Alton Brown on ‘Good Eats: Reloaded,’ Revisiting the Past, and His Least-Favorite ‘Good Eats’ Recipe
Alton Brown’s seminal cooking show “Good Eats” revolutionized food television as we know it. Premiering in 1999 with a feature on steak, it aired a grand total of 249 episodes before the food personality decided it was time to hang it up in 2012. But fans of the OG Food Network show now have a whole lot more “Good Eats” to look forward to.
Earlier this year Brown announced that two new shows were in the works, the first a series revisiting and updating old episodes called “Good Eats: Reloaded” and the second a series of entirely new episodes called “Return of the Eats.” The latter will be premiering next year, but “Good Eats: Reloaded” will be premiering on Cooking Channel on October 15 at 9 p.m. Eastern (Those who don’t get Cooking Channel can download episodes from Amazon and iTunes the following day).
We had the opportunity to speak with Brown by phone, and he filled us in on what viewers can expect.
The Daily Meal: “Good Eats: Reloaded”: Some are calling it a reboot, some a remix. What are you calling it?
Alton Brown: Reloaded! [Laughs] That’s why I called it that! This is not the reboot. The full reboot of “Good Eats,” which we call “Return of the Eats,” is going to be premiering next year. That’s all new shows, that’s completely new. But I felt that before I did that, I needed to look back at some of the really early episodes from 1999, 2000 to around 2003 and make some changes, because that was a long time ago and there are a lot of things that I do differently now. I made some mistakes, just flat-out mistakes. Food science has advanced a great deal in that amount of time, new discoveries have been made. So I picked 13 kinda-classic episodes and basically reworked them. So they’re about 65 percent new, but I didn’t want to just deal with those subjects as brand new episodes. They’re literally renovated. Think of it as buying a beautiful old house and really renovating it; that’s what I’ve done. Renovated, updated, and repaired, is what I like to say, because in some cases I was flat-out wrong about a couple of things, and I completely own up to that.
Was there a light bulb moment when you said, “Yes, this is what I need to do”?
You know, there actually was. I was at home, and I was cleaning out my DVR and I noticed that I had 240-something “Good Eats” episodes, and I literally accidentally hit play on one of them and I had not looked at these things in a very long time and I was like, “Oh my God, I don’t do it like that anymore, I haven’t done it like that in 15 years!” And I started just watching, and I ended up watching for the whole night, making a list of, “Well I would do this, and I would certainly change that, and oh my God that’s completely wrong.”
It was literally just an accident of hitting the wrong button on my DVR that led to me thinking that I really can’t reboot this series until I go back and renovate this old stuff. And what’s interesting is that it was incredibly technically difficult coming up with a way of winding new stories in with the old stories. It was a huge technical and narrative challenge. I thought it was going to be easy, and it turned out to be quite definitely the hardest work I’ve ever had to do. But I’m actually thrilled with the outcome, because they really are like brand-new shows. “Brand-new shows with flashbacks,” is what my fiancée said, and I kind of like the sound of that, but I do not refer to them as new shows.
What was the process like for you, both technically and emotionally?
Well it’s funny that you bring up the emotional part; nobody ever wants to talk about that. In my professional and personal life, my car does not have rear-view mirrors on it. I never look back. One of the hallmarks of my working life and my personal life is that I always look forward, I always look ahead.
Looking backwards was really weird and in some cases difficult. I remember watching one particular show, and I was like “What’s wrong with me?” I was being really strange, and I wasn’t focused, and I could tell. So I looked back in my calendar and it was the week before my daughter was born! And my daughter just started at Georgetown, that’s how long ago this is.
And I did a lot of things that annoy me now. I talk very slowly in the early shows, drives me crazy. So emotionally you have to get used to that, and kind of make friends with your past, which I had not done in any way, fashion, or form.
But the mechanics of it are really challenging because the “Good Eats” set doesn’t exist anymore, and the first couple seasons were shot in a house that doesn’t even exist anymore, so finding ways to visually tie all the new with the old has been pretty complicated. It involves a lot of green screen compositing, which is not something that I have a lot of experience with.
But luckily, filming technology has changed so much, even in just the six years since we stopped making “Good Eats,” that we have a lot of new camera things that we can do now. We kind of invented — and I don’t mind saying this — “Good Eats” pretty much invented the “straight looking down at food demos” that became the standard for internet cooking. And we decided that we’re going to rip it asunder and reinvent it in different ways. So now we are still doing that but with extremely complicated camera movements. We have this new slider mechanism that allows us to move the camera 20 feet while rotating continually if we wanted to.
So just from a filmic standpoint, these are going to be shows that are visually really rich. And we’re using a lot of the old characters, some of the same cast members who are still around, but updating their looks. The shows are gonna be a lot of fun for fans, but also hopefully will be enjoyed by people who have never seen the show before.
So Colonel Bob Boatwright might make an appearance?
[As Colonel Boatwright]: “Well all I’m gonna say is there is an episode where his skills are gonna come to bear.” Yes, the Colonel is back! But he’s changed a bit, he has an eyepatch now; he had some Lasik surgery go bad. So he’s aged, as I have I, but yes the Colonel is definitely there.
Can you reveal any of the episodes that you’ll be revisiting?
I will tell you that on October 15 at 9 p.m. on Cooking Channel, the first “Reloaded” episode will be episode one of “Good Eats. “
And what was interesting about that is that show was actually shot in 1997, on film, no less. That’s how old that show is; the two pilot episodes were shot on film. So we decided that that would be the very first one. That show was all about steak, and I have very much changed the way that I cook steak through the years.
I can also tell you that we’re reloading our fondue show, which was my most hated recipe. I hated that recipe, now I love it. We are redoing one of our chocolate shows, “Art of Darkness”; we’re redoing our pasta show from season one, “Use Your Noodle”; we’re redoing both of our frying shows, “Fry Hard I” and “Fry Hard II”; so mostly shows from the first two seasons.
What was it about the original fondue recipe that you hated so much? Was it just you or the audience who hated it?
Everybody hated it! [Laughs]. Of course, back when that show was released, there weren’t internet forums, there wasn’t social media, so we didn’t know how badly they hated it. But they hated it. We now know how badly they hated it. And I hated it too! And the reason the recipe never worked the way it was supposed to was a very small technical mistake. The one that I actually made on the show was fine, but then every time I tried to make it after that, when people started having a hard time with it, it would all came down to one ingredient — I’m not going to tell you what it is because I want you to watch — but there was one ingredient that had a different acidity level that threw everything off. So I completely reformulated the recipe from scratch, and now I’m happy to say it’s one of my favorite all-time “Good Eats” recipes.
What was one specific example of you taking another look at something you’d done for “Good Eats” and thought, “You know, I can improve on this”?
Here’s a really good example: In season one, we did a show about dry pasta called “Use Your Noodle.” And in that show, I was still under the influence of my training, which involved a lot of Italian people and a lot of French people, and I still cooked my dry pasta in like a gallon of boiling water. Well of course we’ve learned since that you can cook pasta in almost no water, very small amounts of water, and that it should be started cold, not boiling. And by doing that, you get this rich, starchy water that can be used for sauces and things. So I just screwed that up, so I’m going back and completely fixing that.
That’s just an example of me being wrong. I was just plain-out wrong. Most of the things I’m changing are simply because I’ve grown up and I’ve kept experimenting and I’ve just found better ways. But there are a couple of places where I was just freaking wrong.
Can you divulge any details about what we can expect with “Return of the Eats” when it premieres next year?
[Pauses] No. I’m not going to do that. Other than to say, I’m going to be tackling subjects that 10 years ago Food Network wouldn’t let me do!
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.