‘Alton Brown Live: Eat Your Science’ comes to Stamford Oct. 29
As an adroit chef layers flavors, a crackerjack storyteller builds a tale by sprinkling it with strong details and colorful characters. With the right recipe, culinary or compositional, the everyday is transformed into the extraordinary.
It’s a formula Alton Brown, 55, once found lacking in the shows he loved to watch. A cinematographer and video director by trade, he spent his off-time watching cooking shows, soaking it all in and wondering how he might make it better. So, he headed to Vermont to train at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier and build on the kitchen skills he learned as a boy from his mother and grandmother.
Upon graduating in the late 1990s, he set out to create the show he had envisioned. It would be a mix of the scientific and the savory, the historical with the hip and it would teach people about the techniques and tools that make a great meal. The Peabody Award-winning “Good Eats” premiered on the Food Network in 1999, and its fans quickly embraced its offbeat, quirky and informative formula, which included puppets, a rotating cast of characters and ingenious homemade cooking gadgets, tuning in until 2011 when the series ended.
It made him a celebrity chef and a Food Network star, leading to hosting duties on the network’s “Iron Chef” franchise (including the latest, “Iron Chef Gauntlet”) and “Cutthroat Kitchen.” Brown and his team are working on a digital “Good Eats” sequel; until then, fans must satiate themselves with his latest project, the live culinary variety show, “Alton Brown Live: Eat Your Science.” It comes to the Palace Theatre in Stamford on Oct. 29, with large-scale food demonstrations, comedy bits, music (Brown is a musician), multimedia “shenanigans” and audience interaction. It’s his first show in Stamford.
When reached by phone at his home in Atlanta recently, Brown would not reveal all his tricks, but he promised puppets, a game-show approach to the proceedings, new songs and new contraptions, which follow in the tradition of his Mega Bake oven that was made for his previous tour. Using more than four dozen high-wattage lights, the contraption moved pizza along a belt, where it cooked in about three minutes.
He shared how his dual passions have guided and inspired him to move the needle ever forward in food entertainment.
Christina Hennessy: How do you figure out what contraptions to make for the tour? Do you and your team get together and hash it out?
Alton Brown: That is exactly what we do. These are most of the same people who I worked with on “Good Eats.” The production designer Todd Bailey worked on every single episode with me. ... We sit down, talk it out, test it and make the prototype … the proof-of-concept prototype, then the first-generation model and then the second-generation model and we see if it can go on the road. This has to be able to go on a truck and come off it and work every day of the week. Moving it around definitely is one of the things that can be a deciding factor in whether we can do it or not. There was one for this show that involved laser beams and that is all I am going to say about it … but in the end it was not robust enough to go in the halls, so it had to be cut from the show.
CH: Do you have a dream utensil you’d like to create?
AB: No, I’m good. I hear from a lot of people that “I wish there was a pan that would tell you when your food was done.” I don’t wish for that. I don’t want to disengage my brain from this process. I have found the more you have, the less you need. What happens is you need to do “X,” and you look around to see what you need and maybe you build something. I became known for my culinary hacks and “MacGyvering” my way into this.
CH: Before 1999, did you think people would pay money to see a culinary variety show?
AB: No, of course not. When I started “Good Eats,” I thought I would do about 50 episodes and we ended up doing 252. ... Back when I decided to go to culinary school and I quit my job, I went with the thought specifically to make the show “Good Eats.” I felt that food entertainment was beginning to be a big thing … but I never thought on this scale.
CH: I am not asking you to pat yourself on the back, but do you think “Good Eats” pushed that needle forward?
AB: I think a lot of people worked on shows that changed people’s perception of food as entertainment … and I got to be a part of that. I am not going to pat myself on the back. I didn’t start a revolution … we were a part of that.
CH: I read you like to push the line between education and entertainment. Why does that drive you, and has that followed you in your different careers?
AB: I believe it to be one career. ... I just managed to spread things out and it just evolved. Every storyteller has a niche. …. I’m a storyteller where food happens to be the thing I enjoy telling stories about the most. I look at the food I am making as a communication device or literature instead of something that is instructional. I see food as a great storytelling vehicle and narrative. Everywhere I have visited, people are interested in food.
CH: You gotta eat.
AB: Yes, you gotta eat, and food tends to connect people in a way that is very visceral.
Palace Theatre, 61 Atlantic St., Stamford. Sunday, Oct. 29, 7 p.m. $149.50 to $59.50. 203-325-4466, palacestamford.org. Also, Foxwoods Grand Theater, 350 Trolley Line Blvd., Mashantucket, Friday, Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m. $65-30. 800-FOXWOODS.