The Edible Inevitable Tour rolls into the Hershey Theatre on November 11 for a night of good laughs – and good eats.
Taking live cooking to new (culinary) heights
Alton Brown wants you to know he is not a comedian. Furthermore, he’s not going to go out of his way to make you snicker with a cheap joke about how many sous-chefs it takes to prepare a proper bouillabaisse.
Despite his aversion to the discussion of the tenets of comedy, the bowtie aficionado and aviation enthusiast has been one of the primary faces of the Food Network for more than a decade, best known for creating one of the funniest, smartest and most useful cooking shows that’s ever aired on TV. For 14 seasons, Good Eats educated audiences on the science behind food, mixing demonstrations, MacGyver-esque makeshift cooking devices and hilarious characters into a program that not only educated but also made people laugh.
Good Eats officially ended its run in 2012, but Brown is still a fixture in the ever-growing world of foodie culture. He hosts the popular Iron Chef America series and produces The Alton Browncast on the Nerdist Podcast Network, where he discusses food-related topics. Brown’s also turned his lifelong affinity for game shows (his dream job is to host Jeopardy) into the Food Network show Cutthroat Kitchen, in which competing chefs do their best to sabotage the competition.
Brown has also branched out into the world of live performances, creating The Edible Inevitable Tour, which has gone around the country for the last year. Edible Inevitable is a variety show combining food experiments, crowd participation, comedy and Brown’s love of music (he first picked up a guitar when he was 12 and attended the University of Georgia in the early ’80s – at the height of Athens’ musical peak, when bands like R.E.M. and The B-52s called the town their home).
We caught up with Brown in New York City, where he was promoting Food Network shows and his James Beard Award-winning cookbooks.
Fly Magazine: Are you looking forward to getting back out on the road with The Edible Inevitable Tour?
Alton Brown: I am. I enjoy the road. It’s a kind of work I really enjoy doing. It’s very different from television work. Once or twice a year, that really cleans out the pipes, and I adore that. It’s a rush. You’ve got one chance every day to get it right, and I like that. And maybe I will eventually really, really get it right – I hope I get it right.
FM: Is the unpredictability of your live show similar or different from the unpredictability of filming a show for TV?
AB: There’s nothing to compare between the two. One is performing for a camera. One is performing for an audience. One’s theater, and one’s recorded media. There’s no crossover – other than you have to be honest and be yourself.
<<< ALTON’S GOTTA EAT: When Alton Brown and his crew come to town, they come hungry. Recommend your favorite restaurant, coffee shop, pizza joint or otherwise for Alton and his team to check out on Twitter using the #ABRoadEatsHershey tag. >>>
FM: Was being honest with yourself a goal you set from the start of your career on TV?
AB: Maybe honest isn’t the right word. Maybe authentic is a better word, and that makes a really big difference when you can find that. I think if the audience knows you’re performing and playing a part, that’s a very different dynamic. It’s fine if you’re in Othello or something. But when you’re doing a show like mine where people are coming to be with a person they feel a certain level of intimacy with, then they need to get that. And the only way to get that is to be open and honest. Some nights you make mistakes, and you own the mistakes and you move on. But it’s very much a group dynamic that has to be at work.
FM: You had a sign in the studio of Good Eats that said, “Laughing brains are more absorbent.” Where does your sense of humor come from?
AB: I really don’t know. Humor is not something to be trifled with [laughs]. It’s not something to be figured out. You ask me what’s funny? I don’t know how to explain what’s funny. People say I’m funny, and I don’t necessarily get that. I don’t know – and maybe I don’t want to know. I don’t want to figure that out. If you do something right in front of an audience or in front of a camera, then you just say, “Thank you,” and move on. You don’t try to examine it. I sure don’t.
FM: So you’ve taken a hands-off approach towards comedy?
AB: I’m just not going to think about it. The subject scares the heck out of me. If something’s funny, people laugh and you move on. You don’t think about it, you don’t examine it and you don’t try to decipher it. And if I’m writing a script, I don’t think, “Oh, geez, is that funny?” If it makes me laugh, it makes me laugh. And I move on.
