Alton Brown blends humor, science, music in Austin show
Only Alton Brown could kick-off a live performance variety show with a video of farting and burping puppets and get away with it in front of a crowd full of self-professed food geeks.
On Wednesday night, ACL Live at the Moody Theater was packed with fans of both “Iron Chef” and “Good Eats,” the two television shows for which Brown is most noted, the kind of people who “raised the roof” when the host gave his familiar rant on unitaskers in the kitchen.
Brown set the record straight about what the audience should expect from the get-go: “This show was not assembled for your pleasure; it’s for mine,” he said. “It’s two hours of things no one will let me do on TV.”
The traveling Edible Inevitable show, which is the middle of a 40-city tour, also a way for him to team up with some of the crew members from “Good Eats,” his ground-breaking Food Network show that ran for 13 years, including his main prop guy and the man who made most of the show’s music.
“On TV, they don’t let you preach, pontificate, rant and rave about things,” he said. “It pisses off advertisers and gets us in trouble.”
Preach, pontificate, rant and rave he did, about everything from raisins (“always optional”) to PETA (which, per one of his musical performances, want to bomb his yard, when all he wants to do is eat lard).
Brown proved an adept improvisational host with the on-stage experiments that involved members of the crowd (freezing ice cream with a fire extinguisher and making a pizza with light bulbs in a Mega Bake oven) , but his 10 Things I’m Pretty Sure I’m Sure About Food comedic routine that kicked off the show carried the night’s best lines.
Some of the 10 bullet points provided hearty laughs — his bit about chickens not having fingers and the kids’ party at which he served chicken feet was particularly funny, and comparing not being able to “untaste” trout ice cream to not being able to unsee your parents having sex was very well received — but a handful of them allowed him to stand on his cooking-is-power soapbox and deliver some really meaningful lessons.
Three that will stick with me long after his songs about his loves of meat and caffeine and getting food poisoning from airport shrimp cocktail: Sports will not feed your kids; the most important tool in the kitchen is your dining table; and the best cook on earth is your spouse.
(Well, he didn’t use the word “spouse” — on the screen, he showed a wedding band where the word “wife/husband/partner/spouse” would have gone — but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that the story he told about accidentally insulting his wife’s marinara sauce wasn’t meant to say that the best cooks on earths are always the wives.)
Brown has spent enough time in the food business to hear every excuse in the book about why people don’t cook, but the one that makes him most upset is kids and parents taking on too many recreational activities, especially sports. “Don’t tell me you don’t have time to teach them to eat or cook when you’re spending 30 hours a week taking them to soccer or dance,” he said.
But I was surprised to hear him say that where you eat is more important than any other tool in the kitchen. “In the end, food derives all of its magic from (the dining room table),” he said. If you don’t share food with people, 12 hours later, “it’s just poo,” he said, a crude truth that won him a roomful of laughs.
Some other highlights:
On eggs: “They are liquid meat, and even if you screw them up, you can still eat them. My mother-in-law’s deviled eggs prove this.”
On smoothies: “Every time you put a smoothie in your mouth, what you really want is ice cream.”
On food ‘hotpoints’: “Everyone has at least one hot-button food issue, and everyone wants the government to fix it. That’s so cute.” He went on to explain that the only real way to affect change is with your money. “A dollar is a vote for something you believe in. Next time you go to the grocery store, pay for your food with cash…and think of every dollar you give to the cashier as a vote for what you believe in.”
Speaking of Brown’s well-known conservatism: His jokes about condoms and masturbation surprised those of us in the audience familiar with his strong feelings about religion.
The songs from Brown’s three-man band were the least entertaining part of the two-hour show — and I would have liked to see him eat one of his famous Twitter Post-Its to redeem himself for the crabby things he said about social media the last time I was in the same room with him − but one of the last songs of the night was a punk rock diddy inspired by the lingering anger he feels about Santa not giving him an Easy Bake oven when he was a child.
It was a nice set-up for the last experiment: making pizza in a Mega Bake oven powered by more than 50 1000 watt “rock and roll” lights. The lights could heat the “oven” to about 900 degrees, but Brown said he “couldn’t take it up to 10” because he couldn’t pull enough electricity from the venue without affecting the stage lights.
Who knows whether or not it was true, but the Alton-loving crowd seemed to soak up every lumen of his high-energy and predictably nerdy show.
I don’t know if he has enough material for another cross-country tour, but I’m glad he continues to experiment with food entertainment.