When “Good Eats” premiered in 1999, it was clear that it is as much a recipe as it is a show. Each episode is a deep culinary dive into the origins, history and science of a particular dish. There is prepwork involved, research and ingredients to amass. Alton Brown maneuvers through his kitchen with rapid-fire narration and snappy angles. The episodes are seasoned to taste with low-budget skits. Twenty years later, for “Good Eats: The Return,” the recipe clearly hasn’t changed, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.
The world of culinary television is weighed down by the humdrum of fast-paced cooking challenges, wasteful extravaganzas and unnecessarily dramatic contests. But “Good Eats” has always been a shining needle in that rough, crowded haystack. A departure from his chaotic persona in “Cutthroat Kitchen,” Brown’s dedication to simplicity and effort is both refreshing and relaxing. In his kitchen, intensity is absent and replaced instead by advice, recommendations and guidance. Each dish has a history, a science and is given such an incredible amount of attention that Brown will often do the dish in multiple different ways. Waste is unheard of, as Brown uses as much of any ingredient as he can, focuses instead on multitools and encourages his viewers to save things they would normally discard for other, more experimental dishes.
In his return, Brown dons a cleaner, more chic look. His once bright and colorful kitchen is replaced instead with a clean and shiny neutral space that very much reflects modern taste. Even Brown himself looks incredibly different from the campy host who burst onto the screen in 1999, now exuding confidence and sophistication.
Much like every other installment, the “Good Eats: The Return” premiere focuses on an underappreciated dish chicken parmesan. With an almost scientific accuracy, Brown establishes exactly where this dish went wrong (it’s all mushy) and how they can fix it (it needs more crunch). First, Brown takes us to Manhattan, where he boldly proposes that all Americans are actually Italian-Americans by virtue of food culture, much to the dismay, I imagine, of actual Italian-Americans. Before long, Brown dives into the actual dish, starting with the ingredients. To Brown, everything is important: the tomatoes, the garlic and even what kind of mortar and pestle to use.
What’s incredible about “Good Eats” is that the cooking is hardly the most important thing. Instead, it’s understanding how you’re cooking. For Brown, the technique and culinary science is both the beginning and the end. We’re taught why we spritz the chicken with water before pounding it out, to broil the pasta sauce alone before adding the chicken and to distribute everything evenly. Brown even whips it up “fancy restaurant style” in case you wanted your chicken parm to look prettier.
“Good Eats: The Return” may not be different, but that doesn’t mean it’s stale. In many ways, it feels like coming back to a relative’s house, except you haven’t seen them in a while and everything’s been updated. It’s still the same “Good Eats,” it’s just been modernized. At its heart, “Good Eats” is still about appreciation, not just for food, but for the work that goes into it. It is a celebration of learning, understanding and practice. “Good Eats” doesn’t pander to dramatizations or tension. It is as it is — relaxing, thorough and, above all, good eats.