On May 2, 2011, Alton Brown's Good Eats ended its run with its last show, and it was as if the heavens fell silent. On Sunday night, August 25, 2019 – after an eight year hiatus – culinary-entertainment god Brown again spoke to humankind, doling out his wisdom and fun from on high. We finally saw the first and second episodes of the fifteenth season. And lo, Good Eats: The Return is… good.
For the one-two punch of his return, Brown has served up two interesting and contrasting subjects. The first, "American Classics X: Chicken Parmesan" is an ode to the Italian classic and solution to everything that usually goes wrong with this recipe. The second, "Every Grain Old is New Again" discusses classic new world grains that have recently become part of our dietary zeitgeist: quinoa and chia. I'm on record as loving this show as it's the essence of televised comfort food and good for your soul. These new episodes are like coming back to mom's home cooking.
Everything fans want are here: the science, the skits, the recipes, the camera angles, the running gags– and even a few recurring guest stars. And yet? As much as there is here for old fans to enjoy, these are just as easily accessible if you've never watched the show before. In short, Alton's back.
"Good Eats: The Return" Episode 1: American Classics X: Chicken Parmesan
Starting in front of the American flag a la Patton, this episode is the 10th in a series where our host tries to rescue a maligned or misprepared dish. Chicken Parmesan often ends up waterlogged, gummy, pasty, and really not good. It was also the most requested recipe for Good Eats to take on.
What I expected in this episode was to learn how to up my kitchen game. I didn't expect Brown to also feed my soul. Before I explain how, let AB himself explain where chicken parm came from:
In the extended explanation in the episode, Brown explains how the tenements of lower Manhattan birthed chicken parm as immigrants from varying regions (and varying cuisines) of Italy stuck together through repression, prohibition, and the great depression to make chicken parm a staple nationwide. It's a beautiful explanation that deserves a look in itself as it's as much about people sticking together and looking out for each other in difficult times. It's a message that is very on brand for 2019.
Fans also get treated to an appearance from an old friend: the food scam artist Coco Carl, who is now trying to sell fake San Marzano canned tomatoes. Brown not only explains why you should accept no substitutes but also how to tell the real ones from the fakes. . . and why the USDA doesn't regulate how they're labelled so it's perfectly legal to sell fake San Marzanos grown in, say, California or Texas rather than the real ones. Oh, and speaking of old friends, we also get a visit from our old friend W to explain mortars and pestles.
On top of all of that, you get some great basic skills from so much of this. Butterfly a chicken breast. Make a red sauce. Prepare a fry station (and how not to get the dreaded "club hand") and avoid cross contamination. It's all in there. And, Alton has a secret addition to his chicken parm crust to make it extra crispy. No spoilers, but it's perfect. It is about as perfect a return episode as you could expect.
***** 5/5 stars
"Good Eats: The Return" Episode 2: Every Grain Old is New Again
This episode was an unexpected twist. Starting with a trek into a grocery store after hours, Brown is confronted by conquistador Cortez as he talks about native grains of the ancient Aztec and Incan empires that exist now basically as they did when Cortez arrived… and then wiped everything out.
You don't expect a cooking show to be "woke," but some of the jabs Brown makes at colonialism and its effects were refreshing to hear. While never going so far as to really probe some of the modern debate over the ethics of quinoa consumption, what Brown does do is point out that a decade ago when Good Eats left the airwaves, these grains were not part of most Americans' diets, so trying to find the best ways to eat them were largely academic.
Instead, we get a cheesy broccoli quinoa casserole that is high in protein and represents a perfectly balanced diet. It also looks incredibly yummy. Then he really goes off the deep end with chia seeds, not only making his own chia head bust, but then a chocolate chia avocado coconut oil pudding. You read that right. Also, mmmmmmm… pudding.
Then, in typical Good Eats fashion, he runs out of time to talk about a third grain – amaranth – and promises that will have to be another show. There could not be a better way to keep me wanting to come back for more.
**** 4/5 stars
Good Eats is back and I'm ready for seconds… and thirds, airing Sunday nights on the Food Network at 10 p.m. ET.