Food Network’s Alton Brown on Brooklyn’s Do or Dine and Upcoming TV Projects

Alton Brown, a Food Network personality who has done just about every show out there, is now taking a turn with the network’s latest cooking extravagance, The Next Iron Chef: Redemption. In a quick, 15-minute interview, I talked to the oft-described “nerd” or “geek” of the food television world about the new show (which airs November 4), what he wants to see, his work with Justin Warner of Do or Dine, and why Welch’s makes the best grape juice. Nothing about this man is dull; I just wish I could have gotten 15 minutes more.

I have to say, I am excited about your work with Food Network Star winner Justin Warner. What’s it like to work with him?
We are finally really getting to work on his show. Food Network was great and didn’t rush us into being foolish. I can tell you what the working title is; it’s Justin’s Excellent Adventure. It should get produced around the end of year, maybe in February or March, and it’s going to be prime time on the Food Network. At first, it will be an hour special that may or may not be a series. [Justin] is special and I know it. I don’t want to mess it up. It’s one of those things about being a mentor, screwing up yourself is okay, but screwing up someone else is something different.

What do you think about his restaurant Do or Dine?
I don’t have a lot of business in Bed-Stuy, so when I am there I go all out. As for Do or Dine, I love it. Everything about it appeals to me.

What cooking show would you like to see on the Food Network, or any other channel for that matter?
I have tried out a lot of genres. One of my goals in the last few years was to make every genre of show on Food Network. That’s why I got in on the Next Food Network Star; it’s different from Iron Chef, which is, well, basically a sporting event. Good Eats is a scripted, one-camera sort of thing. I have tried every hat.

As someone who has hosted, judged, and been on so many shows, what are you hoping to gain from The Next Iron Chef: Redemption?
Well, there is redemption for one thing. Redemption is an interesting thing. Here we have a bunch people who have already been in the competitions, so they know what they are getting into. Some got close enough to detect wisps of victory in the air, and others barely were on it. Everyone has something to prove and they are obsessed in a way. There is nothing as interesting to observe as an obsessed character. Then, there is thought of redemption. Proving you can do something that you had failed to do before.

Do you think you are a good fit?
Good fit? I don’t know. I have no idea—that is up to the viewers. [The Food Network] keeps asking me to do it, so I try no t to look that one in the eye. You start asking those questions…eh, you just go do it. But, I know enough about food and cooking, and if you are going to have a competition show about food, there are worst people to have in there. I know a lot and I have been around for every Iron Chef episode.

Aside from The Next Iron Chef: Redemption, what else can we look forward to from you?
I am doing two projects I am gassed about. One is producing Justin’s show, it will be an on the roads of food sort of thing. The other is Foods That Made America, a five-hour series on the foods that allowed America to become the country that it is. Basically it’s historic story telling as we talk about the top five things about how they changed American food. I don’t think food history has been done well. So I am going to talk a shot at it. 

Where did you get the idea to use Post-It notes on your twitter?
I started doing that during Food Network Star, but I don’t remember why. I stared sticking them on TV or computer screens when I was trying to taunt Giada De Laurentiis or Bobby Flay. I would stick Post-Its by their pictures just for fun. As for Twitter, I don’t like the 140 characters impute, so I stared with the Post-Its. I have gone thorough lots of Post-Its.

Ha, do they sponsor your habit yet?
No! They got their own Twitter account that would analog tweet like I did. They even used my name! That annoyed me, so I went off Post-Its and did index cards for a few weeks. But, I missed the Post-Its so I went back. I still just buy them at the drug store like everyone else. Only Welch’s sponsors me, though they don’t pay me to tweet about them. I end up tweeting them just because I have so much juice from them. So I end up tweeting things I make with it, like this cocktail I made with gin, tonic, and grape juice. I have loved it [Welch’s grape juice] all my life. I jumped at the chance to work with them.

It’s kind of sweet…
They don’t add sugar. That is an urban legend. All they do is use real juice. They got eight hours to pick, skin, and seed. Then it gets low pasteurized so it doesn’t ferment.

