The television personality, author, and director Alton Brown, who was raised in White County, has helped to change the character of food television and cooking instruction in the United States. His innovative approach to cooking and teaching mixes elements of chemistry, anthropology, and history with popular culture and humor.
Alton Crawford Brown Jr. was born in Los Angeles, California, on July 30, 1962. His parents, who were originally from north Georgia, moved the family back to the state when Brown was seven. After high school, Brown attended LaGrange College in LaGrange and majored in business. He then transferred to the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, where he studied filmmaking. He left UGA in 1985 one credit hour short of the graduation requirement (although he later obtained his degree).
After leaving UGA, Brown worked as a cinematographer and director for commercials and music videos. He shot a video for the Athens-based band R.E.M. and worked as a camera operator on filmmaker Spike Lee’s School Daze (1988). Brown watched many cooking shows but was dissatisfied with their content and format. He wanted to make his own show, one that was more informative and compelling, but he lacked formal culinary training.
In 1994 Brown and his wife, DeAnna Collins, moved to Vermont, where Brown enrolled in the New England Culinary Institute and studied with chef Jean-Patrick Matecat. In 1997 the Browns moved to Atlanta, where they wrote and shot two pilot episodes of Good Eats, a cooking show with a format very different from that of traditional cooking shows. Good Eats combines cooking instruction with humorous skits starring fictional characters and discussions about the chemistry of cooking. Food Network purchased the show in 1998, and Good Eats first aired in July 1999. Since 2005 the show has been produced by Be Square Productions, an Atlanta-based production company owned by Brown and his wife.
In 2005 Brown became the commentator for the Food Network series Iron Chef America. In 2006 and 2007 he starred in the Food Network documentary miniseries Feasting on Asphalt, in which he and his crew, traveling by motorcycle, trace several routes through the United States in search of local food and history. Feasting on Waves, the 2008 continuation of the miniseries, features Brown exploring the culture and foodways of the Caribbean islands.
By 2010 Brown had written eight books about cooking, kitchen tools, and travel, including I’m Just Here for the Food (2002), which won the James Beard Award for Best Cookbook in the reference category. Brown is a frequent contributor to several national magazines, including Bon Appetit and Men’s Health. In 2004 he was awarded the honor of Cooking Teacher of the Year at the Bon Appetit American Food and Entertaining Awards. Good Eats received a George Foster Peabody Award, given by the University of Georgia, in 2007 “[f]or being omnivorously educational and great cheesy fun.”
Brown earned a bachelor’s degree in drama from UGA in 2004, after learning that the curriculum standards had changed several years before. The one foreign-language credit he lacked in 1985 was no longer a requirement, and consequently he was deemed eligible to graduate. In 2010 he delivered the commencement address at UGA’s spring graduation ceremony.
Brown lives with his wife and daughter, Zoey, in Marietta.