Alton Brown brings a flair for the dramatic to his food. With an expansive personality and sharp wit, he’s taken his passion for all things culinary from the small screen to the large stage with a large-scale culinary variety show, a format that fits his particular skill set: Brown performs music and comedy as he cooks up things that splatter, fizz, bubble and maybe go boom.
He comes to Boise on Thursday, March 30, with “Eat Your Science,” a show that mixes music, comedy, puppetry and on-stage food science experiments into an all-ages entertainment.
“This show has some extremely large cooking demonstrations that are also very impractical and potentially dangerous,” he says with a laugh, from his home base of Atlanta. “I wanted to take it up a notch with ‘Eat Your Science’ and do stuff you can’t do in your kitchen. The science is still there. There is some takeaway, but I just want people to enjoy their time in the theater.”
Brown comes by this showmanship honestly.
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He started his career in television filming and directing commercials. Then food was his hobby, a passion he developed after spending a college semester abroad in Italy. When he decided that most cooking shows were not very good, he set out to make his own and enrolled in culinary school where he honed his cooking skills.
The result was his Peabody award-winning series “Good Eats,” a show he created originally for PBS in 1998. Then the next year, the Food Network picked it up and its success sparked.
As one of the earlier Food Network stars, Brown helped create the culinary entertainment genre. He’s an affable (and often acerbic) host of popular shows such as “Iron Chef America,” “Cutthroat Kitchen” and others. He’s spun that all into a foodie media empire that ranges from television to podcasts. That launched the Live division in 2015.
Culinary road shows have become popular in the past 10 years, with several of the Food Network celebs, including Robert Irvine and Guy Fieri, hitting the circuit. (Both have brought their shows to Boise.) Brown ups the game with his particular talents.
He doesn’t just cook. He sings the songs he writes, does standup, plays guitar with his band and interacts with the audience. And it works. “Eat Your Science” has been hugely successful — this is the second leg of the tour. It even played Broadway this past November. It’s hard work, but it’s invigorating, he says.
“For me, personally, these shows have been a self-reinvention,” Brown says. “Making so much television, I’ve learned the camera slowly sucks your soul out of your body. Live work gives you back your soul. This has been an opportunity to stretch my own capabilities as a performer and to find out how far I can take food as a storytelling element. It makes for great theater.”
One of the reasons is that food engages people in a particularly unique way, Brown says, something he learned during his time in Italy.
“It was three months of continual culinary eye-opening, not only to the tastes and flavors, but what food can actually mean to a culture,” Brown says. “When I started really focusing on food, I discovered more about myself as a person through the act of cooking and serving people. People who are really cooks like serving people. We make food and give it to somebody, and when they enjoy it — that’s a huge part of the interaction and what makes cooking important.”
That importance comes from the communal connections that creating and sharing a meal create. Enjoying food is part of how we’re wired as humans and as a culture, he says.
“The reason we like talking about food and we Instagram our every bite comes down to the fact that we yearn for — that connectivity,” Brown says. “There are a lot of things we don’t get along about in this world, but we like food, and we like eating. We are communal animals. If we didn’t have that connection, I think we’d fly off the planet or something.”
Brown enjoys connecting with the audience and each community as he travels. You can even tweet Brown your recommendations of where to eat while he’s in Boise at #ABRoadEatsBOI.
‘Alton Brown Live! Eat Your Science’
8 p.m. Thursday, March 30, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. $35-$100. Ticketmaster.