LAURA SULLIVAN, host: We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan. "Good Eats" isn't your typical cooking show, and its host, Alton Brown, does a lot more than recite recipes. Quirky skits, puppets and props all serve up the history and science of food. He likes to talk to the camera inside the refrigerator to explain where things come from, like, say, cream cheese.
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ALTON BROWN: When a New York dairy man in the name of William Lawrence invented a spreadable, mild cheese containing at least 33 percent milk fat and not more than 55 percent moisture called cream cheese back in 1872, he had no idea that he was saving Southern cake baking. But he was, because unlike butter, which melts at a relatively low temperature, cream cheese can hold its own shape until it reaches well above 250 degrees. That means that buttercream style frostings can be prepared and kept in hot summer months.
SULLIVAN: See how much you just learned? Alton Brown has a loyal hoard of fans, and they're about to be very disappointed because "Good Eats" taped its final episode this week. Alton Brown is with me now from his offices in Atlanta. Welcome to the program.
BROWN: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.
SULLIVAN: Alton, how can you do this?
BROWN: How can I do this? How can I shut it down?
BROWN: You know, it's been 13 years. It's one of those shows that to do it right is pretty much an all-consuming task. I've got so many other projects that I really want to do, and yet, I'm not willing to let "Good Eats" slip down to even 95 percent. But I think that the new projects that I'm going to be doing are going to segue nicely. I'm not abandoning it. I'm just evolving.
SULLIVAN: You have taught people how to make macaroni and cheese without burning the cheese and the noodles and you've also done even a diet program. I mean, how have you come up with all this stuff?
BROWN: We've got a big sign over the door that says, laughing brains are more absorbent. And one of the things that keeps us, you know, focused on is the fact that you've got to entertain first and foremost. You cannot teach without entertaining. And I've often said that I have the high school transcripts to prove that because I barely got out of school alive because I wasn't entertained. So we've always thought that if we can entertain and tell good stories, be very visually arresting, then people will soak up the information. And we slather that information on very thick. We load it up.
SULLIVAN: Did you actually view it as a cooking show, or do you view it as a science show?
BROWN: I don't know how I view it. You know, the whole thing came out of a memo to myself back in the '90s when I wrote down: Julia Child, Monty Python, Mr. Wizard and thought if I could put those three things together, that would be fun.
SULLIVAN: Every episode that you've done has been so self-contained and has its own sort of vision for the entirety of the episode. And you did one that was on waffles. It opens with you dressed up as a fictional superhero.
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BROWN: (as Character) I'm The Waffler(ph). I'm a crusader battling to save common, everyday decent folk from the soul-stifling power of mediocre waffles.
SULLIVAN: Where did you come up with the idea for an episode to save the common folk from mediocre waffles?
BROWN: Well, waffles are wonderful. And most people's expectations for waffles have gone really downhill. And any time that I see a good common food get lower and lower in quality, you know, you eventually have to stop and say: Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's fix this. And so sthe waffle has certainly suffered.
SULLIVAN: You've earned a reputation over the years as sort of a mad scientist. And we have an example from an NPR segment you did back in 2002 on this show where you attached a blow dryer to a makeshift tin trashcan to grill tuna.
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BROWN: That's heat. You know, what's interesting is not only are we creating more radiant energy by seating the combustion of the charcoal, but we've created convection. We may have just invented the first convection grill.
SULLIVAN: Where did that come from?
BROWN: We call these hacks. And it's always come out of essentially being lazy and cheap. I want an end result, and I don't want to spend a bunch of money to get it, and I don't want to leave the house. So I go to the basement, the garage, and I find tools to do what it is I want to get done. And then you kind of back it up from there. You know, you MacGyver it.
SULLIVAN: You have this ability to bring things down to just the average person's level when it comes to food.
BROWN: You know, I never think you have to bring anything down. People are not dumb. They are smart. And if you talk up, they'll come up. But you have to entertain them, and you can't preach to them. That's where you lose them. But it's not a matter of making things accessible. I think everything's accessible. You just got to tell the story right.
SULLIVAN: That's Alton Brown. He just taped the final episode of his series "Good Eats" on the Food Network. His new cookbook, "Good Eats 3: The Later Years," comes out this month. He's been speaking to us from his Atlanta office. Alton Brown, thank you so much.
BROWN: Oh, thanks a lot for having me.
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