Alton Brown’s memories of Minnesota go skin deep.
The longtime TV food host hopped on his motorcycle and followed the Mississippi River as he traveled from New Orleans to the headwaters, which resulted in a book and TV miniseries, both called “Feasting on Asphalt.”
“I couldn’t tell you where I ate, but I remember that there were 16 gajillion lakes in Minnesota. I did end up with a permanent memory on my right arm because I got a tattoo when I was in Minneapolis,” Brown said in an interview. The tat? A skull with crossed knife and fork.
The energetic and always campy host lands in Minneapolis again on Friday with his first live performance, part of a whirlwind 40-city, song-and-dance extravaganza (well, maybe not dance, but there will be a cow).
Q: While other TV hosts were giving traditional cooking lessons, you went in an entirely different direction. Were you naturally ahead of the curve?
A: I was directing TV commercials and really thought there would be a future in food programs if somebody would make them so they weren’t boring. I got the crazy idea that I could make food shows, but I had to get some education. I quit my job and went to culinary school, and then worked in restaurants. Slowly, but surely, I got my show “Good Eats” made, starting back in 1999. It was on the air for 15 years. [Still showing now, in repeats, on the Cooking Channel.]
Q: Do you have a food message that you want to convey?
A: Part of my live show is a 20-minute political diatribe called “10 things I’m pretty sure that I’m sure about food.” It’s basically a slide-show lecture wrapped up in a rant. I think that my overarching message in it is, “Look, we’ve gotten to where we’ve idolized food to the point that we’re missing the experience.” You know, the most magical thing about food is its ability to connect human beings to one another. That’s the real miracle of food.
But if you’re looking so closely at the food that you miss the people you’re sitting with, then food is no longer a good thing. Then it’s a bad thing. I think those of us in the food media have to be very, very, very careful how much we objectify the food itself.
Q: So if you’re sitting at a table and those joining you are all taking Instagrams of their meal rather than interacting with each other, would you frown on that?
A: I occasionally will take a picture of food if there’s an idea I like or if there’s something I really want to remember or I want to look up. But if it’s just food porn, if it’s just “Oh, I’m eating so I’ve got to take a picture of it,” that’s kind of creepy.
Q: What motivates you to have a family-friendly live show?
A: I’ve always been proud of the fact that, at least on my show “Good Eats,” we had an almost undefinable demographic. It was all over the place, from kids to the elderly. I’ve always wanted and liked the idea of entertaining across the board. A lot of this taps into “The Edible Inevitable Tour.” But I also wanted to do just what I want to do, and I’m doing a bunch of stuff that no one would let me do on TV. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t family-friendly.
Q: Tell me about single-purpose utensils. You call them “unitaskers.”
A: I’m not a fan of unitaskers. I think that the American kitchen has gotten too big and too crammed. Too many people think they have to have too much equipment to get a decent dinner on the table. So my whole rule is that everything in the kitchen has to serve multiple purposes or it can’t stay there. The one exception is the fire extinguisher, but, as you’ll see in the show if you go, I’ve even found a way to cook with that. It just requires that you think in a different way.
Q: What’s your advice to budding cooks?
A: Cook. Eat. Read. Travel. That’s it. In no particular order.
Q: Do you think cooking lessons are useful?
A: If you have an interest in learning something, then absolutely. But cooking classes ideally start in the home. It’s moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers teaching kids to cook. If we don’t do that, then we really do lose a vital piece of connectivity. You know, it’s funny but we have parents who will spend half their lives dragging kids to soccer practice, but they won’t teach their kids how to cook an egg. Well, one of those things is a life skill.
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste