We've Got Hollywood Covered

Why Alton Brown Was ‘Waiting on Technology’ to End 7-Year Break From ‘Good Eats’

Food Network star tells TheWrap what it would take for him to do more new episodes

“Good Eats” makes its long-awaited return to Food Network on Sunday with the premiere of “Good Eats: The Return,” the on-the-nose title of Season 15 of Alton Brown’s beloved science-meets-cooking show.

Both the cable channel and Brown have been promoting the stuffing out of the show’s new episodes, with Food Network launching the premiere early online and the celebrity cook hosting a Reddit AMA this week, plus fielding many, many fan questions on Twitter.

And with this level of enthusiasm for the return of “Good Eats,” we had to ask Brown why he stopped making the show, which ran from 1999 to 2012, in the first place — and why he finally decided to bring it back.

“It’s a complicated question,” Brown told TheWrap. “I stopped not because the network wanted me to stop or anybody else wanted me to stop; I kind of wanted to take a break for a few years. I really wanted to concentrate on doing some live-touring and I did a couple of big, live tour shows and that was a great thing.”

Brown, who is the host and main commentator on Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” and “Cutthroat Kitchen,” says he “was also waiting on technology.”

“I had a feeling when we stopped making ‘Good Eats’ that the way people were going to consume content was going to change radically and it was just really starting. And I kind of wanted to sit back and see where that was going to go,” he said. “And these new shows are not necessarily made for television. I’ve made these new shows to watch on a phone as much as I have a television set. So I kind of wanted to wait out the changes and see where the writing on the wall was going to end up. And I’m glad I did because the technological evolutions — not only in media consumption, which changed a lot — but the technology that would allow me to do some of the things visually that we’re doing in these shows — we’re using a lot of stuff that just didn’t exist even six years ago. I kind of was waiting, in a way, for technology to catch up with where I wanted to go. And then I was also waiting to see where media wanted me to go.”

OK, so what does AB mean here when he’s talking about all these technological advances that are going to make “Good Eats” even better after its seven-year hiatus?

“One is, most of what I’m talking about doesn’t have to do with food at all, some of it does,” Brown said. “On one level, we’re strictly talking about filmmaking technology. That’s my background and I have a passion for putting cameras where they don’t belong, for designing extremely complicated shots and sequences. So there were things I wanted to do visually that I just had to wait for the technology to come along that would let me do what I wanted to do.”

“The other side, the food side, is number one: availability,” he continued. “There are ingredients that we can use now that five, six years ago we wouldn’t have been able to because people couldn’t get them. Now anybody can get anything anytime they want. So I can use spices, I can reference ingredients that people can simply, with a keystroke, have delivered to their homes. And culinary technology has certainly changed. For instance, we’ve done a show called ‘Immersion Therapy,’ which is about using immersion circulators, which I think is high time most Americans got into. Five, six years ago those devices were still extremely expensive, were not very easy to get and that technology has come a long way. So I guess that’s three examples: culinary technology, food availability and then the filmmaking technology that I needed to do visually what I wanted to do with the shows.”

And now that Brown is in post-production on the 13-episode 15th season — which features installments about chicken parmesan, grains like amaranth, chia and quinoa, and recipes for sourdough, shakshuka and steak tartare — he told us he did, in fact, get to do what he wanted with the return of “Good Eats.”

“I promised myself the only way I would do this is if I could make one season where there would be no regrets whatsoever — and I did,” he said. “This is the best work that I’ve done in my entire career of any type. I cannot do better than this. And if I were to die tomorrow — I do not want to die tomorrow — but I would say that finally, for the first time in my career, I’ve done something for which I make not one single apology.”

According to Brown, a few things make this new season his crowning glory — the first and foremost being the scripts.

“I think overall, or above all, I think the writing is better,” he said. “I have grown a lot as a writer, I feel, so I think the shows, above, all are simply written better. I think there is not one weak recipe in the bunch from all 13 shows, and that’s 12 half hours and a one-hour special. And that’s because they are just better. We had time to work them out and I had a really good crew. So that’s for sure.”

Brown added that — as he said before — “because of technology, we are allowed to do and have the capabilities of doing far more complex, long scenes.”

“There’s lots of long, involved storytelling takes in this that goes on for a while and involves a lot of moving set pieces and cameras moving in a way– we’re using technology that no one has ever used in television before,” he said. “All the DNA though, all the DNA is there. All the stuff that people are gonna go, ‘Yes! That’s what I wanted.’ The characters that we established before, the kind of mix of comedy with science, with practical know-how, those are all there. These are very much ‘Good Eats’ episodes, but they are a lot more sophisticated.”

But don’t worry, because Brown promised us this: “If you are a ‘Good Eats’ fan, you will continue to be a ‘Good Eats’ fan. If you’ve never seen ‘Good Eats’ before in your life, you’ll hopefully become a ‘Good Eats’ fan.”

As TheWrap exclusively reported last week, Brown’s “Good Eats: Reloaded” series — which premiered last October and saw the cook “remix” some episodes from his old catalog — has been renewed for a second season. With that in mind, we asked Brown what it would take for him to do more of “Good Eats” itself.