Wow, I had no idea. That brings me to another stereotype, the food nerd. I have heard you referred to as that. What do you think?
Food nerd? Well yeah, I would be one of those. I would count. If not the king of the food nerds, at least high royalty. I have earned that. People who get into food on the science angle are nerdy. We are different, quirky, and not like everybody else.

What to Expect From the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival

The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival reloads this weekend for another year of tropical culinary excess. To understand the festival’s true spring break-like essence and what it has evolved into during the 11 years of its existence, consider this scene from last year’s event: Paula Deen, the living patron saint of butter and diabetes, is standing onstage underneath a giant white tent built on the sugar-sand of Miami Beach as hundreds of her Deeniacs scream and whistle. Wearing a flowing, Pepto Bismol-colored muumuu over black leggings, her eyes shielded by sunglasses so large that she resembles a tree frog, Deen then asks, in her thicker-than-grits Savannah drawl, how many in the audience are there “hoping to see my britches to fall down?” An unlikely roar erupts. Clearly they saw the viral clip of her South Beach appearance from 2010 when the doughy, silver-haired former agoraphobe lost the integrity of her pantaloons.

Prowling the stage in 2011, she promises no such “moon over Miami” would revisit, but then grabs her butterboobs and suggests that perhaps “my falsies might fall out.” Moments later, her Food Network compadre Robert Irvine, walks onstage wearing a sky blue body shirt and cradling a giant dish of butter. Deen suggests he remove his shirt all Chippendales-like. Instead, he dips an index finger into the dairy product, takes a lick and then rubs the remainder all over his ribbed abs. As her husband Michael watches, Deen drops down for a lick off his hairy belly. And then Irvine inexplicably goes down on all fours with the precision of a man who has great experience doing so. Deen proceeds to ride him like a jockey to the delight of the Photoshop geniuses who would go on to create PaulaDeenRidingThings.com.

To borrow a phrase, this festival is no ordinary day at the beach.

Originally conceived by organizer Lee Schrager as a fundraiser for Florida International University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, the festival last year sold more than 53,000 tickets to more than 40 events and raised $2.2 million. In a decade, SoBe has eclipsed Aspen’s Food & Wine Classic in popularity and prestige. For four days, Miami’s South Beach district turns into a rollicking buffet of strange and glitzy decadence as Food Network personalities and reality TV stars descend on Florida’s nether region to pimp their brands, press the flesh, see their friends, and blow off some steam.

“Its sun and surf and sex and suds,” Miami chef Norman Van Aken told me last year. Van Aken, father of New World cuisine and executive chef at the Miami Culinary Institute’s Tuyo, says the festival is “the big daddy of food festivals like American Idol is the big daddy of American TV.”

If that’s the case, then spiky-haired bro Guy Fieri is South Beach’s Steven Tyler. He and Emeril Lagasse will host the first big shindig of the weekend on Thursday night, Moet Hennessy’s the Q, presented by Allen Brothers Steaks. This is the first year for the event since the retirement in 2011 of the festival’s wildly popular BubbleQ event, which married the venerable pastimes of barbecue and carbonated French beverages. BubbleQ was the festival’s way of keeping it real, inviting the likes of barbecue gods like Myron Mixon and Chris Lilly to pull some pork seaside with Food Network stars like Bobby Flay of Mesa Grill in New York City and such locals as Miami Beach chefs Dewey Losasso of The Forge and Mark Zeitouni of Lido. What has changed for this year? Not much. Different brand of bubbly and different chefs but the same beachside tent behind the Delano Hotel. And the same expensive ticket — $300 a pop. For another hundred bucks, patrons get a 45-minute VIP head-start at the chandeliered hog trough.

This year’s heavy hitters include Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon in New Orleans, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, and Ben Ford of Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City, California (Ben’s dad is some old guy named Harrison.) The local roster includes Michelle Bernstein of SRA. Martinez and Jordi Vallés of J&G Grill.

