Alton Brown Wants To End Pet Obesity And Gets Ready For One Last Good Eats - Exclusive Interview

It's going to be a big year for Alton Brown. He's in the midst of his farewell tour of "Beyond the Eats," and his newest cookbook, "Good Eats: The Final Years," is soon to hit bookshelves as the celebrity chef and TV host gears up to say goodbye to the series that skyrocketed him to culinary fame. It's the end of an era, one that changed the landscape of food TV and the scope of Brown's career. From there, he went on to host some of our Food Network competition favorites, like "Iron Chef," "Cutthroat Kitchen," and so much more.

Brown's unique approach to and appreciation of food and how it's made is unmatched. If you've ever watched "Good Eats" then you know that Brown is all about understanding the science behind everything we eat. And that's not just true for people, but for our pets too. So Brown recently teamed up Hill's Pet Nutrition to learn all about keeping pets as healthy as possible, with a diet that is "scientifically constructed" to help them live their best life. He shared all the details with Mashed, along with his secret for maintaining healthy habits himself in the kitchen. 

He also brought along a friend: his adorable Boston Terrier named Scabigail — not that he really needed one, but there was a reason for it.

Alton Brown talks New Year's resolutions and keeping your pet healthy, too

First of all, Happy New Year.

Happy New Year to you. Thank you very, very much.

How are the New Year's resolutions going so far?

Well, the big news about the New Year's resolutions isn't about me, it's about Scabigail here. At the end of last year, her mom and I noticed that she was snoring a little more than usual — all the short-nosed dogs do, you know? We started wondering what could be wrong. I started wondering, "Well, wow, maybe she's put on some weight." She's a rescue; rescues eat anything, and so we went online and we found the website that Hill's Pet Nutrition has, and we did the body assessment little tool there. It told us that Scabs was a little curvier than she needed to be.

We went directly to her vet and had a meeting about what she should really weigh. Then we got with Hill's and we've moved her over to the Perfect Weight Science diet from Hill's Pet Nutrition, and she's already lost weight, and she really loves the flavor.

We're making our New Year's resolution all about her, because I've gotten in some really bad pet habits during the pandemic. I was over-treating, because it feels good to give a pet a treat. Now, we ration the treats. In fact, we use some of her kibble for her treats. We set it aside because we measure her food every day and we make a little pile of it, and we know that when it's gone, it's gone, so she can't play mom against dad or any of that kind of business.

We're paying a lot of attention to that. We're coming up with new habits. She comes to work with me every day and there's a drawer where she's used to the treats being, but instead, I got her a special toy that stays in that drawer. When she comes in and begs, instead of giving her a treat, we play with the toy for 10 to 15 minutes, and then it goes back in the drawer. Hopefully, she's starting to equate love with the playing instead of just stuffing something into her pie hole, because it used to be so easy, especially here in a food place. Her thing is, she loves cheese, especially Manchego, but one ounce of cheese, one ounce, that's all the calories she needs for an entire meal, but almost none of the real nutrition that she needs to have a healthy gut and to have to have a nice long life.

His mission with Hill's Pet Nutrition

We're out on a mission now, to help pet parents realize that they've got an issue, because 90% of us that have overweight pets do not realize that we have them. Recognizing that, going to the vet, getting a plan in place with positive nutrition, is a really big deal. That's all.

Pet obesity is a bigger problem than we think among pet owners.

Not only is it a problem, it's something that's super easy to ignore, to be honest. Let's face it, round pets are cute pets and they lay around and sleep and they don't get ... You know, it's so easy to overlook. We like feeding our dogs, but the truth is, the impact on wellbeing that weight has on animals is really pretty drastic. Even a small amount of extra weight on a dog or cat can really, really affect their life and prevent them from being the actual animals that they can be. Getting nutrition into them that is scientifically constructed, that allows for great probiotic, great gut health, and helps them to express the better part of their genes, is really important if we want to get the most out of our pets and let them have the most out of their lives.

Yeah, absolutely. She is a cutie right there.

She has the soul of a 14-year-old girl, very, very kind of attitudinal. [To Scabigail] You got some attitude on you, don't you? [Back to interviewer] When we rescued her, she only weighed seven pounds and she had no hair.

That was how many years ago now?

We've had her for three years. She was a pathetic little thing when we adopted her, but she's living her best life now.

Alton Brown shares his approach to cooking healthy at home

You know that this time of year, it's not just pets that we're thinking about when it comes to healthy lifestyles. This is the time of year when all of us are getting our New Year's resolutions and trying to eat healthier. As somebody who has such a unique approach to food and ingredients, how do you approach a simple and healthy cooking style in the kitchen?

Well, I think that — and this applies to pets as well — it's not as much about what we don't eat. It's easy to say, "Well, I'm on a diet, so I can't eat this and I can't eat that and I'm not going to have this." That kind of diet almost never works because it's based on denial. So for me, what works is concentrating instead on foods that I feel I have to get: making sure we get enough vegetables, that you're snacking on nuts instead of crackers or cookies, making sure that your protein sources are clean, paying attention to getting the right foods in.

I think that for people that are trying to be healthier, number one, it's a long term thing. It's not going to be over at the end of January, it's not going to be over at the end of February, but if you want results that last, you've got to do it slow, and you've got to try to set up new habits for yourself. Just like making sure that it helps, I think, for animals to be fed at the same time every day, they come to expect it, their systems expect it. [It's the] same thing for us. We need to get into habits.

