Food is the connective tissue of society, said TV host and cookbook author Alton Brown.
His new theater tour Alton Brown Live: Eat Your Science hits Oklahoma City 7 p.m. April 30 at Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Ave.
“One reason I even have a job at all is that no matter what happens between human beings that they can fight about, food has the miraculous ability to bring people together,” Brown told Oklahoma Gazette during a recent telephone interview.
As creator and host of Good Eats, which aired on Food Network 1999-2012, Brown made an impact on culinary culture by moving past simply sharing recipes and into the science behind cooking.
“Food is a good avenue for science,” he said. “We all have kitchens. That’s basically a laboratory for food.”
Brown wrote about 90 percent of the episodes and directed 200 of them. Part of that was economics — Good Eats was expensive to make, so he did much of the work himself — but it also let his wry sense of humor and personality permeate the show.
“I ended up hosting the show because I couldn’t afford a different host,” he said. “That’s why I could only ever make 22 episodes in a year.”
However, his Eat Your Science tour is not a live version of Good Eats.
“I’m not going to say there aren’t some of the same components: It’s me, it’s food. But there’s a lot more going on,” he said.
Brown performs musical numbers, including original songs about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and the joy of cocktail bitters and undertakes large-scale food science demonstrations onstage.
“The demos we’re doing are much larger and less practical [than on Good Eats],” he said. “I’m not expecting people to go home and make one of these rigs.”
The 41-city tour is grueling, Brown said, but it also allows him to enjoy a personal connection with people who watched him on TV for more than a decade.
“You can’t soak up love making television, but when you walk into that theater, you’re getting that investment,” he said.
He tries not to dwell on it, but there’s something extremely gratifying when people stop him to talk about how they grew up with Good Eats or how the show got them through cancer treatments or some challenging time in their lives.
“I try not to think about that too much, because you can start to believe you’re more important than you are,” he said. “I just think, ‘At least I didn’t screw it up.’”
Brown’s food and filmmaking passion came through in each episode, which is why it has become a classic. He said that wasn’t by accident.
“Looking at the great television shows of the last decade, like Mad Men or Breaking Bad, they were all being driven by one person who is passionate about that work,” he said. “I’m not trying to compare Good Eats to Breaking Bad, but ultimately, great work comes from small, passionate teams or one person, not a committee. … High-brow, low-brow, intellectual or not, authenticity is really what makes or breaks a project.”
Touring also means enjoying regional cuisines and learning about culinary traditions. Brown was fascinated to learn that Oklahoma City has a deep and abiding love for pho, Vietnamese beef-and-noodle soup.
“I don’t let it surprise me anymore. In the latter days, when we were still doing Edible Inevitable tour, we’d come up on some dumpy strip mall and I thought, ‘Come on. Are people serious?’” he said. “And then you walk out a different person. Great food can be found anywhere. Great food can be found under a log — sometimes literally.”
That doesn’t mean every meal is a delight. He said some places that are locally beloved have bad food.
“How a community places a value on a local joint may be because it’s been there a long time. There’s a lot of bad food that a lot of people love,” he said. “Half of the barbecue places in the southeast that are revered by the local community make bad barbecue.”
He’s always looking for food that makes a city unique. During a recent trip to Bakersfield, California, he discovered Basque-influenced cuisine.
“The people who settled the area came from the Basque region [of Europe]. Basque culinary traditions continue there,” he said. “It’s fascinating the way these traditions influence not just what you cook but how you eat it.”
Fans can help guide him to Oklahoma City’s best food via Twitter (@altonbrown) and facebook.com/altonbrown by posting your favorite metro coffee shops, their restaurants and late-night and after-show spots with the hashtag #ABRoadEatsOKC.
Alton Brown Live: Eat Your Science
7 p.m. April 30
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker Ave.
Print headline: Culture chef; Food Network star Alton Brown brings his live food science show to Oklahoma City.