Alton Brown thinks about food differently than you do. You don’t get obsessive with hummus. He does. You don’t research the long, weird history of nutmeg or put sumac in everything. He does.
You never considered having spaghetti in the morning. He did — and made it delicious. “Why aren’t we having pasta for breakfast? I don’t understand why we don’t do this?” the TV chef and writer asked recently.
You can find Brown at the intersection of food, science, history and theater. It’s a weird place, as even he admits: “I don’t fit in anywhere.” He has a restless, inquisitive mind and a chemist’s rigor. He blends his own red pepper flakes and yet knows how strange that is. “I’m a freak,” he confesses.
Brown is back in the spotlight with two typically idiosyncratic offerings: A cookbook of the unexpected stuff he eats at home and a live variety show that hits Broadway with a mix of unusual food demonstrations, puppets and songs.
“EveryDayCook: This Time It’s Personal,” his eighth book and first in five years, has 100 quirky recipes, from mussels in miso to kimchi crabcakes. The recipes were adapted from memory; some were scribbled on cabinet doors.
“Ostensibly, it’s a self-portrait in food,” he says. “That is what I eat and cook. If you were to come over to my house, it would be something out of that book. I think I was at a point in life where it was time to do a self-portrait.”
How Brown came up with one dish — his breakfast carbonara — is instructive: It was an accident. He had been intending to make biscuits and gravy with sausage but burned the biscuits. So he threw some leftover pasta into the gravy.
“I started thinking, ‘Wait a second, this isn’t that far away from carbonara,’ ” he recalled, and started adding more ingredients. “All of a sudden, I had a different dish. That was born of a complete goof on my part.”
He describes his touring show “Eat Your Science” at the Barrymore Theatre as “culinary vaudeville.”
“I can finally say to my mom, ‘Yes, my theater degree did matter,’ ” he jokes.
Brown says he doesn’t get caught up in food trends and often doesn’t trust them. He avoided jumping on the molecular gastronomy bandwagon a few years back because he really didn’t care.
“Nobody wakes up in the middle of the night craving soy sauce spheres. We wake up craving pizza. I’m far more interested in helping people get to the dishes they kind of already want,” he says.