Alton Brown on Why He Left Food Network for Netflix’s ‘Iron Chef’ Reboot (EXCLUSIVE)

·11-min read

Just like “Iron Chef,” Alton Brown is synonymous with Food Network. But now, both the beloved show and the celebrity chef have moved to Netflix for a new version of the competition series that will be co-hosted by Brown.

With Netflix’s “Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend,” which premiered this week, Brown has officially departed from his long tenure at Food Network, where he was a staple for 21 years.

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Brown first joined Food Network in the late ’90s, and was the host and creator of “Good Eats,” as well as the host of “Iron Chef America,” “Cutthroat Kitchen” and a slew of other series at Food Network and the Cooking Channel.

Though his exit was never formally announced, Brown’s last deal with Food Network took him through 2020, and since, he has quietly left their airwaves. In 2021, new episodes of his shows have aired — “Good Eats: The Return,” which debuted on Discovery+ in early 2021, and a special version of “Chopped” in the summer of that same year — but those were all filmed before he opted to head to Netflix for the new “Iron Chef.”

Brown tells Variety that he caught wind of Netflix rebooting “Iron Chef” a few years ago, and was immediately interested in joining the series.

“That took a little bit of convincing on a lot of different people’s parts. But I knew that the show was going to be happening, and I was sick with jealousy over the idea that I was at the wrong network at the wrong time,” Brown tells Variety. One day, my agent finally called me up after I had nagged him almost daily, and that was it. It was done. There was never a second thought for me. It meant removing myself from one network, but that was not a hard decision. Timing just worked out that I was able to extricate myself from that.”

Brown, who co-hosts the new “Iron Chef” with Kristen Kish, the TV chef known for winning the 10th season of “Top Chef,” is not the only familiar face who has reurned to Kitchen Stadium. Mark Dacascos is also back as the chairman, who introduces the secret ingredient at the top of each episode. The cast of Iron Chefs include Curtis Stone, Marcus Samuelsson, Dominique Crenn, Gabriela Camara and Ming Tsai.

The competition series moved to Netflix after it wasn’t renewed at Food Network, where it had aired for 13 seasons. “Iron Chef” debuted on Food Network in 2005, after becoming a major phenomenon on Japanese television where the series originated with Fuji Television.

“Iron Chef” executive producer and director, Eytan Keller, shares how the show landed at Netflix, telling Variety he began his association with the series when it first launched on Food Network, which is when he met Brown, now one of his close friends.

“I actually acquired the international rights to ‘Iron Chef,’ so I was involved beyond just being on Scripps, at that time, and I had the option for the North American rights once-and-if Food Network decided not to reorder,” Keller explains. “We were all lucky enough with our good fortune that they decided they weren’t going to move forward.” So, that triggered my option, and then the bigger job began, which is how do we make this different, so it’s not just the same show on a different platform.”

Speaking with Variety at a recent press day for “Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend,” Alton Brown, Kristen Kish and Eytan Keller preview the new series and discuss the road from Food Network to Netflix.

How did the show land at Netflix?

EYTAN KELLER: 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. The global aspect of it and to be able to reposition this show worldwide is tremendous. How do you make it grander and bigger and more interesting? What weren’t we able to do on Food Network that you could do either on a streamer or on broadcast? 

You considered bringing the show to broadcast?

KELLER: At one point. We went out and pitched it to a lot of different potential buyers, and we had broadcast offers and we had the Netflix offer. My preference was the Netflix offer.

You said that you felt lucky the show wasn’t renewed at Food Network. Why do you say that? Was it just time for a refresh?

KELLER: We did it for Food Network for almost 13 years, 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 in that direction. For a long time, we tried to convince Food Network to reorder it and gave them different format changes and options to refresh it and make it work and many of those changes were not ones that would have increased the budget, so it wasn’t a budgetary consideration, but they just for whatever reason moved in a different direction. All these platforms have their reason for saying yes or no, and they decided that their arc for “Iron Chef” was done.

What are some of those changes that you wanted to accomplish in this new version?

KELLER: We wanted to make it bigger and better. You get to know the challenger more. And the fact that Alton has Kristen is such an additive element in the show. Alton said to me, “We need to talk about how this is going to be different. I just don’t want to go do the same show.” We spent a while talking through what that would be, and I said, “One of the things I’ve been thinking about is a partner for you, because that will allow you to bring out a lot of great personality aspects that you can’t do when you’re just up there doing play-by-play. It’s impossible, you don’t have a chance to breathe.” He instantly agreed, and I think it shows when you watch. Alton has reinvented the way that he does his show. There’s a sense of humor. They’re great together.

Alton Brown and Kristen Kish host “Iron Chef” on Netflix. - Credit: PATRICK WYMORE/NETFLIX
Alton Brown and Kristen Kish host “Iron Chef” on Netflix. - Credit: PATRICK WYMORE/NETFLIX

PATRICK WYMORE/NETFLIX

Kristen, what was your reaction when you landed this? I’d imagine it’s a dream job.

