The last time Alton Brown came to Modesto, he reached a virtual milestone.
The celebrity chef and Food Network star hit 1 million Twitter followers while performing on the Gallo Center for the Arts stage in 2015. The auspicious occasion in the midst of his Edible Inevitable tour was celebrated with a cake, wheeled out on stage in front of the live audience. This time around, Brown is coming back to Modesto’s Gallo Center on Tuesday, March 21, with some 3.7 million Twitter followers behind him and a more scientific approach to his culinary adventures.
On his new tour, Alton Brown Live: Eat Your Science, the “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “Iron Chef America” host brings his love of food, discovery and social media back to the region. Brown has made social media, particularly his Twitter account @altonbrown, a large part of his touring experience. He uses the hashtag #ABRoadEats to find and share places he stops to dine in during his travels. In each new town, he takes suggestions for “coffee joints, casual eateries and perfect places for late-night after-show snacks.”
The hashtag to send your Modesto recommendations is #ABRoadEatsModesto. His first time through Modesto, he stopped at Preservation Coffee & Tea, Food Fix Truck and Los Portalitos taco truck.
Brown, who also was the longtime host of “Good Eats” and soon will host the new series “Iron Chef Gauntlet,” spoke with The Modesto Bee about Eat Your Science and his culinary philosophy.
Q: You’ve been very interactive with fans with #ABRoadeats and “analogue tweets” (photos of handwritten notes on Post-its posted to Twitter). What is it you enjoy about your social media presence?
A: I think that I feel at home in any system that I can figure out how to abuse it a little bit. So I wasn’t comfortable on Twitter until I found a way that no one else was doing it. The analogue tweets gave me a creative way in. My attitude toward social media has certainly changed over the years to something that I not only see as very important from a brand management aspect, but honestly I just enjoy it. It’s such a wonderful way to have an authentic interaction with my fans and the rest of the food world, and the rest of the world, in a way. It has become a big part of who I am.
Q: Have you ever been steered amiss using #ABRoadEats? Are all the suggestions good?
A: Oh, I have terrible food. I am always really intrigued when a community will vote for me to go someplace that is bad. And I wonder, why? Do they hate me? Why would they do that? And I’ve come to realize that food can be important to a place even if it doesn’t taste very good to people from the outside world. I know a lot of Southern towns that have very old, very revered barbecue shops. Some of those barbecue shops make absolutely horrible barbecue, but they are still important because of their local authenticity. The people have taste for it. It is the taste of their place. So you have to learn to appreciate food and to get something out of that food other than was it good. Is it good isn’t always the question. Is it sometimes delicious? Yes. It is sometimes terrible? Yes. But what is significant is its connectivity to the people of that community. So I’ve enjoyed some places where the food wasn’t very good, but maybe it is a place that has been there for 50 freaking years and has a real history and says a lot about that community. So, good is not everything.
Q: For people who saw Edible Inevitable, how is Eat Your Science different?
A: Well, I like to think my specialty when it comes to live performances is the form I invented that I call the culinary variety show. In that aspect, this is another culinary variety show, but everything is new. It’s kind of like when people are Cirque du Soleil fans. How many times can you see fricking Cirque du Soleil? Well, it’s different every time. And that is what this is. The form will be familiar with fans who have seen the first tour, but everything is new. All the music is new, the demos are new, we’ve added some components that weren’t there before. There’s a game-show component now; there’s a little bit more audience interaction.
Q: Why did you choose to focus on science in this show, and where did your own interest in the science of cooking come from, which has been apparent since “Good Eats”?
A: You know, it’s funny, somebody asked me a few days ago, “Did you use science to get into food or did you use food to get into science?” And I am not sure which one of those is true. I think that I became the cook that I am through science. But then because of that my eyes have been opened to other kinds of science. And I think that Eat Your Science, besides being kind of a snappy title, is a mission statement of mine. Everything I eat is scientific in its own way. Everything that we eat is science if you look at it properly.
Q: As you mentioned, music is big part of the show, as it was on the first tour. Where did that passion come from and why did you choose to incorporate it?
A: Well, it’s funny, I was a musician in my younger years. I played mostly in jazz bands as a saxophone player and a really bad guitarist. And I’m still not a great guitarist. When I first decided to do a road show, a variety show, I was very much a child of the ’70s. I grew up with the Sonny & Cher and Carol Burnett shows and there was always music. And I thought, well, I can’t have a variety show without music. I’d better do something about that. So I learned how to play guitar and I started writing songs and I started a band. Also I was kind of daring myself. Like, can you do that? Can you stand in front of 5,000 people with an electric guitar on and make that work? Because I have to push my skill set. If I get comfortable, I get bored.
Q: You’ve since released a CD of your music. It’s interesting, you’ve done so many things – music, TV shows, cookbooks, the tour. Are there any culinary accomplishments you have yet to get to? Things on your bucket list?
A: Well, I don’t have a bucket list because I don’t like thinking of death. But I would say I am still trying to get the right ratio of peanut butter and jelly on that sandwich. I keep messing that up. Every eighth pot of coffee I make is really bad. So I am still figuring out who I am as a cook. I released a book last year called “EveryDayCook” that is a self-portrait of me as a cook. It’s the food that I cook and eat on a day-to-day basis. I’m still just kind of figuring out who that is. Do some things still escape me? Yeah, but not too many. I’m an OK cook. But I’m never going to be a master of any of it.
Q: For other everyday cooks, home cooks, what would you say is the number one thing they are doing incorrectly or things they should do more of in their own kitchens?
A: Read recipes, that’s the No. 1 thing. Do you have any idea how many people get a recipe and start cooking before they’ve read it? Sit down, with notes if you need to or with a highlighter, annotate and read the recipe. Just sit and read it. And then if you’ve got time, read it again. Think about what it is saying, think about what you need, think about what you don’t need, think about the time. Cooks tend to fail because they start cooking before they are done reading.
Q: And finally, since it’s been making a bit of news, is it ever OK to eat a well-done steak with ketchup (as Donald Trump prefers)?
A: I think if that’s what you like, that’s what you should eat. And I’m not saying that to be neutral or politically correct. Do I think you should buy a beautiful old Victorian farmhouse and paint it chartreuse? Well, it’s certainly not my taste, but it is well within your rights to do so. I probably like some foods that other people think are disgusting. I sometimes put cottage cheese on nachos. Well guess what, I can. It’s my food, I bought it, get off my back. Do I think we owe some special respect to the cow by cooking its meat a particular way? You know what? It’s dead, and it doesn’t get to say and it doesn’t know. Do I think someone that enjoys their steak that way might be missing something? Maybe. But, you know what, if someone is raised that way and it’s what they like and what they identify with, then have at it.