In his role as founder of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines, and as the driving force behind PBS’ “America’s Test Kitchen,” Christopher Kimball is responsible for encouraging countless home cooks to spend time in their kitchens. Now he’s taking his mission into another venue: live theater.
His mostly one-man touring show makes its Minneapolis premiere this week at Pantages (info here). The theme? Cooking, in all its joys and foibles. Here’s a preview.
Q: How long have you been playing the modern-day vaudeville circuit?
A: The first time we did it was 18 months ago, in Boston. The producer said, “They’re interested in you.” Now, that’s not my experience. It’s more about what we do; that’s what people are interested in. But for that first one, we made it about me, and this great silence descended upon the audience. You can’t imagine. But I knew then that I was right. It’s not about me. It’s about the audience. It’s about how they cook at home. It’s a two-hour show. There’s lots of video.
Q: What kind of video?
A: Oh, we show disaster videos; we have one from the “Today” show. We have a taste test. There’s a culinary quiz. There’s lots of Q&A, back and forth. We collect questions from the audience before the show. I get them just before I’m about to go on. It’s mostly interactive; there’s a lot of audience participation. People are there to have a good time, and to come together as home cooks, because home cooks have a lot in common. It’s about enjoying the stupidity we all engage in when we’re in the kitchen, as well as sharing the smart things that we do.
I realized that there’s a lot of fear of failure in the kitchen, so making fun of the dumb things we do is important. We want to break down this whole notion of experts vs. beginners. I do dumb things in the kitchen every day, so I spend a lot of time making fun of myself. And we don’t do any cooking on stage. That’s the most boring thing in the world to do, cooking a chicken breast for 20 minutes in front of 1,500 people.
Q: So there will be no Tick Tock Orange Sticky Rolls, hot out of the oven? It’s one of my favorite “America’s Test Kitchen” recipes, ever.
A: You have to entertain people. It’s like radio. You need to constantly have something different, and fresh, and new. We do end up going through a massive amount of information.
Q: What was this infamous “Today” show mishap of yours?
A: Matt Lauer said that I almost burned down the set, that’s all. Nothing big. I was doing marshmallow treats — you know, with Rice Krispies — and making them with various flavorings. It was the height of my culinary career, really.
I had this Dutch oven on the stove, and I turned the burner the wrong way, so instead of being off it was all the way on, and I didn’t notice, not until there was this massive amount of smoke pouring out of that Dutch oven.
It was bad, although the director came up after and said, “This is the best segment you’ve ever done.” I guess that says something about my previous ones. So if you want to teach people how to cook, the first thing to do is have a complete disaster. Then everyone relaxes, and we all have a good time.
Q: Any typical audience questions?
A: People like to ask if I tie my own bow ties. I do. And we get a lot of specific food and ingredient questions. I’ll get asked things like, “What’s the best place for truffle oil?”
Q: Ugh. One of my least favorite ingredients. What’s your answer?
A: “In the compost.” Or, “What’s your favorite amuse-bouche?” And I’ll say, “An Old Fashioned.” People like a little pushback. Actually, I like to give people a little pushback, whether they like it or not.