My Dinner with Alton

This stems from a tiny snippet of a very strange dream I once had, but in the end, it’s fan fiction.

And, for the record, I’ve nothing but the deepest respect and appreciation of Alton Brown. Heck, the guy effectively taught me to cook. His portrayal here is a caricature of even his most acerbic character, ‘cuz somehow Alton’s even more loveable when he’s being a jerk.

I really need to learn not to go drinking with my friends in Manhattan. “One beer”, they said, “just to catch up!” Five and … I stare at my watch to figure out what time it is .. shit, seven hours later and I’m wandering through Chelsea trying to find a cab so I can … dammit, what hotel am I in?

I really need to learn not to go drinking with my friends in Manhattan.

I don’t get to NYC nearly enough. God, I love this town! It is impossible to be bored here even after a solid week. You literally have to go sit in the middle of Central Park without a view of anything else to avoid being stimulated … but there is so much that even in the Park, you’re compelled to just walk around, it’s impossible to sit still! I have spent many all-nighters here, wandering from restaurant to restaurant, bar to bar, truck to truck. I’ve done the height and breadth of Manhattan, I knew the quaint places in Brooklyn before it went all Millennial, I’ve even been to the far end of Staten Island … at least I think it was Staten Island, I was a beer shy of blackout drunk at the time … some Italian place near … Tottenville? It was the end of the line … so yeah, it had to be Staten.

How the hell did I get home from that? God, that was a crazy weekend.

There are fourteen thousand cabs in New York City and not a damned one is stopping. They’re all full with other drunk people who probably can’t remember what hotel they’re at. Normally you can raise your hand and have someone stop in front of you before you’ve lowered your hand again. I briefly debate at throwing myself in front of one of them, but I’m not inebriated enough for that.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a cab stop on W 16th, half a block from 9th, and its passengers stumble out. I pull a wide, tilted arc around the corner, trying to both hurry to my potential ride and not fall over as my balance and I got separated somewhere on Hudson and it’s probably now somewhere over by Union Square. My balance has a terrible sense of direction.

I run towards the taxi, weaving around it’s previous occupants, probably looking something like a blind emu trying to fly, flapping vainly to get attention. I quickly realize my mistake when the cabbie, seeing the incoming disaster, quickly pops back into his seat, flicks off his light, and burns away. Asshole.

I turn to flip him off, but I’m still moving far too quickly to manage the change in direction, and the next thing I know I’m tripping backwards, my feet trying to keep my from slamming into the sidewalk, which careens me towards the building. I hit a flat metal surface with a hollow thud. The sudden stop is disorienting – my brain sloshes in the … fuck, who ordered that Jagermeister, anyway? … and I try to regain my breath, composure, and keep whatever it was that I did eat from coming back up.

Then the world goes horizontal. There’s a loud slam and everything goes dark.

Were I not been several sheets to the wind, I’d realize almost immediately that I’d fallen in through a door into a hallway. It takes a few moments to just realize I’m on the floor. The hallway is dark, so it’s hard to see anything. And the door, weirdly, has no handle. Who the hell has an outside door with no handle?! I grunt irritably, slide up the wall until I’m mostly vertical, and see that there’s a light at the end of the hallway. Fine, whatever, I’ll go that way.

The light is another door that’s open enough to keep me from being in the black, but not enough I can see what’s beyond. When I push it open, it looks almost as dark as the hallway. There’s a lone light above me, but it’s pretty dark beyond it. I can sort of make out what looks like benches or counters about twenty feet away, but that’s about it. If I’m going to get out of here, I’ll need to fumble in the–

I trip on something and see one of those stupid little triangular rubber things that you use to keep doors open. Almost immediately, the door slams shut. No handle, again. Honestly, who the hell built this place?

“Hello?” comes a voice in the darkness.

I cringe. Security. I’m totally busted. I turn slowly, practiced pained look on my face, ready for the flashlight in my eyes, thinking of some bullshit excuse so I’ll just get a stern talking to before they throw me out. “Yeah, so, funny thing…”

“What are you doing in my kitchen?” the voice demands. It’s a man, getting closer, still in the dark.

“Look, dude, I’m sorry, I somehow got into–”

“Are you here to compete?”