KRISTEN KISH: I grew up watching “Iron Chef.” I grew up watching “Good Eats.” That came out in 1999, which was in the height of when I was watching food and cooking shows, and was obsessed with them. I wouldn’t have been able to be successful without those shows. So, the combination of “Iron Chef” fandom and “Good Eats,” it all collided in this one moment for me that I’m still trying to wrap my brain around. It’s a little surreal, and truly is an honor.

What is the biggest difference created by the Netflix streaming model?

ALTON BROWN: The No. 1 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. I think it’s going to open up a big dimension of of the of what the real value of the series is. The second one is that because it’s streaming, people can binge the whole thing and that allows us story arcs that are longer than just one episode. From a storytelling standpoint, it’s just radically different. 

How is the look of Kitchen Stadium different?

KELLER: Kitchen Stadium has always been a character in the show, and I wanted to make it an even bigger character — not just in terms of of the scale, but also the look. This isn’t a TV studio, it really isn’t. I hope I don’t sound too hyperbolic, but it’s kind of an alternate culinary universe. You’re in it, and you’re immersed in this world. 

I’ve always wondered: Is the competition truly an hour? Or is this a fake TV hour?

KELLER: It’s definitely a real hour. And it’s very stressful. The perspiration, the tears, the angst is all real.

The chefs in this cast represent a sense of diversity, all coming from different cultures. Does being on Netflix add even more of a global tone to the show?

BROWN: If we’re talking about the “globalness” of Netflix, of course, we’re all pretty excited about that. I feel that the roster, which a lot of thought went into, is a snapshot of American “culinaryism” that I am proud of. I think that it represents the continent in a way that is brave and accurate and experiential and talented. I’m not going to say that we didn’t have that before, but I think that a new “Iron Chef” on Netflix, which is a brave frontier globally, these are the people that needed to be in this cast. I think that the series was retooled and evolved in a very mature and international way that will hopefully have a lot of impact. 

KELLER: I think the global aspect of it allows the chefs to be able to apply their background. Gaby, her background is rooted in the various regions of Mexico, and each dish she designed is based a region. And Marcus, in the same way, loves to show and demonstrate how his multicultural background is reflected in his food and how he’s finally able to not hide his Ethiopian ancestry. 

Curtis Stone, Dominique Crenn, Gabriela Camara, Marcus Samuelsson and Ming Tsai are the new stars of “Iron Chef” on Netflix. - Credit: PATRICK WYMORE/NETFLIX
Curtis Stone, Dominique Crenn, Gabriela Camara, Marcus Samuelsson and Ming Tsai are the new stars of “Iron Chef” on Netflix. - Credit: PATRICK WYMORE/NETFLIX

PATRICK WYMORE/NETFLIX

Kristen, thinking of the global aspect, have you thought about the impact you can have, being a queer woman of color at the helm of a show with as grand of a platform as “Iron Chef?”

KISH: You know, it’s something that I never thought about, because I never thought I had to lead with those parts of me. That was never part of my narrative, and it really wasn’t until I was pushed out onto TV, so I’m very grateful for the platform. What television has done for me is it’s allowed me to look inward and say, “Who am I? What do I stand for?Where do I come from, and why does that matter?” And that is one of the greatest gifts that television and media has given me. It’s made me look differently at myself. Being on the screen makes me more aware that people are looking at me as a woman, Asian, queer and all the good things that make me up and are part of me. It is a huge deal.

Since you’ve been introduced to audiences on “Top Chef,” what kinds of messages have you received from viewers over the years?

KISH: Oh my God, everything from the adoptee commune to the gay community to being a woman to being Asian. All of it. “I’m so glad that now I can finally see someone that looks like me.” All of that stuff. Ultimately, when you can find someone you relate to on television, regardless of how they look or what they are, if you can find somebody to relate to it gives you hope — just hope in life that you’re going to be okay. I was searching for that for a very long time when I was a kid and I didn’t realize that I could look to media to find that comfort. 

Is this show designed to be an event series with only eight episodes, or might there be more seasons?

BROWN: Well, I know what I want. I would like to be doing these on a regular basis. 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 the Netflix is the perfect home to see where this show can really go over time. So yes, my vote is for more. But they don’t actually call me and ask me — but should that call come, I will be pro-more “Iron Chef.”

KELLER: The desire is, in success obviously, to do more. The challenge is going to be taking it up to the next level and reinvent it a bit more. We’ve been talking about some interesting things that we would like to do that I think would play to the talents of the chefs and to their creativity, and interest audiences so that it’s evolving and they’re not going to come to every season and see the same dynamic unfold.

Alton, you said this is your favorite iteration of the show. Why is that?

BROWN: It’s my favorite iteration for a few reasons. One, we finally have enough budget to do it right. We finally were able to have a set that was as big as it ought to be and a kitchen as grand as it ought to be. I think that finally having two hosts, which was never something that we were able to make happen in the previous iteration, is a huge upgrade. And we have really great ingredients; shooting here in California is a very different thing from shooting in New York. And my trailer is bigger — much better than my dressing room was at Food Network. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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