Most culinary productions don't include a cowbell solo. Alton Brown's live show does, however, because he isn't most culinary superstars.
When it comes to food television, there are four pillars of programming: chefs cooking things, chefs eating things, chefs fixing things and chefs competing against each other. Every show fits into one of these categories, and they usually sink or swim on the strength of the person attached to them.
In this world, Alton Brown has always been a bit of a culinary outsider. He's the cooking personality for people who normally think cooking personalities are annoying. He educates without talking down or coming off as a pretentious snob, he entertains without pandering to the lowest common denominator and he actually comes off as someone with an actual personality rather than a well-crafted persona.
If you're a fan of the man and his various television programs, seeing Brown live provides most everything you like about his brand of culinary madness but better.
Part storytelling, part demonstration, part rock show, Alton Brown's Incredible Edible tour provides the Food Network star a chance to, as he explains, do all the things he's not allowed to do on television. This works because it plays up to his role as the network's culinary rebel and because the things he wants to do on television but can't are highly entertaining.
If you're the type that digs Brown as a culinary mad scientist, the two demonstration pieces of the show rank among his most interesting. In the first act he uses a fire extinguisher to make ice cream in 10 seconds. The science is beyond the scope of this write up, but the end result is fun to watch. The demos show off Brown's strengths as a showman and his ability to interact with people.
Those strengths had Brown at his most powerful in the second act demo center around his Easy Bake oven on steroids, dubbed the Mega Bake. Powered by those giant stage lights you see hanging above arena rock shows, the oven can cook a pizza in three and a half minutes. While impressive, the demo has overshadowed by his hilarious interactions with an audience member who admitted that her previous pizza-making experience involved using a recipe by, horror of horrors, Bobby Flay.
This led to the night's best joke from Brown about how chile oil is not the answer to everything. Well played, Mr. Brown.
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SHOW ME HOW
While all the big stage stuff was entertaining, the best part of the show was when Brown was just talking to his audience.
It's not that Brown's culinary ideas are radical - most folks agree that trout doesn't belong in ice cream and that chickens don't actually have fingers - it's just that he is an interesting personality who, because of his role on the network, rarely has the opportunity to just share his thoughts. Entertaining as it is, Cutthroat Kitchen is still just a show about human greed and sadism; there's not a lot of room for culinary existentialism.
And thus, this tour gives him the platform to talk and reveals that Brown is quite the storyteller. From a prank involving chicken feet to what happens when you dump a bunch of unused dough in a dumpster, Brown shows that he can be funny without props and costumes.
These were the last Incredible Edible shows for Brown this spring, and as it stands he has no more dates scheduled. It's hard not to imagine him hitting the road again at some point in the future because he's so good at what he does and there's clearly an audience for it. In the meantime, Netflix just added a whole bunch of episodes of Good Eats to the service that should hold you over for a little bit at least.