What Food Network star Alton Brown did before becoming famous

Alton Brown at a red carpet event.
Alton Brown was a director of commercials prior to his chef training. Pic credit: ©

Food Network star Alton Brown possesses a whip-smart delivery and rapid-fire recall of food facts. His entertaining deep dives into food and cultural histories and arcane culinary knowledge are catnip to people who love their facts and food. 

Yet, he almost didn’t become a TV star if not for feeling dissatisfied with his work as a commercial director in Atlanta, Georgia.

But in a telling interview with The Bitter Southerner, he revealed his life could have gone a completely different way if not for fate. This curious foodie was raised in homes between the east and west coasts, and he almost fell through the educational cracks in a Georgia school system that underserved him at best in his high school years.

In his TV series and appearances, Brown took an acerbic tweak on the entire food and cuisine television genre and revealed in that interview that laughter and having an appetite are the common glue that holds a fragmented society together. 

If not for his voracious curiosity, the world may have never met the indefatigable Alton Brown as a chef and host on TV.

Young Alton Brown dabbled in jazz before chef-dom

While explaining his zig-zagging from California to Georgia, Brown noted that his school days in Georgia were not the best. He talked about how he fell out and found jazz music and Miles Davis records, all of which piqued his interest.

He said of his move to Lithonia, Georgia, in DeKalb County: “They could never really decide if it was a high school or an internment camp. All I know is I got positively, and I’m going to use this word, the sh****est public education available at the time. As I look back, it is remarkable that anyone succeeded in doing anything but become a drug dealer out of that school system. I was saved by the fact that I got very into jazz music, and there was a jazz band there, so I kind of lived in that world. I was listening to Miles Davis records instead of smoking joints in the parking lot and driving a Camaro.”

University life and beyond

Brown continued his education after high school. He transferred from LaGrange College and headed to the University of Georgia, where film school studies caught his attention. 

After graduating, he revealed in the interview that he began directing commercials shot in Atlanta, Georgia. He shared that the behind the camera work was not fulfilling enough.

And at age 34, far older than most entering students, Alton furthered his post-graduate education in the culinary arts. Brown became a full-time student at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont.

It was there in Vermont he established his first culinary internship. In another interview with the Burlington Free press, his dislike of the snowy weather had him longing to escape the cold, and he eventually created his first Food Network series, Good Eats. He has never looked back at grueling kitchen work in cold climates ever again. 

He has also kept his musical interests alive, and his group, the Alton Brown Trio, has released albums, charting twice on Billboard.

Now, Brown is taking to the road with a new culinary variety show.

Check him out here:

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