Why Alton Brown Ditched Food Network For The Iron Chef Reboot

Chef Alton Brown is a recipe developer, cookbook author, food blogger, and celebrated television star. He's known for his quick, witty personality and consistent appearances on numerous Food Network series, like "Good Eats," "Cutthroat Kitchen," and as the host "Iron Chef America" for many years. The latter, which centered around talented chefs competing against one another using a specific ingredient of the day, aired from 2004 to 2018 before its ultimate cancellation on Food Network.

But one network's trash is another network's treasure. In June 2022, a new version of the familiar cooking competition aired on Netflix. It was called "Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend," and it offered up the ultimate taste of nostalgia for "Iron Chef" fans of the world. Following the original Food Network competition-style format, the Netflix re-imagining breathed new life into the beloved series while still managing to maintain the factors from the initial program that consumers loved the most, including host Alton Brown.

But how did Netflix manage to steal the star away from Food Network, his television home for over two decades? From a better set to a sweet new co-host to suspected ill will, here's why Alton Brown ditched Food Network for the "Iron Chef" reboot.

Food Network seems to have deprioritized Iron Chef America, something Brown enjoyed being a part of

The Food Network dominates the cooking television sector. From a slew of Guy Fieri shows to The Pioneer Woman's ranch to "Beat Bobby Flay," the network focuses on delicious recipes, charming personalities, and tastes that inspire us to create good food — and it contains no shortage of specials. One of these was "Iron Chef America," a recreation of the original Japanese cooking competition made for television in the United States. The show ran strongly for years, with Alton Brown serving as a knowledgeable, charming host.

But fans speculate that Food Network de-prioritized the series toward the end of its on-air life. One fan theory on YouTube postulates that the network began honing in on fun, less serious competitions, such as "Guy's Grocery Games." The professional feel of "Iron Chef" wasn't connecting with viewers the way it had in the past — but rather than transform the show to meet viewers where they were at, the network let it slip away, focusing its energies elsewhere. 

If this is true, the show's slow death must have been a downer for Brown, who admits to loving being a part of the "Iron Chef" franchise. "I don't really think of myself as having left a place as much as I simply crossed the street to join one of my first loves," Brown told Entertainment Weekly of his jump to Netflix.

Signing onto the reboot was reportedly an easy decision

Alton Brown may have spent 20 years at Food Network, but when it came down to it, the choice to leave his parent network for Netflix was apparently an easy one. The chef and popular television personality admits that his loyalty to the "Iron Chef" franchise made the decision a no-brainer. In his interview with Entertainment Weekly, he states: "I had 20 pretty spectacular years at Food Network ... But to be honest, if Netflix had taken a shot at 'Iron Chef' without me, that would have broken my heart ... I had to follow that franchise, which has been such a big part of my life and a really big part of my career. And as it evolves into something new and spectacular, I just had to be a part of it."

Brown goes on to divulge that, as a huge Netflix fan and viewer himself, the idea of the show being in the hands of the popular streaming service only increased his feelings of surety — and learning which team members would be involved in the reboot was one more reason in favor. "It is such an incredibly vital franchise to me. I've learned through many, many years of doing hundreds of episodes of that show, to have a chance of being part of this new re-imagining which is amazingly brilliant, it's just not something that I could not do. So no, it was a very easy decision."

Netflix allowed Iron Chef to go in a direction Food Network had been against, a concept attractive to Brown

Any show is at the mercy of its network when it comes to its creative direction. According to executive producer and director Eytan Keller, "Iron Chef" required some meandering. "We did it for Food Network for almost 13 years," he explains in an interview with Variety, "and we were constantly asking them to reinvent certain elements in the format and to change the environment and to improve and refresh Kitchen Stadium. The uniqueness of it was waning. We made a lot of suggestions, and they did not want to go in that direction."

At Netflix, the "Iron Chef" team received support much more inclined toward what they envisioned. The network provided a platform in which the show could evolve and grow — a notion undeniably attractive to both the director and Brown himself. "I just felt that the best home for this was going to be Netflix, both from a creative standpoint and the way they responded in the room," divulges Keller. In his interview with Entertainment Weekly Brown said: "One of my prerequisites for being involved in this program was ... that the concept would be able to evolve ... there's always room for re-imagining and improvement, and I think what we get with this version of 'Iron Chef'."