The big change is that this year’s Q will have a three-hour after-party called The Q After Dark (which is odd, because the Q itself takes place in the dark). One imagines besotted foodies raving barefoot on the beach, reeking of KC Masterpiece parfum as DJ Ruckus spins his trance-hop canon from Phunked Up Records.

If that hasn’t crushed all culinary souls, Friday’s schedule includes Rachael Ray’s Burger Bash, a carne-extravaganza featuring 30 chefs from joints across the country. Meatmeister Michael Symon of B-Spot Burgers in Cleveland is going for a three-peat trophy this year — his fried salami, provolone cheese, shasha sauce and pickled onion burger took the top prize in 2011. But it’s far more impressive that the burger craze — which took over for the bacon craze, which took over for the cupcake craze, which took over for the seasoned salt craze — is still going strong enough to survive 1,000 episodes of Ray’s daytime talk show.

Later that night, Robert Irvine (he of the buttered and lickable British abs) will host the Party Impossible bash at 1111 Lincoln Road. And while that might sound impressive, it helps to know that 1111 Lincoln Road is an open-air parking garage. A very nice parking garage in a very swanky part of South Beach’s shopping district, mind you. A parking garage designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the same Swiss firm that created the ground-breaking, Lifesavers-looking Allianz Arena in Munich. But it’s a parking garage, one with jutting, off-angle concrete pillars and uneven cathedral ceilings that give the impression that, cool or not, it could crumble at any second (which could be a buzz kill).

Saturday’s schedule hits the throttle with a blur of two dozen events, including a farm-to-table brunch at the Miami Beach botanical gardens hosted by Michael Schwartz of Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink in Miami. Seminars like those by fromageinatrix Laura Werlin’s grilled cheese and wine-pairing class lend the day an educational aroma. But before things get too esoteric, The Best Thing I Ever Ate Late Night Bites & Sweets party, named unsubtly after Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” series, showcases finger foods and desserts (read: munchies) at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach.

Which brings us back to Paula Deen, who hosts her annual Down Home Cookin’ Sunday Brunch. Last year’s shindig nursed hangovers with fried chicken, pocket pies and the lip-smacking goodness of Fort Worth, Texas, chef Tim Love’s beef short ribs with anasazi bean stew and ricotta cheese. Oh, and Deen making up new lyrics to long-established gospel standards. At a gospel brunch. Halleluiah.

By the time Travel Channel bug chewer Andrew Zimmern hosts the Trucks on the Beach closing food truck party that night, it’s a good bet Deen will be asleep. Unless there’s more butter to lick.

If that happens, all britches are off.

Where Famous People Eat: Ryan Gosling, Howard Stern, & Kathy Griffin

● Ryan Gosling at the Blue Valentine premiere: I have a restaurant in Beverly Hills called Tagine. I’m biased, but I think it’s very good! ● Bobby Flay at Food Network’s opening of Barney’s holiday windows: We love The Breslin. I eat at Keith McNally’s places a lot. In L.A., Bazaar, Jose Andres’s place, where I order the classic tapas. ● Morimoto at Food Network’s opening of Barney’s holiday windows: I’m going to open a new restaurant in Tribeca that will close at 4 a.m. – no Japanese, no sashimi, no sushi. I don’t know when I’ll open it.

● Rob Schneider at the Friars Club Roast for Quentin Tarantino: Candle 79. It’s a vegetarian restaurant, but you would never know it. Everything’s awesome. ● Cheech Marin at the Friars Club Roast for Quentin Tarantino: Milos is a great Greek restaurant for the baked fish in salt. They have a restaurant in Montreal, too. ● Kristin Chenoweth at the Friars Club Roast for Quentin Tarantino: Joe Allen’s. ● Eli Roth at the Friars Club Roast for Quentin Tarantino: Pizzeria Mozza in L.A.. ● Howard Stern & Beth Ostrosky at the Friars Club Roast for Quentin Tarantino: Daniel, for the black sea bass with the potato. ● Kathy Griffin at the Friars Club Roast for Quentin Tarantino: Mon Ami Gabi in Vegas.