“That will be determined completely by ratings,” Brown said. “If people watch it, then the answer will be ‘yes.’ If people don’t watch it, the answer will be a resounding ‘no.’ Because it’s way too much work to do if nobody is going to be watching it. It’s a very different kind of show. We’re talking about bringing a cooking show back to the primetime on a network that hasn’t been there for a while. In fact, ‘Good Eats’ was the last primetime cooking show on any network, you know, any mainstream network. So we’ll see. It’s a single-camera, narrative program, fully scripted. We’ll see if people are ready for that again. I think that the fans will be, because they haven’t stopped asking for it in the last six years. But will that be enough people to keep it on air? I don’t know. Who knows?”

See below for more from our interview with Brown.

TheWrap: How did you decide what recipes you wanted to include in “The Return”?

Alton Brown: I will admit that some of them were simply things that people had requested so much. Our very first episode, I’m finally getting chicken parm out of the way. People have been asking me to do a chicken parm show for 10 years and, frankly, I didn’t think I had anything to say about it. And then I figured out, “Oh, I actually do have something to say about it.” Because to me the recipes aren’t worth anything if — number one, the food has to be great, but there also has to be a story of significance behind it, and for me it was the understanding and finally coming to grips with the fact that Italian food was actually invented in America, not in Italy. And that kind of changed my whole viewpoint on the subject.

So some of these shows were things that I knew people really, really wanted. Some of them were things that I’ve just been really interested in. But, for instance, our season finale is a post-apocalyptic episode about wild sourdoughs. And six years ago, people didn’t care. But there’s kind of this whole millennial-hipster thing now about sourdoughs. So there is finally an interest. I was always interested, but Food Network was kinda like, “Yeah, no, nobody is gonna watch that.” So there are a few shows where simply popular interest has moved into realms we didn’t have before.

Some of the shows are kind of more historically minded. We do a show about icebox cakes, which I think people should be making left and right. We’ve got a very current-themed holiday special about low-alcohol cocktails, so that’s a very current thing people are interested in. A lot of people are sober-curious. Me, I’m just interested in drinking all day without falling down, so that’s where I kind of came up with it.

Certainly because of social media, because of Instagram, we have a whole different level of awareness about food that we didn’t have five or six years ago and that has opened up an entire world of possibilities for me as a culinary storyteller. So I’m not making it sound like I was sitting on the sidelines waiting for the world to catch up with me — but in a way I was sitting on the sidelines waiting for the world to catch up with me. And by the way, there was no way I was going to start making “Good Eats” again if I couldn’t make it be a lot better than the last time it was on.

TheWrap: What is it that you hope people take away from the new episodes and the particular recipes you selected?

Brown: There is always power in understanding. Understanding what’s going on with the food, understanding what the food wants, understanding what the techniques are and what they do is more important than any recipe. And that’s what actually makes you a cook. Understanding makes you a cook, recipes don’t make you a cook. And so we try, and have always tried in all the episodes, to give people an understanding so that when they’re done at the end of the day and they’ve cooked the food and the recipes, whatever the recipe is gonna be, they’ve actually got something in their brain that they didn’t have before. And I can’t take it beyond that, it’s that general.

TheWrap: Are you finally done with your turkey recipe and will we get a turkey episode this season?

TheWrap: Not a Thanksgiving show, but it’s about cutting up the bird and doing different things with different parts. And I’m done roasting the turkey. I’m finished. I have nothing more to say. By the way, I can’t count the number of people who have come up to me– we did our first roast turkey show in 1999… and still last week I had some folks who could not have been more than 10 years old when that show came out and came up to me and thanked me for that gosh-darn turkey recipe. I don’t know what it is about that turkey recipe. I’m grateful for it! I guess it would be the recipe on my tombstone, if they put recipes on tombstones.

TheWrap: Was it hard getting back into “character” as the Alton Brown you play on “Good Eats” vs. your everyday self?

Brown: I won’t say that it’s hard, it’s an automatic thing for me when I get in front of the camera. I either become the “Iron Chef” version of me, the “Cutthroat Kitchen” version of me or the “Good Eats” version of me. And the “Good Eats” version of me is the closest to actual me, the way that I am in my head. But you’re right, I don’t act that way in the airport. But it’s real close, so it’s not a problem at all. In fact, it’s a very comfortable place for me to go. It’s like an actor who has played a certain Shakespeare role enough to where they own it, I think I finally kind of own me. And frankly, one of the things about doing this job… I’ve watched myself age 20 years on television. I just turned 57 a couple of weeks ago and I cut off all my hair a couple of years ago because I got tired of it looking like crap. I’m not the guy I was then. So you have to be willing to let go of being worried about that kind of stuff because watching yourself age 20 years on TV, that can freak some people out. Me, I’m kinda like really myself. I think I was always meant to be a 57-year-old guy, so I think I’m better now than I used to be because I’m more comfortable with myself.

“Good Eats: The Return” premieres Sunday with two back-to-back episodes at 10/9c and 10:30/9:30c on Food Network.