Sesame Street for Foodies
by: Collin Clark
Featuring MacGyvered contraptions like the meat dehydrators constructed from paper air filters and box fans, Good Eats was a veritable treasure trove of useful and unique cooking tricks. Sure, it may have been dressed up with silly puppets and bizarre skits, but Alton Brown was always at the heart of it all, pressing forward with his desire to demonstrate not only the how but also a little of the why. Not satisfied with a run-of-the-mill cooking program, Alton always delivered more than a recipe, leaving viewers with at least a slight understanding of what really happens in the kitchen.
Alton’s newest live roadshow, aptly named Alton Live! The Edible Inevitable Tour, recently made a stop in North Charleston, and in the opinion of an old fan of Good Eats, it certainly did not disappoint. The stage act managed to capture the essence and feel of the now-defunct television series in many ways, likely due in part to the participation of several members of the original Good Eats cast and crew - among whom were Patrick Belden, longtime sound director for Alton’s productions, and Jim Pace, who fans may remember as one half of the fictional “Itchy and Twitchy” legal team.
The show opened with a very familiar puppet show. Appearing on a large projection screen suspended above and behind the stage, these familiar yeasts became the center of attention during lulls in the on-stage action. Intermission - really an opportunity for the crew to clean up the mess from the previous cooking demonstration, but also a chance for the audience to refill their hopefully craft, albeit stadium-price beers - saw the return of the yeasts to the big screen for an extended bit. (To this day, I still use descriptions of Alton’s belching puppets to describe the function of yeast in brewing beer!)
Brown followed the puppets and took to the stage with a presentation of “ten things he’s (currently) sure about food.” One of these certainties was that “chickens do not have fingers.” He recalled answering his daughter’s request for chicken fingers at a sleepover by frying a batch of chicken feet - remembering the screams still takes Alton to a sadistic happy place, he insists. While many of these were as slapstick as one might imagine, Alton also managed to deliver some of the most poignant commentary of the show during this routine. “The dining table is the most important tool in the kitchen,” lamented Alton. He remarked that many in the audience were likely guilty of spending meals with their faces buried in smartphones, excitedly snapping pictures of each dish placed upon the table. He argued that food should be a communal experience where we sit and share with friends and family. “Take a picture of the person sitting across the table from you next time,” he urged.
Surprisingly, the live show was actually a musical of sorts. The cooking demonstrations were separated by musical numbers delivered by the Edible Inevitable Trio. Comprised of Belden on guitar and Pace on drums, it was actually Alton that served as the Trio’s front-man and lead vocalist, and he even picked up a guitar of his own (both acoustic and electric, mind you) for several songs and a saxaphone for one bluesy number. It was the Trio’s first tune of the evening that set the musical feel for the rest of the show. Titled Airport Shrimp Cocktail, the song actually featured the show’s opening poop joke, and yes, there were several. What good is a comical food show without a few jokes about where all that food eventually goes?
At the heart of the show were two cooking demonstrations involving audience volunteers, and for anyone who has ever seen an episode of Good Eats, these demonstrations were like nothing ever featured on the network show. While Good Eats typically tried to simplify cooking and consolidate equipment, Alton decided to go a different route with the live tour and opted instead for a more theatrical approach to the preparation of two common and simple foods - ice cream and pizza. Accurately described as two of the most superlative “unitaskers” ever to grace Alton’s stage, the “Jet Cream” and “Mega Bake” were certainly fun for both the audience and the participating volunteers. The volunteer for the Mega Bake bit was particularly clever, even managing to steal the show from poor Alton for a few moments.
Alton Brown may not be the most serious man on television, but he plays a very important and often absent role in the foodie scene these days. In the sometimes solemn culinary world, Alton’s brand of silly slapstick and pseudoscience reminds the audience that food simply should not be as serious as it is often made to be. With Good Eats gone, Alton’s remaining television shows simply fail to offer a consistent outlet for his humorous side. Cheers to Alton for taking his show on the road and treating North Charleston to a revival of the good old days and a less serious take on food, even if only for a few hours.