BWW Reviews: Alton Brown Cooks Up Entertaining EDIBLE INEVITABLE TOUR
When celebrity chef Alton Brown takes the stage, he receives an ovation worthy of a rock star. It is a fitting reception; Brown's rapier wit, engaging personality, and original approach to the culinary world led him to resounding success on several of Food Network's highest-rated and longest-running programs. And though he is modest in the face of a live audience's acclaim, the same enthusiastic creativity that served Brown so well on television is immediately palpable on a theater's stage.
Brown's dry humor and relatable approach to food science entertains and educates from curtain to curtain. Alton Brown Live! The Edible Inevitable Tour includes the signature culinary scholarship and innovative cooking demonstrations familiar to viewers of Brown's 14 seasons on Good Eats, but the live-show format allows him leeway to expand beyond the confines of television presentation.
Rather than readying a sauté pan and demonstrating kitchen-friendly techniques for home cooks in his audience, for example, Brown instead brings out towering contraptions that both amuse and amaze. During the first act, Brown's team distributes ponchos to theatergoers seated in the first rows of the orchestra section while the "Jet Cream" machine grandly trundles to center stage. This device - crafted from water-cooler bottles, a CO2 fire extinguisher, and a water fire extinguisher - produces a gallon of ice cream in 10 seconds flat. The results are astonishing and highly entertaining, if messy (hence the "poncho zone").
The second half of the show features Brown's upgraded vision for the Easy-Bake Oven. His Mega-Bake Oven is an apparatus that would make Wile E. Coyote turn green with envy. Unlike the Coyote's capricious constructions, however, the Mega-Bake works to perfection. Brown delightedly rattles off the spec sheet for his creation: the Mega-Bake contains 54 Par 64 lights - the same bulbs and fixtures used to illuminate rock concerts - providing enough wattage to "be seen from outer space" and also, to bake two pizzas in under four minutes.
Brown is obviously energized by his give-and-take with a live audience, and he easily interacts with the assembly through impromptu asides. Despite PPAC's 3,000 seat auditorium, each of Brown's Edible Inevitable presentations comes through with an air of enjoyable conversation between good friends. He even shares some of his favorite Post-It Note Tweets, now laminated on his electric guitar (one note depicting a Dalek from Doctor Who - modified, naturally, with a soufflé oven in its midsection - drew special cheers from the crowd). Brown also seeks audience volunteers to assist with his larger-than-life culinary demonstrations.
The Edible Inevitable Tour pays homage to Brown's television work with appearances by Bessie, a full-sized cow prop familiar to Good Eats viewers, and the popular (if uncouth) Yeast Puppets, whose antics play out on the overhead projection screen during the pre-show and intermission. Master Good Eats prop and set builder Todd Bailey provides onstage assistance throughout Edible Inevitable, and GE show regulars Patrick Belden and Jim Pace also join Brown to perform selections from his upcoming cooking music CD.
Musical performance is another way Brown moves beyond the boundaries of his television persona. He proves a skillful guitar player and delivers a pitch-perfect saxophone solo as well. Each of the Trio's clever food songs is drawn from Brown's life experiences and conforms to a specific genre. In Providence, these selections included the rock anthem "Caffeine," the autobiographical country-western number "Airport Shrimp Cocktail," the punk-infused ode "Easy Bake," and the sweet and silly lullaby "Cooking Lesson, Part 1" that Brown wrote for his daughter.
Brown's multimedia lecture "10 Things I'm Pretty Sure That I'm Sure about Food" is both hilarious and thought provoking. This segment contains some of Brown's funniest real-life stories and impressions, from the time he served chicken feet at his daughter's sleepover party (to prove point #1 - "Chickens Don't Have Fingers") to his call for judicious use of salt in the home kitchen (illustrated by his own traumatic encounter with an unsalted batch of bread dough, a commercial dumpster, and a blisteringly hot day).
Brown gives practical advice on learning to cook with eggs and outlines the benefits of washing mushrooms, but he also uses the presentation to give a thoughtful reflection on the benefits of eating foods grown, made, or processed at home in America. Brown also offers his view of "The Most Important Tool in the Kitchen," the dinner table, and gives an earnest appeal for people to connect with family and friends rather than making the food itself the sole focus of mealtimes - true food for thought.
The Edible Inevitable Tour is billed as family-friendly, but Brown is freer with his language on stage than in his television appearances. Parents of young children should be aware of potentially imitative phrases.
Alton Brown Live! The Edible Inevitable Tour played the Providence Performing Arts Center for one night only, Friday, February 21, 2014. For information about upcoming tour stops, visit www.altonbrowntour.com. The Alton Browncast, Brown's weekly podcast, can be heard at www.nerdist.com/podcast/the-browncast.
Photo credit: David Allen