He gained a wonderful co-host

One of the ways the "Iron Chef" team planned to implement some variance in the reboot was to change up the show's hosting style. Alton Brown wouldn't be the only one to guide the audience through the competition; a co-host capable of adding depth to the story and bringing an extra element of charisma to the screen would be ideal.

That co-host became Kristen Kish, winner of "Top Chef" Season 10 — and she brought all that and more, according to Brown. "I have to say that I've always kind of worked alone," he admitted to Entertainment Weekly. "I've always been kind of a lone wolf ... I met her and five minutes later, we were completely a new unit. An absolute delight. I adore her. ... We are better together than I ever was by myself, and that takes a lot for me to say." 

The on-screen chemistry between Kristen and Alton is evident, both on the show and in their off-set interactions. In a virtual interview with ABC News, Brown and Kish admitted they didn't have to develop anything in the way of connection — it all fell into place naturally. "You're, like, my best friend," Kish told him in a heart-warming acknowledgment. And it isn't just the two who love this new connection; the feeling extends to watchers, too. "Happy to see Kristen in something else!" said a fan on Reddit. "She's got a great TV presence." We concur.

Zero commercials made for superior storytelling

Alton Brown admits in an interview with Variety that perhaps the most substantial difference between the two variants of "Iron Chef" is not the awesome second host or the shiny new set — but the commercials. Specifically (in the case of the Netflix version), a total lack thereof. 

"The number one difference is that there's not a commercial break every four minutes, and that changes the storytelling a great deal. It allows for more nuanced storytelling, so that's a huge game changer," Brown comments, explaining how certain story elements can be pursued via Netflix — a streaming service — that could not be achieved through Food Network's traditional cable-style television. "... people can binge the whole thing," he explains, "and that allows us story arcs that are longer than just one episode. From a storytelling standpoint, it's just radically different." 

And for the most part, this difference in the show's progression seems to be appreciated by watchers, with many reviewers reporting positively on the iteration. One review on Eater suggests the new "Iron Chef" hones in on the importance of a chef's culture as it relates to their cooking — a delving which, Alton might say, is only possible due to Netflix's ability to spend more time on each contestant. 

In the Netflix variant, Alton actually gets to eat the food

When it comes to the majority of cooking shows, there is a distinct differentiation between the hosts and the judges. The judges are usually sitting, silently observing competitors, while the hosts stand and narrate for viewers. However, the largest disparity between the two roles comes when the food is presented. The judges judge — meaning, they taste the meal — while the host remains on the sidelines, sweet scents of a dozen different meals wafting under their nose. That's just the way that food competition television goes, right?

Not in the case of the "Iron Chef" reboot. This new variant flips the script, allowing for hosts Kish and Brown to sit down right alongside the judges and take part in the eating process. Brown explains to Entertainment Weekly that it was decided early on that this would be the case; not so he or Kish could influence the panel's decisions in any way, but so that they — having observed the cooking process from start to finish — could chime in as needed, answering questions or providing valuable insights the judges might not have been privy to otherwise. This makes for a more full-bodied, well-rounded judging process ... as well as a pair of satisfied hosts.

Netflix placed an emphasis on the participating cooks' stories, something which greatly interested Brown

Sometimes, watching a recipe develop on our screens just isn't enough. People often crave a story, such as the reason behind the steaming dishes and more information about the people who've made them. This populace of fans craving to dig a little deeper includes Alton Brown himself — and Netflix's willingness to dive in and do just that is one of the reasons the chef prefers the new iteration of "Iron Chef."

"... what we've never really had the ability to do is to really get into more personal stories of the people that are cooking the food," said Brown to Entertainment Weekly. "And that is something that, as soon as I found out was going to be a real emphasis in the show, I was extremely interested." He goes on to say that in the original Food Network "Iron Chef America," delving into the cooks' stories simply wasn't the goal. In the Netflix version, conversely, the cultures and backgrounds of the people creating the dishes are an intricate part of the series itself, "weaving into this tapestry of what food can do." Food that enriches the soul, as well as the body? We're here for it.

