[Photos: David Allen]
Television host Alton Brown started the second night of his Inevitable Edible Tour this past weekend in Cerritos, California, a half-hour drive south of Downtown Los Angeles. As promised, the two-hour long variety show featured everything from live music, one-of-a-kind cooking demos, and a slurry of stand-up comedy bits that covering everything from chicken fingers to airport cocktail shrimp. Here now, a recap of Alton Brown's much anticipated live show.
Dressed in a clean white oxford and dark vest, Brown began by explaining the burping and farting sock puppets video that prefaced the show. They represented yeast molecules releasing gas, and the copious flatulence was something he wanted to take liberty with since the Food Network actually restricted the burp-to-fart ratio allowable on TV.
In fact, the live show allows him to do lots of things he couldn't do on TV, like sing songs. Whipping out a shiny Taylor acoustic guitar, Alton sang a song he wrote about cooking; specifically, it was about teaching his daughter how "easy" cooking can be. Using a catchy, simple chord progression, Brown started with rules that go on five fingers...and ended up with rules that go on 12. Apparently, cooking isn't actually so easy. Slightly timid at first, Brown's singing voice sounds like an open mic performer that's just good enough to catch your attention. It's not meant to be professional, just entertaining. Animated lyrics on the screen made it easy to follow along.
In addition to the songs, the show allowed Brown to do other things that might be frowned upon by TV advertisers: pontificate, rage, rant, or preach, which he did often over the course of the performance. He explained his "current" version of the ten things he's sure about food. Current because, it seems, those ten things have changed quiet a bit over the years. First course: "Chickens don't have fingers," which got a hearty hoot and holler from the suburban, mostly middle-aged crowd. Then he went into a quick explanation of how he made his daughter's slumber party a batch of deep-fried chicken feet (parts chickens actually have). When he gets sad, he just remembers the screams from the reaction to that bowl of chicken feet.
Next up from the ten things: "Sports don't feed kids." Basically, spend time feeding kids instead of schlepping them off to soccer practice. Third, trout doesn't taste good in ice cream, referring to Iron Chef Sakai's terrible trout ice cream in the early episodes of Iron Chef America. Fourth, the best cook on earth is his wife. Early in his marriage, he made a slight suggestion to his wife, Deanna, that a tomato sauce could use oregano. She stepped out of the kitchen for six months to teach him a lesson not to criticize her cooking. Rounding out the list:
5. The best ingredient to cook with is eggs. They're easy, cheap, and versatile.
6. The most important kitchen tool is the kitchen table. Food connects people and that doesn't happen unless there's a table.
7. Food shows don't make you fat, junk food does.
8. You can vote with your money at the grocery store.
9. Raisins are always optional. Brown doesn't like trout ice cream or raisins.
10. Never eat cocktail shrimp at an airport (to which the crowd responds with more hoots, hollers, or boos — hard to tell which). This one segued straight into another song, this time with drums, and electric guitar.
A sad country song called Airport Cocktail Shrimp, it started slow and baritone, building up the tragedy, the remorse of eating that un-iced cocktail shrimp in the first class lounge (at nearby LAX, no less). The chorus:
Airport shrimp cocktail. I guess I shoulda known. That in just a short while you were sure to make me hurl. That all those memories of my sweet pleasure would be swept away by gastric pressure.
Moving on to the cooking demo, Brown pulled out a large dairy cow statue and asked the audience to pick a flavor out of vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate. Chocolate won by the roar of the crowd. Then, a volunteer came up to help launch Brown's new "proprietary" method of making ice cream: Jet Cream. Loading up a fire extinguisher with chocolate milk and another with a standard, CO2 extinguisher, they spewed the contents into a jerry-rigged cylinder made of five-gallon water bottles. If the contents aren't launched and stopped at precisely the right time, the whole thing explodes and spills onto the front rows. Hence, the poncho zone. A countdown, a burst of gas, and ten seconds later: fresh ice cream. Liquid nitrogen has nothing on this.
After a brief intermission, Brown sang a song about Easy Bake Ovens, and how the Santa Claus he asked for one said "they were for girls." Exacting revenge on Santa probably never goes this far: Brown debuted his Mega Bake, a massive 12-foot long contraption that uses 54 stage-light bulbs running 54,000 watts, one million lumens, and heats up to 650 degrees. He stepped up to the top (yes, there's a ladder attached to it), and turned it on (the sound system's subwoofer hums on as well to help the effect).
Pulling up a volunteer who rarely cooks, he showed her how to make a pizza as the Mega Bake heats up. On the countertop, Brown dipped below to pull out ingredients from a small fridge, revealing his patented refrigerator camera for the audience to see. He was a little upset about the ingredient selection that's apropros for California: pineapple, baby artichoke hearts, kale. Thankfully, there was pepperoni.
Building one half pepperoni, and the other half kale (which he notes that, though it's a super food, doesn't belong on a pizza), they throw the pie into the oven, which has a rotating metal conveyor controlled with a massive ship's wheel. Precisely four minutes later, a perfectly good-looking pie comes out, with an aroma that fills the auditorium.
To end the show, Brown's rock trio played a satirical punk-rock tune called "I'm a TV Chef," lampooning celebrity chef culture and the pitfalls of food TV. The whole bit was pretty snarky and perhaps recognized that the audience is growing tired of the over-commercialization of chefs. Or perhaps the star-struck crowd got the air sucked out of them a little bit after seeing one of their beloved food celebrities basically pull the curtains off food celebrity.
Alton Brown's Live Tour continues to November 10, breaks for the holidays, and then resumes from January 29 to March 2. Dates and tickets can be found here.