Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >
Feb 6, 2013 03:38 PM

Is Christopher Kimball the new Alton Brown???????

Alright. I have been watching ATK for the past week or so after not watching it for a while. I've noticed that at the start of the show he has this scientific thing going on----almost as though he studied Alton Brown's Good Eats and tried to dupe a portion of it. Is it me? Am I so quick to find fault with Kimball that I'm grasping at straws? I loved Good Eats and IMHO, Brown did that scientific stuff much better.
I don't like copycats. Michael Kors has copied LV's Neverfull bag and a ton of other designer's goods. Dare I compare Kimball to Kors?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
    1. He's the old Alton Brown. He's been peddling scientific recipe magic for decades.

      13 Replies
      1. re: sr44

        Agreed. ATK was on the air with Kimball well before Good Eats. If anything, Brown copied Kimball and just added a lot of zany and colorfully graphic stuff.

        1. re: ninrn

          He really seems (Kimball, that is) to think that cooking can be reduced to a formula. There are certainly formulaic elements, but once an element changes, you're toast if you just follow his recipes.

          1. re: sr44

            Really? That's not my impression. But then I rarely follow a recipe exactly. I am used to looking for the distinctive features of a recipe. The recipes in their magazine usually go into more detail about the alternatives and why they chose a particular method or ingredient.

            Also in the magazine, article authors get their own byline. Kimball may be editor, and have his column, but most of the writing is by members of the ATK staff.

            1. re: paulj

              But the recipes in the magazine, although credited to an individual, sound as if they come from the same voice. Now, I suspect that few of the contributors have significant verbal skills, but the precision of the reporting leads me to think someone is standing by with a stopwatch. That's not to say I do the same...

              He must be related to Fanny Farmer, from whom my grandmother, the very one with the correct clam chowder and baked bean recipes, took lessons.

            2. re: sr44

              "He really seems (Kimball, that is) to think that cooking can be reduced to a formula"

              well, yeah

              1. re: coney with everything

                This is a pretty good article. I'm not a fan because of the aggressive marketing, but his journey has been interesting.

            3. re: ninrn

              Good Eats premiered in 1999 while ATK showed up in 2001. Cooks Illustrated has been around in print since 1993.

              Everyone copies everyone else. There are no original ideas any more. Alton found a way to lighten up a cooking show and it caught on.

              I like both shows for different reasons.

                1. re: Dee S

                  Cooks Illustrated has actually been around since before 1993. The magazine was around since at least the mid 80's, stopped publication for awhile, and then started publishing again in the 90's, til now. I know this because I was a subscriber.

                  1. re: juliemoose

                    I think it was called "Cooks Magazine' in the original formulation, when it took advertising.

                  1. re: ninrn

                    Check this recent post I made for evidence that Alton "borrows" from CI.


                    It's funny, I was a huge Good Eats fan back in the day, and only discovered CI in 2006. But Cooks Illustrated dates back to 1993 (and the earlier iteration, "Cooks", dates back to 1980.) Good Eats dates to 1999.



                    Mr Taster

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      And both of them "borrow" very heavily from McGee. Nothing wrong with teaching a bit of science and technique to the masses in my opinion...

                2. Everything old is new again.

                  Just go with it. and yes, there is something to be said for making "old" science (and cooking) new again.

                  1. ATK probably has been doing more of the graphical and animated explanations in recent years. But they have always been testing recipes, which, to do well, requires understanding the science behind cooking.

                    Much of the science is presented by Guy Crosby
                    He also teaches a food science course at Harvard, and has real science credentials. He has also written ATK's The Science of Good Cooking book.

                    Alton is a good TV producer, but for food science he relies on the likes of Harold McGee and Shirley Corriher. Incidentally , McGee's degrees are in English, albeit his BS was from the best science school in the country ( :) ).

                    37 Replies
                    1. re: paulj

                      Dayummm! I stand corrected then, I just guess my distain for Kimball (although I do like ATK's other staffers a lot) just makes me grasp at the straws. I honestly thought he copied Brown. Oops! My bad!

                      1. re: jarona

                        So now do you dislike Alton Brown?

                        1. re: wadejay26

                          Oh hell no. I love Alton Brown! I wish he would stop doing those Welch's Grape Juice ads and that Iron Chef stuff and go back to being Mr. Wizard. Oh..and he could stand to gain a few pounds--he looks better when he is less thin!
                          AB is entertaining for me...he never came across as taking himself too seriously on G.E. Kimball seems to take himself too seriously!

                            1. re: paulj

                              but he looks just as dour and unhappy in each of those costumes as he does in his regular bow tie.

                              Yes, Kimball's been doing the science part for years and years, but Brown manages to laugh at himself on the way by.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                Hmm, Chris never strikes me as dour or unhappy! And he laughs at himself plenty on Cook's Country--both in the outtakes and on the show itself. He makes ME laugh, too.


                                1. re: kattyeyes

                                  to each their own - he makes my teeth itch.

                                  1. re: kattyeyes

                                    >> Chris never strikes me as dour or unhappy!

