BWW Interview: Alton Brown Takes Quirky Culinary Science on the Road in THE EDIBLE INEVITABLE TOUR
Food Network favorite Alton Brown - the gracious and always-witty star of Good Eats, Iron Chef, and Cutthroat Kitchen - arrives in Providence later this week with his latest project: Alton Brown Live! The Edible Inevitable Tour. In a recent phone interview from the road in Dayton, Ohio, Brown spoke with BroadwayWorld Rhode Island about the origins of the stage show, the logistical challenges of touring, and how the yeast puppets continue to steal the spotlight.
VB: You're a busy man - the Edible Inevitable Tour, Food Network programming, a thoroughly-engaging podcast, bestselling books - it seems your creative energies are boundless!
AB: [laughs] Well, I like to stay busy, I will say that! I don't really think of it in those terms, I guess. I've tried to build a career based on figuring out what my skill set is and finding out if I can do things that most other people don't think of doing, or doing the unusual or the unexpected in showing that food, as a subject, has a great many permutations in entertainment that can be fun. I don't know about the "boundless energy" part; I do like looking at what the subject is and what I can do with it, and having as much fun with it as possible.
VB: What sparked your interest the Edible Inevitable project? How did the touring stage show come about?
AB: I've done so many live shows over the past 15 years, probably. When you make food shows, you get hired to do speeches and lectures and demonstrations, and you do things on TV shows and whatnot. I've always really enjoyed that; my original college degree was in theater, so it's always been a big part of me. Probably about six years ago, I started seriously thinking that I'd like to do something much larger, but when you do that, you really have to take it on the road to make it cost efficient. You've got to take it to a lot of cities if you're going to spend a lot of money on a stage show. It was just a matter of finding - number one - time in my schedule, quite frankly, and coming up with the right production partners. I'm friends with the guys on Mythbusters and they did their own live touring show with this company called MagicSpace, which they introduced me to, and it turned out to be just a really great mix. And so that was the last piece that really needed to be brought together for the tour to happen.
VB: And you're singing on the tour as well?
AB: Yeah, it's really a two-hour variety show, and it does involve myself and my trio performing some of the food songs off of our upcoming CD.
VB: An upcoming CD? That sounds like fun!
AB: Yeah, that's just to add another layer. [laughs]
VB: I've seen some of the press photos from the show, and you're touring with some very creative stage pieces! Given that your props range from hand puppets to life-sized cows, what are some of the challenges of traveling with such specialized equipment?AB: Number one, nobody's asked me that question and it's really actually kind of fascinating, so thank you for asking something like that. You know what it really comes down to, I'll be really honest with you, it comes down to the truck. I wanted this whole show to sit in one semi-truck, because when you get into two trucks, it really limits the kind of markets you can go into because of loading docks and blah, blah, blah. The size and shape of the big demonstration pieces and everything else that goes on the stage is greatly determined by how we could get it all in one truck. It's been a real feather in the cap of my tour planners that they've actually been able to figure out this Rubik's Cube of a problem of how to get a show as large as ours into one truck. That actually was what was the determining factor because I knew I did not want a two-truck tour.
VB: That's fascinating!
AB: It actually really is. The logistics of packing these trucks and the cases and the things that have to go in, because we carry our own lighting and our own sound system because of the band; you know, we've got cases with guitars and drums and - as you said - full-sized cows, and the two demonstrations that we do during the show. They're big, they're large pieces, so it's a real job.
VB: It's like playing Tetris to get everything to fit just so.
AB: That's actually exactly what it is! It's Tetris, not a Rubik's Cube.
VB: Speaking of hand puppets, I was listening to your most recent podcast, and it featured an extended segment on the puppetry and puppeteers on Good Eats. I've worked with puppets in the past; it's so interesting to hear you and Todd Bailey give such a detailed account of the craft and method behind the puppets on the show.AB: Puppets are a never-ending source of amazement for me. You can put your hand in almost anything and turn it into a living, breathing being. And it's funny that, when we started doing it on Good Eats it was one of those things that was just, "Hey, why not? We need this, we need these characters." And the response is just huge. There's a 15-mintue taped pre-show on The Edible Inevitable Tour that's all yeast puppets - people go crazy over it! Crazy enough to where we've actually had to make show t-shirts and things with these yeast puppets on them because people like them so much. It's just amazing! We're not even really that good at it to be honest! [laughs]
VB: But you know, they take on little personalities of their own and they become your co-stars.
AB: They do, and once people kind of invest themselves in them, then it becomes just a whole different thing. It's a real pleasure to do.
VB: Would you share a little bit about Foods That Made America? When will that series air?AB: Unknown at this point, and the reason for that is that no one at the time we started planning that program, no one realized that the show Cutthroat Kitchen was going to become a big hit. As a matter of fact, we were gearing that show up before Cutthroat Kitchen even went to pilot; now we've been green-lit for the fourth and the fifth seasons, so it eats up a huge amount of my production time. The short answer is, I don't know, because right now Cutthroat Kitchen is going great guns on Food Network and it's everybody's big emphasis right now.
VB: Well, my next question was "Will Cutthroat Kitchen be returning [for another season] in 2014?" - so there's my answer! Congratulations!
AB: Thanks very much! We're still in the second season, the shows from the second season are still premiering. The third season was shot in December, and four and five will be in April and May, so it's a good year.
VB: I know you're continuing your podcast from the road; are you filming any pieces for upcoming television work as well?AB: No. We thought about it, but when I start shooting TV stuff, I get so consumed by it that I have a hard time doing anything else. And although we've flirted with the idea of doing things from the road, believe it or not, the actual just daily grind of getting the show done on the road is a really big undertaking because we have a very, very small crew. So I've decided just not to put that extra layer of frosting on top of everybody else's day. I'm not saying that it won't happen; I mean, we still have 17 cities to play in just this leg and we're going to go out on a third leg again in the fall, so I think that maybe that time we'll do something from the road.
VB: One more burning question from the recent podcast: Have you settled on a name for your tour bus yet?
AB: We think we're going with "Grey Mamba," but we're still not sure. We've got a sheet up for voting, and people are still voting for various names.
Alton Brown Live! The Edible Inevitable Tour plays the Providence Performing Arts Center for one night only, Friday, February 21, 2014. Ticket prices range from $35-150; to purchase tickets, contact PPAC by phone at (401) 421-ARTS (2787), book online at www.ppacri.org, or visit the box office at 220 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI. The Alton Browncast, Brown's weekly podcast, can be heard at www.nerdist.com/podcast/the-browncast.
Photo Credit: David Allen