“I … what?”

“If you’re in my kitchen, you must be ready to…” The lights snap on. There’s two large counters with what looks like cooking tops and small appliances and I get a sinking feeling when I see the logo of crossed kitchen knifes on a background. The feeling hits bottom when a man in a three-piece suit and dark-rimmed glasses steps into view. “COOK!”

“Alton Brown?” I know who the hell he is, of course, I’m just really confused (and drunk) and that’s the first thing I blurt out.

“Who were you expecting, Thin Lizzy?”

“Look, there’s a mistake, I got in here accidentally, if you can just show me the way out…”

“There is no way out. There is only,” he turns to a stage at the far end of the space, “THE COMPETITION!”

I realize where I am. Kitchen Stadium. C’mon, I watch TV, I know Iron Chef (admittedly, I prefer the original Japanese version with the cheesy English overdubbing). But I am mildly surprised when, instead of the five chefs who normally appear, there’s only Morimoto. And he’s not in his Iron Chef costume, he looks like he just got plucked out of a long shift in whatever restaurant he was working, sitting on a stool, a lit cigarette in one hand and a beer bottle in the other.

Alton’s quiet a moment. He gestures again, but no-one else appears. Morimoto looks back. “What?”

“Where’s everyone else?” asks Alton.

“Filming their shows? Who knows,” mutters Morimoto as he takes another swig of his beer.

“Well, fine, whatever, we’ll make this work,” Alton grumbles, then turns back to me. “Are you ready to face the Great Morimoto in battle?”

“Bat-what?? You mean … me,” my finger drunkly tries to point back at me, but ends up over my left shoulder, “you want me to cook? Against him??” My finger waves indiscriminately towards Morimoto, who sneers and mocks my poor attempt to identify him across the room.

“Well, as he’s the only Iron Chef who bothered to come to my call, yes!”

“But… I’m not a chef…,” I protest. It’s painfully true. I mean, “I can barely scramble an egg!” I swear there’s always eggshell in there.

Alton’s already painfully wide-looking eyes look wider. “How…? Why…? Who are you?!” I take an unsteady but deep breath and prepare to tell him, only he waves off my rambling answer, saying: “It doesn’t matter! You’re cooking!”


“You may choose an assistant,” he smirks.

“Like, who?” Like, honestly, I don’t know what he means.

“Any chef you feel can help you.” He’s smiling, but I’m pretty sure he also means to add: “Not that anyone could help you at this point.”

Fine, if he’s gonna be difficult, then: “Anthony Bourdain!” I nearly stick my tongue out. Checkmate, game over, I can get out of–

“Where the fuck am I?” says a low voice.

Alton’s eyes narrow. “You.” I follow his gaze, and turn to see the impossible. “You shouldn’t be here.”

Anthony Bourdain stands next to me, looking more bewildered than I feel. “I … I was just jamming with Dee Dee and Jimi.” He looks at his hands like he’d just been holding a guitar. I didn’t even know he played. He suddenly realizes who’s staring at him. “What did you do?”

“You’re dead,” Alton states, somewhere between irritable and inconvenienced.

“No shit,” Bourdain replies. “Fuck, I was having a great time, too. I’ve never had so much dope without passing out–”

“Begone!” Alton pronounces with a wave of his hand, “or whatever it takes to exorcise a demon!”

Bourdain laughs, walks over to Alton, wraps an arm around his shoulders, causing Alton to cringe as if he were just hugged by a human-sized cockroach, and says: “I’m not a demon. I’m an angel.” He points at me. “I’m his angel.”

“No,” Alton moans, “no… no no no no no no…”

Bourdain looks across the room and waves to Morimoto. “Hey Masa! Genke deska?”

Morimoto, who had missed all the action until this point, perks up and smiles widely. “Tony! How’s death?”

“It fuckin’ rocks,” Bourdain smiles back. He turns back to Alton. “So, we doin’ this, or should I get back to banging Hedy Lamarr?”

Alton teeters between apoplectic and terrifyingly calm. After a moment, he leans forward and spit-whispers: “Allez cuisine!”

