I’ve never been one to become so passionate about television shows, books, music, films, or people that I considered myself a “fan”. There are things I like and enjoy, and will gladly recommend to others, but that’s about the extent of my passion. I appreciate, I don’t obsess.
All of this is my way of laying the groundwork for the news that Alton Brown is wrapping up Good Eats, a food show that did for nerds and geeks over the past ten plus years what The French Chef did for housewives in the 60′s and 70′s.
Yes, I just compared Alton Brown with Julia Child. In fact, I would say that Alton Brown was the next logical progression after Julia Child. For if Julia took the mystique out of good food , and showed us the joy behind it (using the medium of French cuisine) , it was Alton Brown who deconstructed the act of cooking even further, and showed us the science behind it. What both Julia and Alton have in common is that they deconstructed the myths behind the food. Meals aren’t rare and exotic when put in context, and both Child and Brown worked at teaching us exactly this fact.
While the past fifteen years or so of food shows have been hell-bent on selling us a lifestyle, what Alton Brown’s show did was teach. The result of this tactic was tacit understanding that cooking works best with an understanding of some basic scientific principles, and you didn’t need special equipment or make above a certain salary in order to get it. You didn’t need to be a housewife from Connecticut or a grizzled chef with an attitude in order to make good food. Good Eats showed us that if you could understand ninth grade science, you could make a great meal.
The show was more than that, however, for the genius of the show was delivering this message with goofy, juvenile humor. Yes, he approached food like a ninth grade science teacher with a penchant for Hawaiian shirts, silly puns, outlandish and exaggerated characters, and even puppets. That was the show’s charm, strength, and, admittedly at times, weakness. But as any good teacher will tell you, if you want to deliver your message effectively, you have to be part entertainer. By choosing the goofy approach, the subtext was this: Cooking is so simple, so non-serious, that a pre-teenager could appreciate it. As a teaching and marketing device, it was devious and effective, as evidenced by the thirteen year run of the show. How successful was Good Eats? Consider this: Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, and Sara Moulton all have had their shows canceled by the Food Network. Alton Brown ended his show on his own terms. That is a rare event, and one that should be recognized.
Alton? As a fan, let me say the following: Thank you. Thank you for inspiring me, thank you for making cooking accessible, and thank you for keeping us entertained. You’ve done something special and rare in food media. You’ve influenced others by making the kitchen understandable to millions of people.
You deserve both recognition for this, and a long, overdue, break.