The premise of Alton Brown’s Good Eats could probably be boiled down to Julia Child meets Bill Nye the Science Guy. The show was equal parts smart and silly; deeply informative yet fun to watch. Most Good Eats fans, Grub Street included, would count it among the most solid cooking shows ever made. But Brown, ever the perfectionist, has nevertheless decided to retool things a bit. On October 15, the Cooking Channel will air Good Eats: Reloaded, which combines classic episodes of the original show with new footage that addresses the editorial holes of Brown’s earlier efforts. Grub talked to Brown about Reloaded, a full Good Eats reboot that debuts next spring, and why the shows will feel so different this time around.
How did you come up with the idea of reworking old episodes?
While cleaning out my DVR one day at home I accidentally turned on a very old episode of Good Eats from season 1 and I started watching it. I hadn’t seen it in years and I realized, “Oh my God, I would do everything different now.” I kept watching, and I started making notes. I was like, “Okay, shows where there are things that I could change, shows where I made mistakes, shows where we now have new information, and all of a sudden I had 13 shows that I basically want to redo. And I thought, “Well, I don’t want to remake them, what else could I do?” I’ll reload them. I’ll renovate them.
How did you choose which episodes you’d “reload”?
Well, hell, I probably could’ve reloaded all of the first four seasons, but I think I did it based on the fact that I still had to make them really good shows, so I had to have enough stuff to change, and I needed to have recipes that I wanted to seriously rework. The decisions that I made were based on gut as much as anything else. It’s not just about making the food better, it’s not only about making the science better or whatever. It’s about making better shows, so that was ultimately the deciding factor. I actually threw out four of the new shows that I was doing because once I got out of production I realized, “Oh, these aren’t going to be good enough — I need to start over.”
It’s a fairly new approach — how will it play out on the actual shows for viewers? For example, the premiere is all about steak.
They will basically see the original episode completely intertwined with new material. They will see “Today Me” talking to me back then. They will see a complete update of a new way to cook the steak that we cooked in that show. We introduced cast iron to a lot of people in that show, but I didn’t actually show how to cure a cast-iron skillet from start! So, we’ve added that. We’ve added new science to explain things that are going on with heat and meat in this case, and we’re updating anything that needs updating. There’s literally new stuff every freaking ten seconds. There are very, very few scenes that have not been treated in some way.
Was it strange looking so closely at your younger self?
Yes, because, most of these shows, people don’t realize this, when I’m done with the editing process, I never watch them again. I have not watched most of these shows on television. But, Steak Your Claim, episode one, was actually one of the pilot episodes. We shot it in 1997 and I look like I’m 12. I’m like this pudgy kid with all this hair and I talk so slow and I’m spastic and I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s like watching a puppy that’s run its head into this UPS truck. So, yeah, it was difficult. I was not okay with it at first.
When I started really chewing into these shows, it was like, I can’t do this, I don’t want to look backward, I only want to move forward, but you can’t do that. And I realize that there’s no way that I’d really be able to move forward as a filmmaker until I fixed that stuff or changed that stuff and did what I could do.
It’s also interesting that Good Eats is making its return when there are so many other reboots, like Roseanne or Magnum P.I.
Yeah, with none of the original players in the case of Magnum P.I. I’m actually working with the same crew that I worked with. Some of these people have been with me since 1997, and it’s still me. So I don’t look at any of this as a reboot, I look at it as a continuation. We call it a reboot because that’s the word everybody likes these days, but it isn’t because that means a re-conceiving and usually a replacement of lead characters. Well, I’m still here. I’m not dead yet.
How are you going to use Reloaded to inform the actual Good Eats reboot coming next spring, Return of the Eats?
I am going to pick up where I left off six years ago, only with new tools and with a very different media landscape. I will be making that show as I made the reloads, mostly for people watching on a phone on a subway. I’m not making TV anymore, I’m making media. I used to think about “How is this going to look at home?” I don’t care anymore — I don’t even know if they’re watching at home. They may not. They care more about how it looks on a phone, which has very much changed the way that I compose as a filmmaker. The camera work that we’re using, which is incredibly complex in these shows is because I’m holding the attention of people watching on a pack of cards and that will be very much the way that we are going forward.
How will the show deal with how much the American diet has changed in the last 20 years? In the late ’90s, few people had heard of, say, shakshuka and now you can find it on menus across the United States.
And everybody’s got a favorite pho place now. But in 1999, nobody knew what pho was and they called it “faux” if they did. So I think that our culinary perspective has widened and the internet has made so many new ingredients available. I mean, I’m using ingredients in these reloads that I had never heard of when I started making this show. I had never heard of za’atar before. I didn’t know what that even was. And even if I had I wouldn’t have been able to find it. I would’ve had to have made it. Really, it’s not that my cooking has changed that much, but things change with the times and so has the amount of effort that people will put into cooking things.
The home cook and home cooking itself has changed so much.
But at the end of the day, people still just want to put food on the table, and so, you know, I’m still all about the masses. The number one downloaded Good Eats recipe of all time on Food Network is, like, guacamole. It’s like in the end, guacamole, macaroni and cheese, Thanksgiving turkey that doesn’t suck, these are still the things that people crave.
If you were going to update guacamole, would you change it all?
No. I will not update or upgrade or renovate something that doesn’t need it.