Though all the buzz in the celebrity chef zeitgeist seems to gravitate toward Stanley Tucci, Chrissy Teigen, and Gwyneth Paltrow, someone who flies more under the radar is singer, actor, and author Trisha Yearwood. Trisha is a longtime country music star, but has been a food personality for over a decade. In 2008, she released Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen, which reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List. She did it again in 2010 with her follow-up, Home Cooking. In 2012, she debuted Trisha’s Southern Kitchen on the Food Network, where she’s still on the air. She’s got three Grammys, a Daytime Emmy, $400 million, and, oh, her husband is country superstar Garth Brooks. You might know that because he famously found his way into Home Cooking with his own recipe: Garth’s Breakfast Bowl.
I first found out about Garth’s Breakfast Bowl when somebody tagged me in the comments of an Instagram post. It was a no-comment tag, the type that all but says, “hey, get a load of this shit.” In the post is a screenshot of the recipe in question: Garth’s Breakfast Bowl. The recipe starts out innocently enough, with a cute intro about how Garth likes to cook breakfast for Trisha. Garth, you mensch!
What follows is a recipe for a five-pound breakfast bowl that includes tortellini. That’s right: hash browns, more than half a dozen scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, and cheese-stuffed pasta. You might cynically ask yourself, “What kind of unchecked psychopath puts tortellini in a breakfast bowl? What kind of villain would dare sully the good name of Italian cooking by serving pasta in such an inelegant manner?”
But, then again, is the breakfast bowl that unrefined? Such iterations of pasta, eggs, and meat exist all throughout Italy, in fact. There’s Italian timpano or timballo (a dish made famous in the movie Big Night), which is an entire triple sink of ingredients—often ziti, stuffed shells, hard boiled eggs, meatballs, salami, cheese, sauce, and vegetables—all baked into dough and served as one spectacular pièce de résistance. It’s mythical, awe-inspiring, and over the top. If I didn’t know timpano was a traditional Italian dish, I could easily see it being written off as a Tasty creation getting blasted for food crimes. There’s a certain spectacle and novelty to timpano that feels, well, like a contrived internet sensation.
Then there’s Greek pastitsio, a more subdued, lasagna-like preparation that is layered with pasta, eggs, béchamel, and ingredients spun from a game show wheel of meat and cheese. Pastitsio has developed figurative meanings over the years that mean “hodgepodge” and, quite aptly, “a mess.” Versions of it exist in Turkey, Cyprus, Italy, Egypt, and I’m sure elsewhere along the Mediterranean Sea.
And even spaghetti pie, a chaotic dish that’s basically a frittata cooked with noodles, seems to be revered in the culinary community; chefs around the country make similar concoctions for their staff family meal. Baking eggs, pasta, and meat together isn’t new, so what is so wrong about Garth Brooks’ Big-Ass Breakfast Situation™?
Well, Trisha herself has admitted that there’s not much artistry involved in Garth’s recipe. I was really struck by this interview she did with People Magazine back in 2018, when they asked her about the breakfast bowl:
We have to know: Is Garth still making his famous Breakfast Bowl?
All the time. For years I would say, “It’s really more of a compilation than a recipe,” and then I realized it kind of offended him. [Laughs] So now I say it’s an intricate recipe. You have to scramble eggs, you have to cook bacon and sausage. It’s almost a brunch thing.
It’s sweet to know that Garth Brooks’ feelings were hurt when his wife critiqued his cooking; he’s clearly sensitive and perhaps even a little insecure about his skills in the kitchen. Still, Trisha’s right. There’s not much finesse involved in this breakfast bowl. She goes on to say:
He loves it. [Tortellini] makes it into so many things he makes. I stopped telling him he’s crazy, because everything he’s suggested that I add tortellini to has been great. There’s a recipe in my second book called Country Quiche, which is basically a really hearty breakfast quiche. Garth said I should put tortellini in it, and I said, “You’re nuts.” I made one with and one without, and the one with tortellini was better.
Garth Brooks, an artist worth hundreds of millions of dollars, apparently puts tortellini in everything. Is Garth making tortellini sandwiches at home? Is he whipping up tortellini curry and fried tortellini Parmesan? Why does this man love tortellini so much? Perhaps it fits the country ethos. After all, if dishes like pastitsio and timpano and spaghetti pie are all cheap and filling ways to feed a group of people, I’m prepared to believe that tortellini is the secretly brilliant ingredient that serves that same elegant purpose here. But to find out for sure, I have to make my own Garth’s Breakfast Bowl.
I made a few modifications. I didn’t have cheddar cheese, so I used Romano. I substituted andouille sausage. And, oh, I live alone, so I didn’t use a pound of bacon and eight eggs. This is a personalized breakfast bowl. The Garth’s Bachelor Bowl™. For the recently divorced.
As soon as I finished eating it, my posture worsened. My shoulders slumped and a hunch developed in my back. This bowl made me feel unloved and hopeless. I left the dirty dishes in the sink and stumbled over to my unmade bed where I fell into an afternoon trance. I’m just now remembering that I had a delightful dream where I was visited by angels, so perhaps this was more of a near-death experience than a food coma. Moreover, I felt ready to be taken.
Does tortellini add anything to the American breakfast plate? Sure. Tortellini adds to breakfast in the same way that a fire hose full of gasoline adds to your already burning home. But more than anything, Garth’s Breakfast Bowl left me with a sad, nostalgic longing for the American buffet. It has a similar vibe to a plate of cheap and poorly composed food dying underneath rows of heat lamps. It’s weighty, peculiar, unadorned.
I had wanted so badly to oppose the elitists who mocked Garth’s Breakfast Bowl, but this dish is exactly what it is. It’s a heap of bland food branded as hearty. It’s another mediocre byproduct of celebrity chef culture. It makes me sad and angry. It also makes me wonder if I’m wrong for feeling that way. Is there room for Garth’s Breakfast Bowl to exist without scrutiny? Am I being a pretentious dickhead?
Trisha is right: this isn’t so much a recipe as it is an example of how fast casual dining has made us accept nearly anything as long as it’s presented as a “bowl.” Grain bowls, acai bowls, smoothie bowls, poke bowls, and now, Garth Brooks’ signature pile. Trisha’s recipe says to “layer” each ingredient in a bowl, but that’s like saying that a nuclear power plant has “layered” a load of radioactive material into a ditch near a preschool. Maybe that’s all a little harsh. Maybe I should consider that we’re all just doing our best, and hey, Garth Brooks is a human person with feelings and I should let people cook what they want to cook and maybe even champion the recipes (or “recipes”) they come up with. But you know what? I’m not married to Garth Brooks.