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The Quickfire Quirk of Quarantine Quitchen
Culinary legend Alton Brown's livestreams are a chaotic wonder to behold.
In 2004, I sat down in chemistry class and subtly scanned the classroom for my teacher. There were no signs of her! After a couple of minutes, a substitute showed up and put on an episode of Good Eats that went into the chemical reactions in cooking. That remains one of the most pleasant surprises I had at school. There were more productive days, but it was exciting.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the man himself, Alton Brown, launched his own indie show about cooking at home, Quarantine Quitchen — now rebranded “QQ” in recent weeks as the pandemic recedes in the United States. Though not a competition and more mere freeform fun in the kitchen, Alton demonstrates a skillful adaptation to the medium of the internet livestream.
Whether it’s aging like the fine alcohols he sometimes consumes on the show, whether it’s not being constrained by the content considerations of cable networks, whether it is his wife of the past few years, the brilliant Elizabeth Ingram — who co-stars on the show — Alton has an edge that is sharper, rawer, and more feisty than ever.
Few people have done as much as Alton Brown to engage the public not just with cooking but the science behind it. For decades, he was as omnipresent on the Food Network as figures like Bobby Flay. His commentary on Iron Chef America profoundly demonstrates that there are dimensions to food beyond mere cooking and eating. If one can understand the science of food, one can understand what it is communicating to us through taste, smell, texture, and even appearance.
In other words, food can be a deeply rewarding intellectual experience, and Alton is one of the personalities who best embodies that excitement for food. That excitement is contagious — I owe Alton in some small way for my love of not just food, but it motivated me to dabble in small-scale agriculture outside of Atlanta to be able to, among other things, try to get high-quality and unique ingredients like duck eggs.
The chemistry of another, more metaphorical sort Alton has with the warm and wise Elizabeth adds a dynamic to the show that transcends his interactions with folks like Kevin Brausch on Iron Chef America. A professional designer by trade, one can see her — and presumably Alton’s — impeccable taste in the cluttered and chaotic, albeit classy backdrop of their life together.
Defying the expectation that, as we get older, we get more conservative and set in our ways, several years ago, Alton disavowed his former membership in the Republican Party and Southern Baptist Church, something that relieved me as a transgender fan, worried how he might judge me. Perhaps it should not be a surprise that he has taken to livestreaming with ease — age will not stop him from continued growth, development, and learning.
The pandemic has left us all in a place where, though farther apart, we are more open and intimate about our home life than ever thanks to technologies like Zoom. Good Eats provided a more polished, perfectly produced look at that, but the power of a medium like livestreaming is it turns the rawness into a selling point — almost like a fine plate of sashimi.
Alton is far from a perfect cook, but he is able to transform his mistakes into — as master of spreading love in a different creative medium, Bob Ross, often said — “happy little accidents.” Much as our pets make uninvited intrusions into our virtual work meetings, Alton’s dogs often pop up on screen. Despite Alton clearly living a very affluent life, it leaves the show feeling at least moderately relatable.
While my love for culinary competition will always lead me to rewatch old episodes of classics like not just Iron Chef and the especially brutal Cutthroat Kitchen, there’s something nice about seeing a reinvented Alton return to his roots of a guy at home getting the world as excited about food as he is.
For those of us eager to see more of Alton in a high-stakes setting on June 22nd, he will be hosting a special series of Chopped episodes. Though the deviousness seems to be more in the basket ingredients than the sabotages on Cutthroat Kitchen, I’m sure the mellow Alton we see relaxing at home will not be making an appearance. We will see Battle Alton instead of Domestic Alton — and I, much as I love QQ, am excited.
Whatever path Alton takes in the future from here, the videos in the Quarantine Quitchen series are a worthy addition to his body of work as a culinary educator and entertainer. Beyond that, the way it demonstrate’s Alton’s continued ability to adapt and grow as a person is a heartwarming sight to see. Whether off-screen or on, hopefully, he and Elizabeth will eagerly enjoy so many more culinary (mis)adventures together.