Alton Brown: The 'F' word

October 7, 2011

(Alton Brown; Lorelei Sandford; Vaughn Sandford, 8; Jared Wilson)

Good Eats host and creator Alton Brown stopped by town last night on what’s billed as his “last tour ever.” Brown retired the series in May, after 13 years and 249 episodes; it was not cancelled. Three new one-hour specials will air soon.
 

Brown’s fans credit him with with not only teaching them to cook, but also showing them how to cook better. Interesting, considering what Ferran Adria said during his recent visit, that despite all the food media, people are cooking less than ever at home.

Ostensibly Brown is touring to promote his new book, Good Eats 3: The Later Years. Released last week, it’s already hit Amazon’s Best Seller lists. But last night at the Book Stall in Winnetka, it did feel like a farewell tour, for one chapter, but the beginning of another.

The Good Eats pilot actually first aired on WTTW in 1998, before it was picked up by Food Network in 1999.

Before the signing, Brown spoke for a few minutes then took questions from the roughly 400 fans in attendance. He said his next books would be “video-enhanced e-books” and that he had a “new TV projects” in the works.

He also mentioned that he’d be hosting a new Food Network mini-series, Foods that Changed the World, that would explore those foods, both historic and futuristic.

Brown also revealed that he would appear in next season’s Next Food Network Star, “I’ll be in all 11 episodes,” he said, “I’ll make everyone cry. Even Bobby Flay cries. I’m expecting that half the people will just quit. And that’s a good thing.”

The funny thing is that the first audience question was about Anthony Bourdain, a young man asking what he thought about him, given Bourdain’s criticism of Food Network stars. “He’s a really good writer,” said Brown, “He makes good travel shows. I met him once about 10 years ago, at the James Beard Awards. I wish I could write half as good as he does.”

(Left: Elizabeth Hammond, 4, Chris Hammond, of Wauconda; Right: Jeff Boron of LaGrange and Michael Serafini of Schaumburg)

A few weeks ago Brown posted “My Fanifesto”, his rules for fan engagement, on his blog. It was widely criticized, praised, and even parodied. The last time I saw Brown was at a Museum of Science and Industry event in 2008. He shook hands with 850 attendees, introduced himself to nearly every one saying, “Hi, I’m Alton”; and signed thousands of items: from stacks of books to aprons, knives, and motorcycle helmets.

I wondered if he’d changed since then.

(Vaughn with mom Lorelei's autographed Viking stand mixer. That's Brown's self-portrait, but what an uncanny resemblance.)

On an unseasonably warm night, in a hot and crowded store, after the Q&A, Brown asked, as he states in the Fanifesto: “that families with small children be allowed to come to the front of the line so that they can get out and to bed at a decent hour.”

He started signing around 7:30 p.m. He finished around 11 p.m.

“This is unusual,” said Jon Grand, the Book Stall’s Manager, “usually if we start a book signing at 7:30 p.m., we’re done by 8:30 p.m. This was one of the longest and most highly attended. It was three hours pretty steady signing.”

Grand said attendance was probably tied with J.K. Rowling or Jimmy Carter.

When asked how the Book Stall gets so many top authors in to their little independent book store north of Chicago, he said, “We’re a bright literary beacon shining in darkness.”