Alton Brown wants to tell you a story. Surprisingly, it isn’t about an obscure eatery he discovered while filming for the Food Network or a tidbit about an exotic ingredient from Iron Chef America. The tale that brings a twinkle to his eye is not about food — but family. The four-legged, furry kind. Because while Alton Brown is a storyteller, anthropologist and Food Network Star, he is also a lifelong lover of pets.
“I have never not had pets,” Brown begins. “I grew up with lizards, turtles, tarantulas, dogs and cats. My most beloved was an opossum. Another kid brought her to school in his lunch box. I traded my Boy Scout knife for her.”
These days he shares his home with more traditional pets, but Brown’s stories are still laced with his signature quirky style. “There are four animals in our house. Two are cats, but I won’t discuss them because anyone who thinks their cat is a pet is fooling themselves — cats belong to no one. My real pets are Sparky and Daisy, four-year-old Cardigan Welsh Corgis. Well, Daisy is a Cardigan. Sparky is spiced with something else ... probably Australian Shepherd.”
That spiced-up pup recently had his own culinary adventure, when he swiped a tube of anchovy paste from Brown’s briefcase. “Before I could catch him, he’d eaten it all, including the metal tube.” Luckily, the emergency vet was able to help. Another time, Sparky ate nearly a pound of dark chocolate, which could have killed him. But Brown’s quick thinking saved the day — and Sparky’s life. “I sucked an ounce of hydrogen peroxide into a turkey baster and put it into him. He was a chocolate fountain for about half an hour.”
Like his pets, Brown is no stranger to exotic eats (pickled pig’s foot, anyone?), but his culinary journey began humbly. He grew up in northern Georgia surrounded by “good, simple country cooks.” His interest in cooking heated up in college, when he says he cooked to get dates. Brown admits, “I had a pretty pathetic social life.”
After graduating from the New England Culinary Institute in 1997, Brown created a TV show, Good Eats, which aired for 14 seasons, primarily on the Food Network. His goal was “to make a [cooking] show that was entertaining and explained why food acts the way it does.” By helping viewers understand how ingredients physically change during the cooking process, Brown did more than just give viewers recipes — he helped them become better cooks.
He took some detours along the way, leading viewers on tours of America (via motorcycle in Feasting on Asphalt) and the Caribbean (by boat in Feasting on Waves) to sample local delicacies. These days, he frequently appears on Iron Chef America and mentors aspiring celebrity chefs on The Next Food Network Star. Brown has also penned five best-selling books, including I’m Just Here for the Food, which won the 2003 James Beard Award — the Oscar of the food industry — for Best Reference Book.
Even with a busy schedule, Brown makes healthy eating a priority, especially after a recent revelation. “I was in the editing room working on a Good Eats episode, and the footage froze on a shot of me from the neck down. I was really shocked — I was huge, and I couldn’t figure out how or when it happened.” Brown shed 50 lbs., and shared how he did it in a Good Eats episode, “Live and Let Diet.” He pays attention to balance and reads labels. His occasional indulgences include coffee, almonds, canned sardines and slaws. “I’m maniacally addicted to all kinds of slaws,” he says.
When it comes to his pets’ nutrition, Brown is just as vigilant. Sparky and Daisy get a cup of dog food twice daily, plus special snacks — including a small pancake on Saturdays — but Brown says baking for his furry friends is off the table. “I make pretty good all-natural beef jerky, however, and they enjoy that.”
Brown’s recipe for a healthy family also includes a heavy dose of exercise, including Sparky’s and Daisy’s favorite, playing ball. As he looks at what lies ahead, including a much-deserved vacation, one thing’s for sure — his dogs will be along for the ride. “Sparky and Daisy go to work with us every day, and a family vacation wouldn’t be without them. Cardigans are all about their people, and they love being involved,” he says. “Our dogs are family."