Alton Brown mixes science, music, and food madness at Straz

Alton Brown is the next "God of Food," should Anthony Bourdain forfeit the title.

click to enlarge Alton Brown performs songs in Eat Your Science. - Sarah DeHeer
Sarah DeHeer
Alton Brown performs songs in Eat Your Science.

If you mixed one part Gallagher, one part Bill Nye the Science Guy, and one part your favorite singer, paired with a guitar-playing culinary genius and stirred gently, it still wouldn’t equal the magic that is iconic TV personality Alton Brown.

Only Brown could open a performance in Carol Morsani Hall at the Straz Center of Performing Arts with burping puppets visualizing their dream show from a screen, and still be applauded, lauded and adored when he entered through the orchestra side door.

In button-down white shirt, tie and jeans, Brown took to the stage looking like a beloved high school science teacher. Yet unlike any typical science teacher, he burst into the first of several songs. Who knew he could sing or play guitar?

In every one of the 244 episodes of his groundbreaking Food Network show, Good Eats, or on Iron Chef America, Feasting on Asphalt, Feasting on Waves, Cutthroat Kitchen, and most recently Iron Chef Gauntlet, this particular skill set was, sadly, never revealed. As he described at the beginning of the show, “this is two and half hours of things no one will let me do on TV.”

Lucky for his worshipful following.

During the high-energy Eat Your Science show, Brown explored several different areas, including his dream to become “God of Food” (with perfect sound effects and costume) should his friend and fellow food star, Anthony Bourdain. forfeit the title; the science behind drink mixology – how to make a nasty drink combination drinkable; the science of making popcorn (as well as '80s popcorn synth music); and he even sang about the evils of mise en place to the tune of Edelweiss.

He confirmed rumors that Good Eats was indeed returning with a Thanksgiving internet special.

He told tales from his childhood, teased a vegetarian in the audience who refused to love bacon, and asked for female volunteers to raise their hands to be selected to come on stage. Instead of waiting to be chosen, birthday girl Sharon Denniger darted to the front of the theatre to volunteer. Little did she know what was in store.

click to enlarge The Food Network star plays with nitrogen. - Lamar Owen
Lamar Owen
The Food Network star plays with nitrogen.

Amid some playful teasing, Brown had Sharon spin a wheel to create an undesirable beverage; using nitrogen, he froze the odd concoction of tequila, Campari, and pickle juice to make it palatable. After Brown asked her to taste both the frozen and original version, he was “double-dog dared” by Denniger to share the original drink.

“I’ll do half, if you will,” she challenged.

The face Brown made after downing the drink was even funnier than their interactions.

Denniger worked so perfectly into Brown’s educational comedy, people questioned if she was a plant in the audience.

“I’m not a plant. This was so awesome," she said during intermission. "My boyfriend took me to the show. This topped off a perfect birthday weekend — I had so much fun!”

Brown followed intermission by grabbing a “big guy” from the audience (who happened to be the aforementioned vegetarian’s boyfriend), Austin, who also took a ribbing from and hits of helium with Brown as they read lines from Pulp Fiction, and later learned how to make popcorn in a mad-food-scientist type of way.

While texting during a show would typically be a no-no, Brown encouraged tweeting and photos, asking the audience to tweet questions that he answered at the Q&A at the end of the show, such as what was his favorite emoji. He replied, “I don’t use emojis. I like words.”

Referencing an episode of Good Eats in which Alton declared nutmeg as his favorite spice “on everything from eggs to bourbon,” an audience member tweeted a picture of himself with nutmeg. “I have nutmeg in pocket. Do you?” Alton pulled two guitar picks out of his pocket, and then, lo and behold: nutmeg.

He finished the show and came back for a second song after a standing ovation. He promised to return in another few years, and by the excited chatter upon leaving the show, his loyal audience was already counting down.

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