Alton Brown: Forging THE NEXT IRON CHEF

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Alton Brown Iron Chef Food Network

James Brown may have been the hardest working man in showbiz. But when the showbiz is also the food biz, nobody is working harder than the guy who made it cool for men to cook, the MacGyver of all things culinary, the ubiquitous and always multi-tasking Alton Brown. You've seen him host Good Eats, traveled with him while he was Feasting on Asphalt, and cheered on competitors as he emcees Iron Chef. Now, Brown will present yet another show on Food Network: The Next Iron Chef.

Gee, pretty soon somebody's going to have to give this guy his own network!

What exactly is the difference between Iron Chef and The Next Iron Chef?

The Next Iron Chef is a six-part, one-hour each miniseries about our quest to find ourselves a new Iron Chef America. We've got four -- we wanted another one. So this is a competition series of challenges that span from the CIA -- Culinary Institute of America -- in upper-state New York where a lot of this was based, to challenges in Munich, Paris, and then back in the United States. What we did is, we looked for who we thought were going to be the best eight competitors in the United States -- all established, highly respected chefs, who also had the other characteristics that we thought were Iron Chef-y, from athleticism to a competitive nature, things like that.

So we found ourselves eight, and we put them through a series of cunningly devised tests that weed them down two, and then the final two do battle head to head in Kitchen Stadium, just exactly like an Iron Chef episode, and whoever wins that takes the prize of becoming the next Iron Chef.

And then we'll see that person on future Iron Chef episodes.

In fact, as of last week we have already shot some of those battles, yes.

The judging panel always seems to add their own bit of spice to the mix. Do you have any particular favorites, or any that haven't appeared yet that you'd like to see?

Well first, I want to say that we have the same panel throughout the six hours of Next Iron Chef -- Michael Ruhlman, Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit, and Donatella Arpaia, a restauranteur in New York -- and I've come to gain tremendous respect for. They've all been judges on our shows before, but they stick with us all the way through Next Iron Chef.

But there are others who are favorites of mine -- Ted Allen, Jeffrey Steingarten, both are very very respected judges that I like to hear. Alexandra Guarnaschelli, who's a chef in New York City, who has been on Iron Chef as a competitor, is now appearing as a judge, and she's just fabulous. I don't think she's been a judge on any of the shows that have been out yet, but we've just finished twenty new ones and she was a judge in about a third of those, and was just really a great culinary voice.

As for people who might appear... Gosh, I wouldn't even know how to begin to put a list like that together.

There have been some Iron Chefs that we haven't seen in a long time. Will we ever see the return of someone like Wolfgang Puck or Chef Sakai?

Well, Chef Sakai, he was really just there for the handoff of the baton from Iron Chef Japan to Iron Chef America. The one continued cast member from that original program is, of course, Masahuru Morimoto, who is very much with us and very much alive and kicking.

I don't think we'll see Wolfgang Puck again. He was there for the Battle of the Masters, that first series of shows. But once the series settled down in New York... Wolfgang's very much a West Coast guy. I seriously doubt we'll see him. I've heard no plans of his return.

With the focus on America, is there any shot of bringing in any internationally known chefs, like Alain Passard?

I think that that's completely viable. I have not heard that there's going to be any moratorium on Europeans, I think that there's plenty of chances for folks to come over. I don't think they've got to be Americans. Although I am not privy to the competitor list before shooting, I've certainly not heard that it's got to be American chefs that are competing here, and I feel pretty confident that, in upcoming seasons, you're going to see more international flair.

I'm personally a big fan of the Good Eats show, and when Food Network ran their Chefography series I stayed tuned to see yours -- but there wasn't one. Many of the stars run restaurants and came in that way. How did you come in?

I do not own or operate a restaurant. I own and operate a production company. All of our resources here are focused on making food television programs like Good Eats and Feasting on Asphalt, and kind of spreading out that business. I did my time in restaurants -- I don't need to do that anymore.

Speaking of Feasting on Asphalt, we've just seen the finale of the second season. How soon before you have an itinerary for the next road trip?

We're working on that now, and looking forward to see if we want to keep doing it. It's not really an ongoing show, so every year we look and, if the network says, "Gee, we'd like you to do it again," and then we start saying, "Well, if so, where?" I think that if I have an opportunity to do it again, I'd like to do something a little more focused. I would really like to, for instance, circumnavigate the state of Texas, I think that would be really groovy. I'd love to go overseas with it, but I doubt that will happen this year.

That's got to be a really rough show to film, given the 24/7 rigors of the trip.

Well, we're gone for a month solid. We don't come back. There's no stopping the trip. So, yeah, you disappear for a month.

Since you are the "Mister Wizard" of the Food Network, I had several people ask me to pose a question, and the major vote getter was this one: Is it possible to get crisp bacon out of a microwave oven?


I'll be lynched if that's the only answer I take back. I need the secret.

I do it almost every day. I use a microwave bacon holder, which is a plastic kind of tray -- it almost looks like a miniature paint roller tray -- with little ridges that the bacon sits on. I put my bacon on there, and I wrap it in a couple of sheets of paper towel to keep it from splattering all over the microwave, and I microwave it on high one minute for each piece. It turns out perfect.