The inspiration for celebrity chef Alton Brown's latest shows has come from his childhood.
"I grew up in the 1970s and was a big fan of variety TV shows, like 'Sonny and Cher,' that mixed a lot of entertainment forms and filmed in front of a live audience," he says.
With a theater background and a passion for live demonstrations, Brown figured he could create something special. And he did -- the result is "The Edible Inevitable Tour," which is an "opportunity to do everything no would let me do on TV," he says.
Now, on the heels of that show's success, the host of shows including "Cutthroat Kitchen," "Iron Chef America" and "Good Eats" is back for more. Much more -- more music, more demonstrations and all new material.
The "Eat Your Science" tour focuses on the celebration of food through science. It stops in at Waukegan's Genesee Theatre at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15. Tickets range from $45.50-$65.50 and are available by visiting the Genesee Theatre box office, Ticketmaster outlets and ticketmaster.com.
This time, fans can expect more comedy, talk show antics, multimedia presentations, puppets and music. Brown promises large and unusual culinary demonstrations "that are not practical for the home cook," he says.
The show contains food songs, "which are hopefully funny," a game show component, audience interaction and, of course, "other surprises, but I don't want to say what they are because they might scare people away," he says.
But the most challenging part of the show isn't necessarily what the audience can see, Brown says. In fact, the behind-the-scenes logistics of moving and setting up in new theaters, as well as the weariness that comes from long days of touring, is what's most difficult.
"Every day there's another theater, and that's hard on things," he says. "All the stages are a little different; sometimes, things don't fit where you want them to go, or you can't get close enough to the audience."
Another challenge while on the road is staying healthy. It's harder for Brown to tour in the winter, but critical for him to stay healthy, especially if there's singing, guitar playing and dancing involved. "I can't do that if I have the flu -- I've tried it, and it's not pretty," he says.
The two-hour show, which is family-friendly, will visit more than 30 cities, with Brown looking to fans in each spot for suggestions on places to eat -- like a coffee joint, breakfast or doughnut stop, a lunch spot and a late-night spot.
Based on fans' wishes, he'll indulge, while still occasionally trying to make healthy choices. "You have to be careful," he says. "At the end of the day, I may have had three doughnuts, fries and hot dogs. The big rock 'n' roll acts, they have their own chefs, but I don't find that very interesting. When this is over, what I'll remember about this town is the food."
And when it comes to Chicago food? He's not picky. "Yes, please," he says, to all of it. He used to live in Chicago, so he's got a soft spot for area eats, whether it's hot dogs, roast beef sandwiches or more. But in an ever-changing food landscape, there will always be new surprises. "Food is never static, especially in a culture as vibrant as the Chicago area," he says. "I'm constantly seeing new stuff."
The same can be said about the food TV landscape.
He shares his concerns about some recent food trends, like how social media is changing people's idea of consumption. Items created like Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino and geode cakes aren't necessarily good for the soul -- but they may be interesting to look at. "We're finally at a point in food media where eating and the physical satisfaction has been removed," he says. "Nobody wants to eat those geode cakes, but they're clickable. The ramifications of this cannot be understated."
And what does that mean, if people are moving away from traditional recipes and focusing more on the image of what food presents? "It means we're forgetting how to cook -- we're more concerned with what food looks like instead of how it tastes," he says. "It's not about eating anymore; it's about consuming." He admits the trend is worrisome and that he doesn't quite know what the answer is.
The upside is that people are exposed to new food items and ideas, he says.
And the popularity of food shows these days is simple: "It comes down to the fact that human beings require commonality," Brown says. "We need to feel a sense of community, and we don't, in so many ways. Internet and social media allow us to live in a thousand different micro-communities, and there's very little that holds us all together -- the thing that does that is food."
Watching cooking demonstrations is something that ultimately provides comfort for food fans -- a result of its structure, routine and the group feeling evoked of camaraderie. "If you can find a way to take a subject like food and make it into a form of entertainment for a group audience, you're bringing that community back in," he says.
To learn more, visit altonbrowntour.com.