“What, no secret ingredient?” Bourdain calls out as Alton storms off. He chuckles, takes me by the shoulder, and presses me towards one of the two long benches. Morimoto is already at his, unpacking his equipment and getting ready to make…

It dawns on me that I haven’t a clue what we’re supposed to be making. I look at Bourdain, who looks back at me.


“What do we make?” I whisper. Annoyingly, it’s a stage whisper. Were there any cameras, the world would have heard my gaffe.

Bourdain folds his arms. “You’re the chef, you tell me.”

“I make Chef Boyardee!” I exclaim, again far too loud for my own good. “I was hoping you’d have an idea.”

“I do. I have lots of ideas. Not that any of them matter.”

“Why not?”

He leans forward and says quietly: “‘Cuz I’m dead, moron.” I cast a pleading look that would probably look appropriate on a basset hound … if it were 5’ 10", 180 lbs, not great taste in clothes with a receding hairline. “Angels are supposed to help people find their own way.”

“I was finding my own way, to the door!”

“You’re killin’ me, kid,” Bourdain grunts, then stops. “Bad joke.” He glances over at Morimoto, whose bench has somehow produced a small army of Morimotos, and they’re already on the third dish. He looks around and points over my shoulder. “Go grab all the lobster you can.”

“Huh?” I have to deliberately follow his finger to a table that I didn’t previously see, piled high with rainbow of crustaceans. “That’s a lot of lobsler, lots… lobster.”

“Fuck, kid, how drunk are you?”

“A lobster… a lot…”

Bourdain sighs. I can’t tell if he’s being judgemental. I mean, shit, if there’s anyone who shouldn’t be judgemental about what you do in a kitchen, it should be him, but I still feel judged.

“Look, this is gonna go one of two ways. Right now, you’re fucking useless, ‘cuz you’re only just drunk enough, which means you’re going to be making a constant mess of anything I tell you. So, while you go get all the lobster you can, I want you think about whether you want to do this sober, or just keep goin’.”

Before I can even think of asking another question, he shoves me off with a large metal pan.

For the record, I don’t like lobster. Actually, that’s not true, I’ll eat lobster, so long as it’s been made into something, like chowder or a sub sandwich. Seeing these things – some of them still alive and crawling about with their claws ready to slit my throat – is making me regret many things that already transpired tonight that I can only assume somehow landed me here.

“C’mon, kid, fucking move! Move! Move!” Bourdain calls from the bench. I spy a pair of large tongs and half-pick, half-drag a few of the less active ones onto the tray. “Get a bunch of those langoustines!”


“Langoustines! The small ones!”

One of the lobsters, I have no fucking clue what variety other than “big and ugly” grabs my tongs and won’t let go.


The tongs disappear into the pile and I’m not even considering getting them back, but Bourdain’s using a huge fucking knife and while he says that he’s an angel, even Morimoto’s looking uncomfortable. I take a deep breath and grab a bunch of the smallest ones I can find, putting them on top of the others I’ve already grabbed. The entire snapping, crawling tray starts to turn towards me, suddenly realizing that if they take me out, they can run for safety. I dash back to the bench.

“Hmm. Not bad,” Bourdain nods. “Okay, here’s the plan. Lobster ceviche with mango and habanero, marinated in tequila. Lobster and scallop ravioli in tarragon white wine bisque. Langoustine and shrimp paella with saffron rice. Lobster and grilled brie pasta and cheese with caramelized walla wallas. Lemon-lobster mousse with pistachios. Got that?”

All I can do is blank stare.

“Right. Sober or fucked?”

“Which is better?”

From out of nowhere, six shot glasses appear on the bench. “When it doubt, just keep going.” A second later, he fills them with a clear liquid. He lines up six shot glasses and fills them with a clear liquid. He picks up one, hands it to me, picks up one for himself. “Salut!” he says, and downs the contents in a single, easy swig. I follow suit.

Fire. Hot iron. Fucking lava. My throat is ripped clean of whatever flesh it had and I burst into a coughing fit.

Bourdain shakes his head disapprovingly. “Don’t dis the grappa, kid.” He shoves another shot in my hand. “C’mon, get it down!”

I struggle to get the second shot to my mouth, somehow turning the contents down. It hurts, but already I’m noticing it’s not as rough as the last one. Then he presses a third. I think I’ve given up trying to resist. Whatever, follow the leader.

