats, there was no social media. There was no feed back at all. When I did my first season of 13 episodes I didn’t know if people were even watching until we got renewed. It was me making the show that I always wanted to see. Social media is a constant conversation. You have to be able to have conversations without letting the opinions get in the way. You become a renovator, rather than an innovator. All of that emotion, you can become addicted to it and become swayed by it. I work hard to build a wall around how much influence that’s going to have on me.”
In early July you released a promo video on Twitter that alluded to the fact that Good Eats would be making a return. Can you tell me when we can expect to tune in, and where?
“It was my child, and yes, there will be something like that again, but not the same thing. Meaning that it’s time to reach back into that part of my world, but I want to make certain that it’s a digital delivery. There are more venues to showcase something like this and it doesn’t have to be TV.”
“I’m probably not announcing any news about this project until around New Year’s. It won’t be Good Eats exactly, but it will be an iteration of it. I don’t go back. I know people want to see things over again but I’m hoping that people will still find what I’m doing pleasing today.”
This interview has been lightly edited for length.