Before Giada, Guy, and Ina, there was Alton Brown. The creator and host of Good Eats, Food Network’s half-hour homage to the science of cooking, helped build the channel into the behemoth it is today as one of its first stars. But now, after 13 years in the kitchen, Brown has decided to hang up his apron.
One part Monty Python and one part Julia Child, with a dash of Mr. Wizard, the Good Eats curriculum stretched beyond the dump-and-stir teaching method employed by most major TV chefs. Brown distilled complex scientific concepts through skits and a colorful array of recurring characters. “My mantra was to educate people—to actually give them the know-how they could use—and to do it in a very subversive kind of way,” says Brown, a theater major who later in life went to culinary school. “I would entertain them, and I was going to teach them whether they knew it or not.”
More than 250 episodes later, Brown has achieved his goal of tutoring the masses, introducing terms like “hygroscopic,” “Maillard reaction,” and “polyphenol oxidase” into the vocabulary of the average home cook. He was the first TV food personality to get cerebral about groceries, helping viewers get to know the properties of ingredients and how best to manipulate them for maximum taste. (What other chef would use Tinkertoys to explain sugar crystallization?)
Brown and his wife, DeAnna, built the Good Eats empire from scratch, shooting the first two episodes them-selves on 16mm film in 1997, but it wasn’t until Kodak put clips of the pilot on its website (the company wanted to showcase what the film could do) that people began to take notice. It took two years, but Food Network picked up the show in 1999.
From there, the show covered every-thing from artichokes to crawfish to yogurt. It spawned a series of cookbooks, nabbing James Beard and Peabody awards along the way for its unique take on food. Each episode focused on a single ingredient or dish—a feature that allowed Brown to delve into history and nutritional information. “Good Eats was a game changer,” says Bob Tuschman, senior vice president of Food Network’s programming. “It expanded the possibilities, in both form and content, of what a food show could be.”
The last Good Eats will air Feb. 10, concluding with a celebration of dark chocolate, so that its bespectacled host can pursue other projects with the channel that made him famous.
The final show, Brown promises, will be the best yet. “We’re not going out with a whimper,” he says. “We pulled out all the stops.”