“Good, now go mince those onions, chop peppers into quarter-inch bits, dice mangoes, shell peas, and chiffonade all those herbs.”

I’m pretty sure a few hours from now, I’m going to wake up somewhere very unfamiliar with some people who think they’re very familiar with me, and I’m going to look back with some confusion and not have a fucking clue what actually happened, but somehow I pick up the knife and start to work on the vegetables like I’ve been practicing all of my life.

“Not bad kid, just don’t lose a finger, okay?”

Suddenly Alton appears. This is a cooking competition, after all. “Your Brunoise needs some help,” he says, eyeing my technique.

“Fuck off, Al, he’s doing a good job.”

“This is my kitchen, Tony, I’m allowed to critique,” Alton sneers back. “Besides, Morimoto-san is already on his sixth dish.”

Bourdain only barely glances over. “Good, then he’ll have more time to drink with me. Haven’t caught up with him for ages.”

“Well, you’ve been dead.” Even dead pans can’t deadpan that well.

“I haven’t figured out how to haunt people yet.”

“You would do that.”

“You’re at the top of my list, Alton.” Bourdain blows a kiss. Alton snarls and walks off again. “Don’t let him get to you, kid, you’re doing okay.”

“Are we doing okay?” I ask, more slurred than coherent. “We don’t even have a single dish done yet!”

Bourdain looks over our bench. He looks at the Morimotos, motoring along, decimating any hope we have of winning. “Keep chopping.”

I quickly find myself putting the ceviche together. Not that I have a fucking clue what ceviche is, and yet I’m cutting up raw lobster and putting it in a bowl with sweet vinegar and somehow this all makes sense to me.

One down, four to go. Bourdain throws down a dozen large squares of pasta. “Boil. Three minutes. Overcook these and I’ll serve your spleen on toast.”

If this guy’s an angel, I suppose I should be glad I didn’t conjure a demon.

“You ever make a mousse?” he asks as he sets a large pan of something on fire, sending a ball of flame a few feet into the air.

“I’ve never s-s-seen a moose.” I know that’s not what he meant, but it’s what I said. He looks at me, somehow knowing what I meant. He pours six more shots and points at them. I’m not sure if its encouragement or punishment. Three more go in me.

My balance, previously in Union Square, has got to be taking a tour of the Grand Canyon about now.

“Mousse, French dish usually with bubbles. You’ve had a chocolate one, right?” My head shakes, but I’m pretty sure my brain remains still, now floating in grappa. “Fuck, have you eaten anywhere but fucking McD’s??” I try to answer, but I’m sure what came out was gibberish. “Lemon curd, heavy cream, add this.” He holds out a bowl of minced pale pink meat.

“Loshter moosh,” I manage to get out. I make my way to my part of the bench via the other bench. I think my balance is watching the run rise over Mount Fuji.

Somehow, I remember how to whip cream. And yet, I’m amazed that it happens, absolutely flabbergasted that the liquid solidifies. I find the lemon curd, which … someone had made? I think? Maybe it was me. Shit, did I make this? I see a bunch of squeezed lemons and some egg shells. Maybe it was me. I can already feel the hangover preparing for its dramatic solo.

“Fold, don’t mix!” Bourdain yells out as the wafting smell of burnt onions races up my nostril like an out-of-control heat seeking missile, hitting my nausea full-on. I cough and try not to heave. Three more full shot glasses appear. Fuck. I swallow them and get to not making a mess of mousse.

Alton reappears in the middle. He looks determinedly judgemental. “One minute!” He calls and suddenly the Morimotos kick into some fast-forward overdrive and I suddenly feel like I’m watching my hands do things on their own without any control from me.

But Bourdain has disappeared. I have no idea where he’s gone. But no matter, I know the menu, I have the pieces, I know where everything is mean to go! At least, I think I do. The entire bench is wobbling around like Jell-o and I can’t really tell what’s a plate or what’s the counter. Plating! Shit, I’m supposed to be plating!

A horn sounds and Alton yells: “Back away!” I nearly fall over. He looks at me and frowns. “Bring your meal to be judged.” Except there’s no judges, plural or singular. It’s just Alton. He glowers at the dishes. “Thrill me.”