                                    You're buying the act-- believing the character he plays on TV. His body language communicates to me that he is insecure and controlling. It's subtle, but you can see it in how he carries himself and how he interacts with his co-hosts (if you're sensitive to these things.)

                                    Additionally, there are stories about how difficult he is to please, and how uncommunicative he is in real life. Even the NY Times article sheds light on the true CK, which is not the self-effacing, gee-whiz-I-can't-cook schtick he portrays on TV.

                                    In fact, I thought it would be quite funny to intercut repeating clips of him being repeatedly "surprised" by a technique CI invented, that he has to pretend is a new innovation that he has never heard of. Now, I love CI but artifice always rubs me the wrong way, and CK is guilty of it in a big way.

                                    Mr Taster

                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                      I get the idea that to work there for any length of time, you have to learn the ropes of dealing with CK. If you don't kiss up exactly the right way, you're gone. Drinking the koolaid, so to speak.

                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                        so, if we don't see what you see in his "body language," we're insensitive?

                                        television and the movies, even non fiction, always contain a good degree of artifice.

                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                          I'm not a psychoanalyst and don't play one on TV. Really? I'm missing that Chris is insecure and controlling? Well, thank goodness, 'cause boy, do I get enough of that in real life right in my face where I can't miss it. It makes for a long day.

                                          I tune into TV for entertainment and to learn. Is Chris hard to please and a general PITA? Maybe so. Are some of my favorite singers and chefs perfectionists? Could be. But I don't need to live with them. I just need to like what I watch and learn along the way. Fait accompli. Rock on, Chris.

                                          1. re: kattyeyes

                                            If it works for you, that's fine. Truthfully, it works for me too (mostly). But, I can't ignore something when it's right there in front of me, clear as day. If it's hidden from view and I don't see it or detect it, so be it. But for CK, it's very obvious to me, that his on camera persona is a great deal more affable than the persnickety, anal-retentive dude that he is in real life.

                                            It does take away slightly from my enjoyment of the show, when one his personal "tics" surfaces, and he catches himself being condescending or boorish, but quickly pushes it back down for the cameras, and modulates his voice to make it more friendly-sounding. I've seen it happen many times. (I love the way Bridget calls him out sometimes-- there's some not-so-latent frustration there, but she is most graceful in the way she manages it, and him.)

                                            But in the end, the benefits I've gotten from the show (and from CK's empire) far outweigh any annoyances I have with CK's personal proclivities. In effect, I am a customer in spite of CK's presence and personality, not because of it.

                                            Mr Taster

                                            1. re: Mr Taster

                                              kimball would have to be an actor of day-lewisian proportions to not have a large dose of some kind of affability in his makeup. nobody who "acts" that way on t.v. -- the costumes, the self deprecation -- can be such a complete asshole (then again, bill cosby seems like a pretty nice guy on the t.v.). i don't get how one can call his persnickity attitude artifice when it's right there on the t.v. show, and he teases himself, and allows others to tease him, about it.
                                              persnickity and affable are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and one man's persnickityness is another man's attention to detail.

                                              it also seems...disingenuous to think kimball doesn't have a massive, massive influence over all the content of the magazines and the t.v. shows. surely they both are what they are because of his personality.
                                              yes, one can like or dislike part of all the man's personality, whether onscreen or off, but how can you separate them from the products?
                                              surely they are what they are because, not in spite, of him?

                                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                                I dunno...unless you think these bloopers are staged somehow, Chris strikes me as pretty funny. And a good sport!

                                      2. re: paulj

                                        Yeah. He doesn't have that look of a fun guy--even if he IS in costume. You know how you can just tell if a person has a great sense of humor or not when you meet them? Kimball just comes across as someone not humorous--and even with the costumes--he just seems to take himself very seriously. I dunno.He's a N.E. Prep schooler--not that there's anything wrong with that--but he just has this air of snootiness. I still watch the show though b/c I've gotten some decent and foolproof recipes from him though.

                                        1. re: jarona

                                          i don't find him snooty in the slightest and think he has a rather dry sense of humor i enjoy.

                                          1. re: linus

                                            I'm with you, Linus. My latest issue of Cooks Illustrated just arrived and Kimball's editorial was about rabbit hunting in a Ford pick-up (up behind Mike Lourie's dairy barn) right after a late Dec snowfall. It captured perfectly his sense of joy in the outdoors, the natural rhythm of rural life and appreciation of simple things. This is a man who has a wood stove and chops his own wood!

                                            Not the lifestyle of your typical snooty TV celebrity.

                                            1. re: ItalianNana

                                              The man drives a Maserati. The folksy thing might be a hobby, but it isn't his entire life.

                                            2. re: linus

                                              +1 to you, linus and ItalianNana as well.

                                        2. re: jarona

                                          That's because AB is an entertainer, that happened to be on a food show.
                                          Whereas, Kimball is about the food.

                                          1. re: wyogal

                                            er, no. AB started out as a cinematographer and director (behind the camera) and trained (somewhat ironically for this discussion) at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont.