That doesn't mean fad foods. That doesn't mean never being able to have the things that you really love. It makes you prioritize the things that you love and decide what you can get rid of. For instance, me, I will do without dessert, but let me have a martini every now and then. It's a matter [not of] denying, but of simply making choices and understanding what the ramification is of those choices.

Good Eats and the end of an era

You're in the midst of the farewell tour of "Beyond The Eats." How is that going? How are fans responding?

It is so nice to see people in theaters again. It's funny — we did a tour leg in October and November, going back out in February, and after this strange time that we've all been through, just to have people all be in a space together is really lovely. I think people forget that theater's a communal event, like eating, where we really do prefer to do it in a group. I think it's having a positive effect. We're being very careful, of course, but we've decided to keep doing it, to keep trying to share that experience. I love it. I love being on stage and love being able to be with the fans that way, but the big thing is that folks are wanting to be back out and they want to be with other people, and that's a really positive thing.

This tour is also coming in conjunction with the release of the last "Good Eats" cookbook coming out later this year. Does this feel like a big end of an era?

Yes and no. Everything is a continuation. ["Good Eats: The Final Years"] will be out at the end of April ... That will be it for "Good Eats," but I think that a lot of the work that I've done in the last couple of decades will be able to morph and evolve to suit the media landscape. It used to be that I made TV shows where everything had to be over in 21 minutes, and now with streaming services, we can do long arcs. We can tell very, very different stories to very specific kinds of audiences. I think that now it's going to be ... The work's going to be more ... Where are you trying to go? Work's going to be more focused, so I think it's an exciting time, but I do need to put this particular part of me to bed, so to speak, with wrapping up this book ...  Yes, the end of an era, but one era has to end before you can start a new one.

How social media is changing our cooking habits, and why Alton Brown won't watch food TV anymore

You've said in the past that "Good Eats" came about because you were bored with cooking shows that were on TV at the time. So 20-something years later, what do you think of that landscape when you look back on how it's changed over the last 20 years? And in particular, how social media too is having an impact on how we interact and learn about food?

Well, I think everything has changed because of social media. I don't watch food shows anymore. I quit several years ago. I decided that ... I have this fixation, and my fixation, my obsession, is originality. I would rather not watch things, because if I don't like it, that might change what I'm going to do, or if I do like it, I might change what I do. I just don't watch food shows anymore of any type, because I don't want them in my head.

I do try to keep up with what's going on. Social media has changed everything. Also, the internet has changed the way that we can get ingredients. We can be much more mindful about the ingredients that we use. We can experiment with things that we couldn't get before, and we can also buy things more often from people and organizations that we want to support, which is very different than the shopping experience of even ten years ago. I think that as consumers, we're in a place of greater power than we used to be. There are a lot of voices out there, a lot of people that are putting out content that's culinary-related. The biggest chore is sorting through all that to find what it is you want to really interact with.

The Iron Chef matchups Brown would love to see

When you look back, [what are] some of your favorite matchups you hosted on "Iron Chef?"

I don't remember any of them. I don't remember any of them, because we made so many of them so fast that I would study for the battle and then forget it as soon as it was over. People ask me this all the time. I need to print out a bunch of answers to this question so that I can have them. I remember the foods and the food battles that I like most, like the yak battle or the Parmesan cheese battles or the tofu battles, but I couldn't tell you that I've got like a favorite matchup, because in any one of those shows, I was too busy trying to do my job.

Fair enough. Is there a matchup you think that we haven't seen that we should?

Oh, there are a lot of them. There are a lot of possibilities. I would love to see Jose Andres compete again. I never get tired of watching Marcus Samuelsson cook. He's such a great innovative cook. and I think that I would love to see ... Oh gosh, you're putting me on the spot.

The great thing now is that there's so many more great female chefs than there used to be, because that part of the industry has really opened up, especially from other countries and other cultures. If it was up to me, I would spend a lot more time bringing in people from other countries and cultures who can teach us about ingredients and about foods from other places.

His secret to sabotage on Cutthroat Kitchen

In Cutthroat Kitchen, did you ever come up with the sabotages? Was that you?

I was on a team of about seven people that worked on coming up with those. There was no way for me to do all that by myself, nor am I that crazy. I tended to like the really, really simple sabotages, like "you can't use salt," but yeah, there was seven of us on that team. Most everybody's on medication because they're wacko in the heads, aren't they?

What are challenges that you tried out that just didn't work?

There were a few, and some were just too big to make practical when it came down to building things. There were some that ... The best sabotages are ones where you can actually see people think through the problem and see them cook through the problem. If the sabotage is so complex or so daunting that [it] can't be done, then to me, the resulting competition isn't really that exciting. I really want to see somebody use culinary knowledge to work out the problem, not just simply endure a hardship.

Alton Brown's kitchen favorites

Who's one chef you'd want to cook you dinner?

Living or dead?

Doesn't matter.

Anthony Bourdain.

Cheers to that. What's one ingredient you could never live without?

Kosher salt.

Okay, and we're going to end this talk about healthy food with ... what is your go-to fast food order, fast food restaurant?

I don't eat fast food.

Do you have a go-to comfort food, indulgence?

Yeah, mashed potatoes. No, French fries. My own French fries.

Learn more about Alton Brown's live tour and his new book "Good Eats: The Final Years" on his website, and learn more about keeping your pet healthy by visiting