“For you, tonight, we have brought you, tonight, the dishes of the meal.” Holy fuck how off am I?? I spy three glasses at the edge of the table. I shrug and drink whatever’s in them. I can’t tell if it’s water or cyanide. “Firsht, we have seven… sev… sev-ee-… something.”

Alton rolls his eyes. “Ceviche.”

I snap my finger and point at him. “That! What you said!”

“And then?”

“Ravi-ol-li-li. LOBSHTER! I forgot the lobshter. There’s lobshter in ever-every-thing.” My hands attempt to encompass all the dishes but miss about half of them.

“Yes, it was what you were supposed to use.” I wobble without falling over. “Anything else?”

Oh yeah! “Oh yeah! There’s…” I look at the paella. I can see the word in my head but I haven’t the foggiest fucking idea how to pronounce it, even if my mouth could form the sound. “Rice.” Eh, close enough. “Mac and cheese. Moosh.”

“Wonderful,” Alton mutters. He produces a gold fork and goes dish to dish to dish, trying each bit, considering a moment, before moving to the next. I keep finding little shot glasses. I’m not even sure if there’s anything in them, anymore.

“Judgement!” Alton announces. “Your ceviche is weak, it needed more salt. Your ravioli is too al dente, nearly – but not quite – raw.” I guess I get to keep my spleen. “The paella,” he overly annunciates the syllables, “is passable, as is the lobster and grilled brie pasta. But this mousse?” He holds it up like it was a year-old soiled diaper. “I don’t know what you were thinking.” He sneers at me. “Thank you, chef.” He waves me off.

I return to the bench by way of the backstage. My balance is having coffee in Istanbul. Bourdain’s there, holds out a large glass of something. I can’t smell a damned thing, so I don’t even bother to sniff it. The worst it could do at this point is not kill me.

“You did good, kid. A lot better than some first-timers.”

“He hated it…”

“He hates everything.”

I can’t hear what Alton’s saying to Morimoto, but I’m sure it’s nothing but praise. I mean, it’s fucking Morimoto, a god of cookery. I look at the bright side, at least it’s over and I can–

“This is the worst thing I’ve ever eaten!” Alton shouts. “What is going on in my kitchen?!”

What? I snap up and look across. Morimoto’s shrugging and returning to his bench, all his duplicates apparently having cleaned up and left for the night. Alton stands and glares, then raises his hand towards me. The hand is shaking, Alton having to wilfully point it towards me like trying to push two magnets together.

“The Winner!” I didn’t think it was possible to growl and shout at the same time.

Wait, what… me? Win? No, that’s not possible. I couldn’t… he hated it. I’m still debating what just happened when I see Alton nearly nose to nose with me.

“I don’t know how you did that. I don’t know how you won. But you had better never show your face in my kitchen again.” He storms off into the darkness.

I whip around – my balance is slowly returning, now enjoying a walk along the Seine – and spy Bourdain with Morimoto, doing shots of something dark, pointing at where Alton went, and laughing. As I come close, I hear Bourdain say: “Seriously, thanks for taking one. You’re gold.”

“So I’m good for the afterlife?” Morimoto asks.

“Totally, no fucking problem, man. I’m in with Him like this,” Bourdain holds up crossed fingers. “I’ll introduce you to Joey and the gang, they’re the best.” He spies me and my confusion. “I’m not going to say you needed help, but, fuck, your mousse was shit.”

“Fucking terrible,” nods Morimoto.

“Uh, thanks,” I waver as my balance disembarks at JFK.

“Alright, I’m out!” says Bourdain, slapping me on the shoulder. “Next time you need a chef, don’t even fucking think of calling my name.” He points at Morimoto. “See you in a couple of years.” And he’s gone.

So is Morimoto. I’m alone. It’s quiet. It reeks of lobster.

I spy a green exit sign somewhere in the darkness. I half-run towards it, afraid it might go out and I’ll be subjected to Bobby Flay. I burst onto the New York streets again, still dark. I take in a deep breath of city air. I turn around and all I see is a brick wall.

I really need to learn not to go drinking with my friends in Manhattan.