Plus, in this interview, the celeb shares why turning 60 sparked his interest in brain health, how he works brain-boosting foods into his weekly diet—and more!
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Alton Brown
Credit: Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Alton Brown always has a few irons in the fire. This year is no different: the chef's fourth Good Eats cookbook was released in April, a new season of Iron Chef (which Brown hosts) dropped on Netflix in June, plus he's gearing up for his live holiday show tour which will hit the road this November. And his latest project? Cooking to boost brain health. So, of course, when given the chance to pick his brain on the subject (sorry: couldn't resist!), we jumped on the opportunity. Here's EatingWell's recent conversation with Brown, plus, his favorite brain-friendly recipe.

EatingWell: Why has brain health become so important to you?

Brown: I recently turned 60 and took stock of my health in general and realized: I have literally done nothing for my brain. And if I want it to keep doing what it's been doing for say ... another 20 years, I better look into this. So, I did a lot of research and reading (and looking up words I didn't understand) and came to the conclusion that there is a lot we can do to support brain health.

EatingWell: What are some of the ingredients you're excited about cooking with that help the brain?

Brown: I've read a lot lately about lutein and its effects on brain health and cognition. Kale is loaded with the stuff, as well as other phytochemicals that do a body good, as they say. The omega fatty acids in fish such as salmon help to reinforce cell membranes in the brain. Walnuts contain an omega-3 fatty acid called ALA which has been shown to benefit brain health. And besides iron and fiber, quinoa delivers vitamin B12, which has been studied for its positive effects on memory.

EatingWell: What does a typical day of eating look like for you?

Brown: I'm a fan of intermittent fasting, so I don't eat breakfast most of the time, but I do have black coffee in the morning. I try to make lunch about getting what I know I really ought to get … fish, veggies, nuts and fruits. Then in the evening I have whatever I want, usually including either a martini (gin) or a glass of red wine. I really try not to snack, but I occasionally fall down if popcorn is in the offing.

EatingWell: How do you work brain-friendly foods into your weekly meal plan?

Brown: Luckily, my wife and I are big fans of canned or "tinned" fish like sardines, so I get those almost daily. But a lot of substances that support the brain are hard to get enough of, like the phytochemicals in coffee cherries, which aren't the same as the coffee beverage we all know and love. I've ended up partnering with Neuriva because two of the ingredients I've become most interested in (phosphatidylserine and coffee fruit extract), are in Neuriva [a brain health supplement]. I tend to run low on B vitamins, so I have been supplementing that for a while.

EatingWell: Can you talk about the inspiration behind your brain-friendly recipe (below)?

Brown: When designing a recipe, I'm always after flavor first, but in this case, I wanted to see how many foods that I'd read about as being "brain-friendly" I could get into one meal. This is it—and I think it's pretty wonderful.

We love how Brown is focused on prioritizing the health of our most vital organ: our brain. As a reminder, most supplements are unregulated so we always advocate for a food-first approach here at EatingWell. And, for that reason, we can't get enough of Brown's new salad recipe that takes only 30 minutes of active time. Without further ado, here's Alton Brown's Kale & Quinoa Bowl with Salmon.

Alton Brown's Kale & Quinoa Bowl with Salmon

Alton Brown's Kale Quinoa Bowl with Salmon
Credit: Lynne Calamia

This recipe was created by Alton Brown with input from Melissa Halas, RDN, of Neuriva. Based on the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, it stars ingredients that help maintain brain health, including salmon, kale, quinoa and nuts.

Active: 30 minutes

Total: 1.5 hours (including 1 hour refrigeration for salad)

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch lacinato or "dinosaur" kale, stems removed and cut into ribbons (about 4 ounces, stemmed)
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems removed and roughly chopped (1.5 ounces)
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced (If you don't get 2 tablespoons of juice, add enough water to get to that amount.)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
  • 4 ounces firm feta cheese, divided
  • 1 cup (3.5 ounces) walnuts, toasted and lightly crushed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups cooked white quinoa
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • Two 1-inch thick, skin-on salmon fillets (around 5 ounces each)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Step 1

Toss kale, parsley, and shallots together in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and set aside for 10 minutes.

Step 2

Puree the remaining olive oil, the lemon juice and zest, garlic, yogurt, 2 ounces of the feta, a third of the walnuts, and the salt in a food processor. Pour the dressing over the greens, then fold in the quinoa, along with the rest of the walnuts, the cherries, and the remaining feta. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour before serving.

Step 3

Wrap the salmon fillets completely in paper towels while you heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. When the skillet is hot, season the fillets with the salt. Add the oil to the skillet and carefully tilt to evenly cover the bottom. When the oil shimmers, slide the fillets in, skin-side down, pressing each fillet firmly down with a flexible spatula or fish turner to ensure contact.

Step 4

Reduce the pan heat to medium low and cook for 3 minutes, then cover the skillet and cook another 2 minutes. Carefully flip the fillets, replace the cover and cook for another minute.

Step 5

To serve, slice each fillet in half, place atop the kale & quinoa and enjoy along with several grinds of black pepper.