Alton Explains What Not to Do, the Deal with POVs and the Hardest Part of Being a Judge

by in Interviews, Judges, May 27, 2014

Alton Explains What Not to Do, the Deal with POVs and MoreAs Food Network's resident food historian and overall respected voice of reason, Alton Brown has a lot to say when it comes to finalists vying for the ultimate job — the job that will allow one person to join the roster that he shares with fellow judges Giada and Bobby.

Star Talk: What are you excited about this season?
Alton Brown: I haven't participated in as many seasons of Food Network Star as the other judge-mentors. I've only really done three. But based on the seasons that I've done in the past, I'm excited to see if I can find that nugget — that diamond. You're walking down a riverbank, you reach down and you pull up a 10-carat diamond and go, "Hey, look what I found." So you're looking at each one of these finalists and you're hoping that one of them is going to be spectacular — amazing. And it could happen. That's the entire mission.

Star Talk: What is the biggest mistake that finalists constantly make?
AB: I'm not sure what it is in American culture that gives everyone the idea that if they simply convince you they want something badly, you'll give it to them. And every year, the first thing they'll start talking about passion. I don't care about your passion. I care about you making me feel passion. Everybody's got passion, everybody loves food, everybody loves people. OK? I don't care. Yet they do it every year. People tell you, "I want this so badly." Yes, good. Now do something to deserve it.

Star Talk: Why do you think the contestants are more scared to get in front of you then the other mentors?
AB: I've been real honest sometimes. In past seasons, if I get frustrated I show it. But it's only because I actually care. I've been on Food Network for 15 years. I love it. I want to protect it. And I don't want anybody who doesn't deserve to be on it on it. So I take it very seriously.

Star Talk: Fill in the blank: The hardest part about being a judge is ...
AB: The hardest thing about being a judge-mentors is looking at somebody and knowing they don't have it, and seeing the moment in their eyes when they realize they don't have it too. That's not a fun moment for anybody.

Star Talk: Would you have made it on Star?
AB: I've often wondered if I could ever have put myself through a competition like Star and if I did, how would I have fared? There are certain things that I would have done very well at on a show like this. I can concisely communicate a point, I can manipulate a small-piece performance and stuff like that. What I can't do, however, is cook quickly enough. I'm not good with time crunches. I don't like them. I bristle against time crunches.

Star Talk: What are two or three adjectives to describe your fellow judges?
AB: Giada is very discriminating. She's got a very good eye, and I think that she could actually size up the people that are going to go far in this competition really just by looking at them. I actually like watching her watch them sometimes. She does this thing with her eyes where it's almost like she's aiming at them. Bobby is very insightful in the advice that he gives. He has a tendency to really listen to what somebody says, take it, go stir it up, and then he always manages to pull something out and you go, like: "Damn, I wish I'd said that. Why didn't I say that?" I think that requires insight and very good listening skills.

Star Talk: How important is it to narrow your culinary POV?
AB: The POV thing — we use that term a lot. In my own parlance, I refer to that as the warhead. Everything delivers that warhead and that warhead's got to be the DNA of everything you are, everything you can be and everything you have been. And you've got to know what that is. Unless you know what that is, you can't communicate it to others. A virus can't replicate itself somewhere else if it doesn't know what it is. That's really what we're talking about — we're talking about infecting people with something in a way. You've got to be able to know what you are before you can do that. And everything else is about delivering that packet of information. Whether you call that a POV, a brand or a mission statement, whatever you call it — it's what makes you the you that no one else can be. And if you can't do that and identify it and know how to use it, then you're not going to make it.

Star Talk: What things should every Food Network Star finalist know how to do?
AB: Tell a joke. Very important narrative form, being able to tell a joke: timing, very important, setup and delivery. You've got to be able to say something that makes people watching you want to hear you say something more. You've got to be able to do a lot with less. The best people are the ones that can say five words. It's not that you say, "Wow, those were great words." No, you say: "I want to hear the next five. I want to hear the next 10." And you also know how to edit yourself.