The lighting is better on the Netflix set

A set can truly make or break the entire filming experience. Though the finished recorded product may appear squeaky clean for viewers at home on their couches, there are often instances in which actors feel cramped or stifled by inadequate space or lighting during filming. Some sets are better than others, and according to Alton Brown, when it comes to the two studios used to tape the "Iron Chef" variations, Netflix's — rather than the Food Network's — is far superior.

In his exclusive interview with Entertainment Weekly, Brown describes how filming "Iron Chef America" at Food Network included a relatively small kitchen, as well as lighting which was wanting. In his conversation with ABC News, he speaks to the superiority of the Netflix setup, referring to it as "bigger, better, and more technologically advanced," and insisting that "the set in general has become part of the storytelling in a way that it couldn't before." The host has also cited that thanks to the sheer size of the set itself, cameras can move about much more freely in the Netflix realm, making for great angles and better lighting. "Finally," he told Entertainment Weekly, "'Iron Chef' has a home as big as it is."

The Netflix version is Brown's favorite take on Iron Chef ... and he has a better dressing room at the network

When faced with a potentially difficult decision, there's no better feeling than realizing you made the right one for you. And it seems that Alton Brown, who declares the Netflix version of "Iron Chef" his favorite take that's ever been done, is experiencing that wonderful, validation. "I like the new show. It's my favorite iteration. I feel that Kristen and I make a really good team, and I think that Netflix is the perfect home to see where this show can really go over time. So yes, my vote is for more," stated Brown decisively during his team's interview with Variety, speaking to his hope for a follow-up season. 

He concludes that the greater budget, a set that gives off a feeling of grandeur worthy of "Iron Chef," and the double-host stylization are all factors in his preference for this newer version ... but then he adds one more, chuckle-worthy remark: "And my trailer is bigger — much better than my dressing room was at Food Network." We can certainly imagine that doesn't hurt, either.

Fans speculate that Food Network may have treated Brown unfairly, contributing to the decision

Though Brown's break from Food Network seems to have been an amicable one by all accounts, it hasn't stopped fans from speculating there may be more to the story. On a Reddit thread titled "We Need Alton Brown Back," one fan offers up a theory that Food Network mistreated and snubbed the television star over a long period, referring to the series "Good Eats" and "Good Eats Reloaded," both in which he starred. "The Food Network, to me, did Alton Brown dirty," they conjectured. "'Good Eats' was one of the most popular shows ... and I was very surprised at how little advertising they did for it ... Also, the reloaded episodes finding their way to the Cooking Channel (where cooking shows go to die) ... was a mistake." 

The user goes on to touch on the publicized assumption that Brown left the network peacefully to rejoin "Iron Chef," claiming that Alton had made comments in the past that caused them to wonder otherwise. "I think he said something along the lines of 'don't let the door hit you on the way out,'" the user described, referring to an unsubstantiated YouTube video. This comment made by Brown is, of course, unconfirmed, so we cannot say if there is any validity at all to the theory. Still, it's enough to have caused some fans to wonder about the host's behind-the-scenes relationship status with his old network.

Whether or not Alton will ever return to Food Network remains to be seen, and fan theories abound

Though hoards of Netflix watchers are happy to see Alton Brown's presence on the streaming network, many Food Network fans are mourning it on their screens. Questions as to whether or not he will ever return to his network of origin abound — as do theories regarding the television star's future in general. Since the official word regarding "Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend" Season 2 has not yet come down from Netflix, many wonder what Brown will go on to do if the show finds itself canceled at its new home.

Brown seems to have kept the question of a potential return to Food Network open-ended in his interview with Entertainment Weekly. When asked about saying goodbye, he responded with: "You know what? I don't think goodbye. Goodbye is really final. Perhaps au revoir or adieu for now." Things get even more mysterious when you consider a certain update that came from X, formerly known as Twitter, on Chef Alton's page nearly one year ago. "I have a new project that I'm massively excited about," he announced. "#DeathOnThePlate. More details coming soon." To date, these highly anticipated details have not come, leaving fans equally perplexed and excited as to what might be in store. All we can do is watch and see what Alton Brown does next.