Alton Brown wows Charlotte crowd with equal parts theatrics, science and good eats



Apparently, CL had a hard time finding someone to cover events on Saturday - 4/20 - so it came to me (the new guy) to cover "An Evening with Alton Brown" at the Knight Theater in Uptown. Sadly, because nature abhors an unsuffering writer, I felt about two steps away from death, but that didn't stop me. I took some cold meds and bravely went Uptown, only to find that apparently it was either prom or Mez reopened with an even tighter dress code. I couldn't figure out how old the fancy people were, though. Definitely old enough to not have acne but young enough to still have hope in their eyes.

Anyway, after wading through an Uptown full of inconvenient, first-world problems, I popped into the Knight Theater, grabbed some medicinal whiskey in a non-medicinal quantity, and wandered for a bit in search of the Food Network star. Fortunately I didn't have to travel far: I stumbled right into the reception area upstairs where Alton (or is it Mr. Brown?) was before the show. I got to watch Mr. Brown (because I'm nasty), well groomed in his vest, bowtie, jeans and nice shoes chatting like a real, live human being with another real, live human being. Fun fact: He walks around with an entourage of five people, though I didn't have enough time to spot the Turtle of the group.

The discussion was brought to us by a parade of corporate sponsors who do not sponsor me, so I won't mention them. It was part of the North Carolina Science Festival, which I summoned from all of the volunteers and the teen-staffed merch booth selling "Practice Safe Science" T-shirts.

Alton came out riding a unicorn that fires lasers. Side note: the whiskey and the cold meds definitely found each other by the time I walked into the theater. He entered to solid applause and even to the non-geek, non-cook, it's readily apparent that he has the desire to both educate and entertain - all while enjoying himself. Admittedly, he went for a very "Gallagher-does-science" vibe with his boxes of props and promise that the folks in the front row will need parkas.

He immediately wins over the people like myself, who love cooking but hate science, with a tale of being a terrible science student and an equally bad culinary-arts student. He said he was told, "You're just not applying yourself," to which he responded "Nope, and I'm fine with that." His dream was more along the lines of having a television show about food.

This being the guy who cooks on TV, he also showed off recipes for the audience, such as making a berry smoothie using a fire extinguisher, water-cooler, a blender and, well, berries; a frozen chocolate mousse made from chocolate syrup, heavy cream and liquid nitrogen; and a rapidly chilled PBR using salt water and a blender that he had his cameraman chug. (Apparently he didn't chug fast enough for Alton's preference, so the host took it and chugged it himself. Take that, Mr. Wizard.)

As the show continued, eventually with a few assistants selected from the crowd, he casually explained the science behind various classic cooking steps. It was like watching the banter in a magic act. He plugged his next project, an online, subscription-driven site with video segments - much like his old show Good Eats - but moving up in membership requires that you take a test. If only Facebook required that.

He wrapped up the show with a question-and-answer session, with inquiries ranging from biscuit making (his answer is the first time I've heard "sine wave" and "biscuit" used in the same sentence), what his thoughts were on science and divinity (he doesn't see a conflict between science and the Bible; laments the lack of dinosaurs in "the garden") to a Doctor Who question ("My friend Clara is having some trouble with her Souffles... ").

Alton put on a fantastic show, a pleasant mix of theatrics, comedy and information made for a big wet kiss to populist science. If you have the means to time travel back to the day of the show and catch it, you totally should. While you're at it, try to stop me from catching the Bubonic plague.

Odom is a member of the Charlotte sketch comedy troupe Robot Johnson.