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A culinary song-and-dance from Alton Brown

  • Blog Post by: Lee Svitak Dean
  • February 11, 2014 - 10:24 AM
Photo by David Allen, from Alton Brown Live!

Photo by David Allen, from Alton Brown Live!

Have to say it was the first time I've seen burping and farting take center stage at any theater.

And hopefully the last.

The sounds, as presented by sock puppets on a large monitor, opened Alton Brown's "Edible Inedible Tour" at the State Theatre last Friday, an event that played to a multi-age full house who was clearly enthusiastic about his long-running "Good Eats" TV show, now in reruns on the Cooking Channel. (The sound effects, repeated during the intermission and at the close of the show, depicted the action of yeast molecules releasing gas.)

Alton Brown was his madcap self, a grand storyteller with a sly sense of humor, during the 2 hour, 45 minute culinary variety show, which celebrated what he said were "things you're not allowed to do on TV -- you can't rant, rave or pontificate or you'll piss off advertisers." (The excess "sound effects" reflected him thumbing his nose at the Food Network, which he said enforced a burp-to-fart ratio on "Good Eats.")

The puppets that provided the sound effects. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean.

The puppets that provided the sound effects. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean.


No sponsors, no advertisers means all fun, right? Well, as we say in the news biz, everyone needs an editor. And this show could have used a scalpel at times, starting with the interminable burping and farting. You know the little kid in kindergarten who would do that and get a laugh, and then wouldn't stop doing it? Well....

The show ran 45 minutes longer than expected, in part because Alton got chatty (often commenting snarkily, in good fun, on the cold weather and other Minnesota-related tangents) and, at the end, because he chose a volunteer in the audience who liked being center stage (she talked almost as much as he did).

But the unwieldy length was more than someone not watching the clock: His musical trio (with Alton on both electric and acoustic guitar, then saxophone) really didn't add much to the evening with food songs that were, well, half-baked, worth a smile but not much more. And some of his TV antics didn't hold up on a theater stage (breezing through a science lesson, for example, had to cross more eyes than just mine).

Two cooking "demos" were delightfully quirky, though took far too long to complete. In one he makes carbonated ice cream using a fire extinguisher (the only single-use piece of kitchen equipment that has his approval).

Making ice cream with a volunteer from the audience. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean

Making ice cream with a volunteer from the audience. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean

The other was what turned out to be a long-winded demonstration of his Mega-Bake Oven, a variation on the girls-only Easy Bake Oven of his youth. Though the store version uses a single 100-watt bulb, his monstrous variation, presumably built in his garage or so he implied, gathers power from 54,000 watts of stage lights. "You can see this from space," he chortled as the blinding lights were turned on.

From this powerhouse of light, he and a volunteer (the Chatty Kathy aforementioned), cooked a pizza topped with (what else?) lutefisk and pepperoni.

What 54,000 watts looks like. Hot enough to cook a pizza. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean

What 54,000 watts looks like. Hot enough to cook a pizza. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean

The best part of the show was his rant on "10 Things I'm Pretty Sure That I'm Sure About Food," an eclectic list that apparently changes from time to time, Here's the Minnesota version:

1. Chickens don't have fingers (where he tells the tale of shocking his daughter's friends with chicken feet).

2. The most critical cooking skill is to use salt (from here he goes on to talk about the bakery dough he discarded in an outdoor dumpster on a very hot day, resulting in an oozing Son-of-Blob scenario that needed commercial trucks to remedy). 

Alton Brown's high-tech version of Power Point, illustrating the trout ice cream. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean.

Alton Brown's high-tech version of Power Point, illustrating the trout ice cream. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean.

3. Trout doesn't belong in ice cream (he tells the story of chef Sakai who did just that on "Iron Chef America").

4. The best cook on Earth is your wife, and the sooner you accept it, the happier you'll be (as he relates a story on making the mistake of "correcting" the seasoning in his wife's dish).3. Trout doesn't belong in ice cream (he relates an episode of "Iron Chef America" in which chef Sakai does just that).

5. The best ingredient to learn to cook is eggs. ("It's liquid meat, premeasured, cheap, and even if you mess them up you can eat them. Conquer eggs and the rest of the culinary world follows.")

6. The most important tool in the kitchen is the dinner table. This follows his comments in an earlier interview that, "The most magical thing about food is its ability to connect human beings to one another. That's the real miracle of food." As for the food? "In 12 hours, it's poo." 

7. Wash mushrooms.( "That's not dirt they're grown in; it's horse poop.") 

8. Buy American. ("We have the best farmers, the best fish, the best laws overseeing food. Odds are you can't do worse than that.")

9. Raisins are always optional. (Who can disagree with that, says this writer?)

10. Never eat a shrimp cocktail in an airport. (Enough said. Though that led to a very long song about what happens when food poisoning hits.)

For more on Alton, see my earlier interview with him in the Star Tribune.

Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste

The State Theatre audience. Photo by Alton Brown.

The State Theatre audience. Photo by Alton Brown.


 

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