FM: What makes you laugh?
AB: You’re not going to let this go, are you? Can we just not talk about comedy anymore? It either is funny or it isn’t funny – you don’t dissect it. There’s no, “Ah, here it is. We found the whoopee cushion. Now it’s funny.” It’s one of the things that’s so magical about it. I’ve talked to anthropologists who have all agreed that no matter how remote a people group is, how cosmopolitan a people group is, there are two things all human beings want to do in a group setting – one is eat, the other is laugh. Because of that, they’re fairly magical. And unlike food, where science is used to explain food or prepare food, you can’t do that with humor. It’s the magic stuff of humanity and shouldn’t be tinkered with. You’re meddling with powers well beyond your understanding.
AB: It was something I was raised with and has been with me my whole life. I’ve always been a music fan and spent a lot of time playing music when I was younger. In high school and college, I played in a lot of jazz bands, so that interest has always been inside me. Hopefully the music I do in the show is not going to kill someone else’s enjoyment of music.
FM: How old were you when you first picked up a guitar?
AB: I think I was probably about 12. I played pretty consistently into my 20s, and then I quit. So I’ve had to relearn it again when I started the tour last year – re-teaching myself enough skills to get by as a performer and a songwriter. I’m not going to tell you for a moment that I’m good. Hopefully the songs are enjoyable because they’re funny, and luckily songs that are funny allow you to not be terribly good.
FM: What was it like to be a student at the University of Georgia at the height of the music scene in Athens with bands like R.E.M.?
AB: I think everybody that was in Athens at that time knew it was a special time. And the music was great – there was a lot of great stuff happening in town. But when you’re young, you might know that there’s something special, but you can’t really grasp its full importance because you’re 20 or whatever and you don’t think that way. Looking back, that period in the ‘80s in Athens was one of the most important music spots on the Earth then. In retrospect, I probably should have appreciated that a little more at the time, but I was a kid.
FM: Is it difficult for you to be in the spotlight?
AB: No. This would be a very strange business for me to be in if that was the case. It would be really weird.
FM: So there wasn’t a desire for you to stay behind the camera instead of getting in front of it?
AB: Well, I did. I just stretched myself. I was also doing the behind-the-camera work. But because in the early days of my TV career I couldn’t afford anybody else to be in front of it, I did it myself. I had spent enough time behind the camera to certainly deal with me in front of it. I just never intended to do as much of it as I ended up doing. But that’s ok. You grow and cultivate skills, and you go with it.
FM: Any chance of incorporating you love of flying into a food show?
AB: I’ve tried to do that for a while. Being an enthusiastic pilot, I would love to be able to do that. The concept of the $105 hamburger and other things can certainly be adventured upon, but odds are the audience is relatively small. So something like that would probably work more in a digital space than in a broadcast space. But by nature of airplanes being what they are, that becomes an expensive and time-consuming proposition. I’m not going to give up on it yet. I like putting the things I really enjoy together into work, so I’m going to keep trying to figure that one out.
FM: Who owns more bowties – you or Bill Nye?
AB: I have about 300. I don’t know what Mr. Nye has. He certainly wears more than I do, so I’m going to bet he has more than I do.
FM: Have you figured out how to take over Jeopardy yet?
AB: No, no. Alex Trebek’s got some kind of deal with a divine power that allows him to 1) not to die, and 2) not to get replaced. I’ve given up totally. I’m out. I finally got myself a game show – Cutthroat Kitchen is an actual game show that I host now on Food Network – so I’m getting closer.
FM: With Thanksgiving coming up, what’s your secret to cooking a perfect turkey?
AB: I always brine if I can, and I do whatever I can to make the cooking go as quickly as possible. So I use methodology like spatchcocking, where you cut out the back. Getting it done quickly preserves the most amount of moisture, which is typically the problem we have with these things.
Alton Brown comes to the Hershey Theatre (15 E. Caracas Ave., Hershey) on Tuesday, November 11. 7:30pm. $42.35-$142.35. Click here for tickets.