Star Talk: What's something finalists should not do while they're being judged?
AB: This is based on my own personal pet peeves. I have words that once I hear in certain combinations, I start taking points away from you in my head. I do not want to hear the word "delicious" (Bobby feels the same way). It's a meaningless word. It has the same meaning as [grunts], which has no meaning. Delicious is a non-word. It means I can't think of another word to say. I am also sick and tired of the word "passion." If I hear the word "passion" come out of somebody's mouth, especially when it relates to their own feelings, I immediately dock them for it. The other thing that just drives me out of my freaking mind is when someone serves you a piece of food and says, "What we have for you today ...." We. This also happens a lot on Cutthroat Kitchen. No. What you have for me today. Own it. It's "I." Don't say "we." Do you have a team behind you, or are you of royal lineage? Which one is it? Because unless you're a duke or an earl, you're an I.

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Comments (28)

  1. chris says:

    Star Talk: Why do you think the contestants are more scared to get in front of you then the other mentors? THAN

  2. Amanda says:

    Why didn't Justin Warner get a show? What is the point if the winner can't even get a show?!

    • Guest says:

      Have you prepared any Justin's recipes from the contest? Do you believe you will use Justin's recipes as the go-to recipe for your family and/or events? There are a couple of Food Network chefs that I trust for my recipes. So much so, that my pantry is stocked with certain spices, so I do not have to substitute.

    • Gina says:

      Possibly because the network came to their senses and realized that most people don't want to make things like chocolate-covered salmon with black licorice, cherries and garlic for their family or friends. The voting public must've been out of their minds for ever voting for this.

      • Amanda says:

        Of course, that makes sense -- why would I ever want to try something new or different. Whether the "voting public" was out of its mind or not is beside the point. Essentially, you believe that it doesn't matter to you if the entire premise of the show is a lie. So if you entered a contest, won, then never got the prize, that'd be fine too? This show promises the winner and viewers a show, and it never delivered for Justin.

        • Gina says:

          Lol!!! Yeah, it was different alright. Put him on Chopped and forget about it. Those crazy ingredients would suit him just fine. Enjoy the different dishes, bwuahaha.

  3. Bobbi says:

    If Alton feels like he's "not good with time crunches," then why is this always so emphasized on this show? I have had 2 friends tell me that they won't be watching this season because the whole "your job is to cook a 12-course meal in 5 minutes" pace of the show is maddening. One reason that I enjoy Ina Garten so much is that she is slow-paced and relaxing to watch. Do we really need a food show host to rush at a pace that makes the viewer nervous? These shows are edited, not live. So WHY is there SO much emphasis, season after season, on this ridiculous frenetic cooking race rather than quality cooking and communication?

    • Greg Turner says:

      Holy Sh*t Bobbi I did not read your post before posting myself!!! Frenetic is the exact word I used too!!! I hate this crazy fast, fast, fast format!!! Good post my friend . We are on the same page. G

    • Greg Turner says:

      P.S. I love Ina Garten! She reminds me of cooking in my mother's kitchen in Ohio where I grew up!!!! The kitchen was a place of love and generations of skills!!! I even love to wash dishes because of my mother!!! Thanks mom!!!! Thanks Ina!!!!

  4. Fulana DeTal says:

    Alton is straightforward! Own it and cook it!!

  5. Jennifer says:

    I hold Alton Brown in the highest regard, and I believe him when he says he has to look out for the best interests of the Food Network. To this end, I hope and pray to the Food Network gods that they will think long and hard about who they crown the Next Food Network Star. The current batch of "stars" is pitiful. Very few of them have proven (thus far) that they can (a) cook, (b) talk coherently about food, (c) present a concise, consistent POV, or worst of all (d) rely on shtick that is forced and inauthentic. Please, please, please preserve the reputation and credibility of the Food Network.

  6. Russ says:

    I am so glad he said that it Irks him to hear "what WE have" huge pet peeve of mine! It's "I" Damn IT!!

  7. Greg Turner says:

    I agree with Alton; Who of us cooks truly amazing food to see how fast we can do it? I hate all these culinary competitions that are based on time; hate, hate, hate them!!! Really, really... in your kitchen, in your house do you try to create a feast of tastes and food pleasure based on how FAST you can do it? The televised food network industry needs to get real and stop timing everything like it is a track meet!!! Maybe Iron Chef which is given a long duration of time and plenty of culinary tools but everyday programs come across as frenetic kitchen madness, get rid of it!!!! Cook crazy good food simply and without the freaking clock!!! Just my humble opinion!