There’s never been a better time to get to know Alton Brown—all versions of him, to be precise.
On one hand, there’s Good Eats: Reloaded.
Currently in its second season on the Cooking Channel, Reloaded has Brown giving much needed upgrades to past recipes and cooking techniques from his seminal Food Network show Good Eats. But Reloaded isn’t just new episodes of Good Eats with old topics. Each episode is carefully edited to incorporate present-day Good Eats Brown with the Brown of yore, sometimes dating all the way back to season one in 1999.
“There’s this weird thing of having been fortunate enough to survive in the media landscape long enough to be able to look back and work with baby Alton,” Brown says.
On the other hand, there’s Brown in quarantine.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown and his wife have unexpectedly become YouTube stars with their live cooking show Quarantine Kitchen. What started on a whim now pulls in hundreds of thousands of views, with comments like “Vulgar Alton is the Alton we have all been waiting to arise for 20 years” pouring in regularly.
“It’s kind of the unplugged version of me,” Brown says. “It’s really peculiar after all these years to have a new brand.”
For Brown, deconstructing the past and navigating an unscripted future has been an illuminating exercise both professionally and personally. Brown explains lessons in hubris while revising past work and why cooking with his wife made him realize that he’d been an “asshole.”
“It was a weird pot roast”
While some episodes of Reloaded just feature updated food facts and cooking techniques, there are others where Brown is rebuilding a recipe entirely from the ground up in effort to make amends for errors discovered in hindsight—and in the comment section.
“In the show, I have this gigantic three-ring binder of bad reviews,” Brown says. “We’ve got some shows coming up where people just hated the recipes—just hated them.”
Case in point: The pot roast featured in Good Eats, season 4, episode 7: “A Chuck for Chuck.”
“The original pot roast was so hated that somebody gave it one star only because Food Network didn’t offer zero stars in the forum,” Brown says. “I think I’m secure enough now to where I can say, ‘Okay, we need to go back and have a look at this and figure out where I went wrong.'”
In reviewing poorly rated recipes, Brown says it’s often an instructional issue of how the recipe was written. “And sometimes,” as in the case with the pot roast, “it was just a bad frickin’ idea.”
In an attempt to elevate the humble pot roast, Brown wound up completely flying over everyone’s head.
“When people think pot roast, it’s potatoes and carrots. Well, this thing had like olives and raisins. It was a weird pot roast,” Brown says. “It was me trying to be clever. The recipe worked; it just wasn’t good. It was a bad dish. So we went back like, ‘I know what you want, and I’m going to give it to you.'”
There’s also something to be said for not knowing what people want until you give it to them.
With Reloaded, Brown has the advantage of audience feedback, a full research team, and 14 seasons of culinary growth to guide where he wants to take an episode of Reloaded. However, with Quarantine Kitchen, he’s starting from scratch, in a way—not to mention, he’s working with a co-host for the first time, who happens to be his wife.
“I’m an asshole and I’ve been hogging the kitchen”
On March 17, Brown and his wife, restaurant designer Elizabeth Ingram, were about to make dinner like usual. But, for whatever reason on that particular night, Brown decided to live-stream it.
“We had no idea what we were going to do,” Brown says. “It was just for shits and giggles—and not even on a good computer.”
By the end of that stream, Brown says around 7,000 people had tuned in, which was way more than he ever anticipated. So they decided to live-stream again the following week, and then the week after. Now six episodes in, Quarantine Kitchen has become the live cooking/music show no one knew they needed.
“I have never seen responses to anything that I’ve done like [Quarantine Kitchen],” Brown says. “People are like, ‘Oh my gosh, after all these years of Good Eats, we get to see this completely other Alton. This Alton cusses. This is like Fun Alton.’ And people love my wife.”
Brown was worried about exposing Ingram to trolls, “but she walks in the room and people go crazy for her. A lot of people would rather watch her than me!” Brown says. “People love the fact that she shuts me up and shuts me down—and she does that in real life.”
What Brown really loves is how she keeps the show grounded in the spirit in which it started.
“My natural predilection is always to over-plan, because I come out of a world of preparation. She flat out refuses to have any of it,” he says. “The second I start talking about, ‘Hey, why don’t we . . .’ she says, ‘Why don’t we just shut you up right now? Cause I’m not gonna do it. I’ll walk away, and you know I will.’ And I’m like, ‘Goddamn, I do know you will.'”
Although Ingram doesn’t have decades of TV-hosting experience like her husband, Brown says he was surprised to find that she’s a natural.
“She’s got timing,” he says. “And timing is something you either have or you don’t.”
But the biggest shock for Brown? Finding out Ingram could actually cook.
“You know why I didn’t know that? Because I’ve never let her,” Brown says.
Brown admits that over the two years of their marriage, he appointed himself “the boss of the kitchen.” But since Quarantine Kitchen, he’s seen a new side of Ingram that he didn’t realized he was blocking.
“She’s a completely different cook than me. So she starts making stuff on the show, and I’m like, ‘Crap, this is freaking delicious,” Brown says. “I didn’t know she was such a good cook. Then I figured out why. Because I’m an asshole and I’ve been hogging the kitchen.”
In discovering new sides to Ingram, Brown says that their relationship overall has entered into a new stage.
“She has her own career, and she’s very respected in her field. I’m whatever the hell it is I am. But now we’re equals at this. We have an actual partnership. There’s an actual us that couldn’t exist without the other,” Brown says. “That’s a kind of teamwork that, if every couple can find that on some level, it’s a super healthy thing.”
There have been multiple demands that Quarantine Kitchen continue even when the pandemic dies down. Brown and Ingram are certainly open to the idea with one condition: They do it for themselves first and foremost.
“There’s a huge lesson in that, knowing how to embrace an accident and being willing to fail. We’re not spending any money, so we don’t care,” Brown says. “This is a punk-rock project. It’s three chords and attitude, and that’s a lot of who Elizabeth and I are in our real life. So I think that as a couple, we owe it to ourselves to keep celebrating that and doing it for ourselves instead of doing it for somebody else.”