                                            He also won a Peabody award for broadcast excellence, and has published a half-dozen books, one of which won the coveted James Beard award.

                                            Not a fluff entertainer. He knows his way around a kitchen as well as many other pros.

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              Yes, but, I feel that his focus has been entertainment, which, gee whiz, includes jobs such as cinematography and directing.
                                              Anyone can go to cooking school.
                                              Just because I said he's an entertainer, doesn't mean I said "fluff." Especially with the JB award.
                                              IMO, he wanted more entertaining cooking shows.

                                              1. re: wyogal

                                                but that's just it...he's not an entertainer who just happened to be on a food show, which makes it sound like the whole thing was just an accident, and he really doesn't know his elbow from his ear when it comes to food.

                                                The whole thing was pretty carefully planned to marry the two areas in which he is highly skilled and make the best of both.

                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  I am saying that his focus was different. I'm not saying he doesn't know anything.

                                                  1. re: wyogal

                                                    I like both but fully understand your point and tend to agree.

                                              2. re: sunshine842

                                                While any James Beard award might be "coveted" to industry insiders - the finalists are self-nominated.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    Like winning a Golden Globe. 60 some categories, 400+ nominees.

                                              3. re: wyogal

                                                I am SO tired of this knock on AB. AB is very much about the food. He just presents it in an entertaining manner.

                                                Kimball is about the buck rather than the food. And his writing and the tone of his magazine and TV shows are increasingly tiresome.

                                                1. re: jmckee

                                                  It isn't a "knock on AB." It's a perspective, just as yours is of Kimball.

                                                  1. re: jmckee

                                                    Yes, AB entertains us out the good of his heart. I read that the Good Eats production was a money looser for him. He has had to sell books and make long tiresome speaking tours to make up for those loses.

                                                    1. re: jmckee

                                                      Oh yes. AB does it all for free. No paycheck. Gratis.

                                                      Please. Anyone who is on TV does what they are doing first and foremost for the paycheck. AB and CK alike. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that! They both provide entertainment and education. Let them both make all the $$ they can. I would if I could!

                                                      1. re: ttoommyy

                                                        I don't know what the deal food network has with their talent, but I know that the PBS shows are loss leaders for other types of marketing. TV cooking shows on PBS are essentially 30 minute advertisements for cookbooks, DVDs, etc. The shows are loss leaders..

                                                        Mr Taster

                                                    2. re: wyogal

                                                      >> That's because AB is an entertainer, that happened to be >> on a food show. Whereas, Kimball is about the food.

                                                      This isn't accurate at all.

                                                      Your description would be correct if it described a show where Mr. T teaches you how to cook pancakes (an entertainer who happens to be on a food show). But Alton Brown? Doesn't fit.

                                                      Mr Taster

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  Shirley Corriher first came to the notice of the public via her appearances on Nathalie Dupree's cooking shows. If memory serves, Ms. Dupree gave her a leg up via bankrolling some of her education, or perhaps it was her writing.

                                                2. No. Kimball has the personality of a piece of toast with too much maillard reaction.

                                                  7 Replies
                                                    1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                      That would be caramelization of the carbs in the bread, which is not the same as the Maillard reaction, that involves proteins. I learned that from ATK's food scientist, Guy Crosby.

                                                      1. re: greygarious

                                                        "That would be caramelization of the carbs in the bread"

                                                        No it wouldn't. Wheat and other grains have plenty of proteins.

                                                        Notice the photo used in the following Wikipedia article? Bread crust. Same reaction as toasting the bread.


                                                        As for whether Wikipedia or the ATK food scientist is more trustworthy? I'll take Wikipedia, given some of the recent claims by ATK, such as the idea that you should brine corn.

                                                        Edit: I googled around and there are a tremendous number of sources that agree with the Wikipedia article. Just search for "toast + maillard" (no quotes).

                                                        1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                          Though I'm learning in a risotto thread, that there might be something else going on here, dextrinisation. This is the breakdown of starch molecules into shorter dextrines in the presence of dry heat.

                                                          Caramelization is oxidation of simple sugars. Maillard involves sugar and amino acids.

                                                          But none of these are simple reactions, since they involve complicated organic molecules.

                                                          1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                            Yep. The Maillard reactions play a major role in bread crust. Why wouldn't they in toasting too?

                                                            1. re: Soul Vole

                                                              quote near the end:

                                                              The browning* of bread crust and of toast* involves the first three mechanisms acting simultaneously. Sugars released into the dough by the action of yeast, or painted onto the loaf, undergo caramelization*. On the dry outside of the loaf starch breaks down into pyrodextrins. In the moister conditions just below the surface, sugar-amine browning* also takes place. The same three, and especially the last two, occur when breadcrums are sprinkled on top of a dish nd heated to produce a brown curst over it.

                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                I don't see your point.

                                                                Sugar-amine browning is as far as I know a synonym for the Maillard reactions. It's one of the "especially the last two".

                                                                As I said, they play a major role in the formation and flavor of bread crust, and in toasting. It is not, as the article you quote states, just caramelization.