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Celebrity chef's Tampa show puts focus on fun

Fans of Food Network star Alton Brown love his quirky mix of fun and factual information about food and everything that gets it to the plate.

For 14 seasons from 1999 to 2012, Brown de-mystified the elements of ingredients on his series “Good Eats” in a way that was part cooking show and part science class. If “Pee-Wee's Playhouse” had food, it wouldn't have been far off from Brown's show.

Now the urbane host of such series as “Next Food Network Star,” “Iron Chef America” and “The Next Iron Chef,” Brown is touring America with a live theater show, “Alton Brown Live! The Edible Inevitable Tour.” On Saturday, he plays Carol Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa.

Brown says the 2 1/2-hour show is far from being a version of “Good Eats” on stage.

“You can't just take something that works on TV and just put it on a stage and say, 'Boom, there it is,' ” he said. “You have to build it completely from scratch.”

Brown says the show is inspired by variety shows such as “The Flip Wilson Show” and “Sonny & Cher” that he grew up watching as a child. That means incorporating pigs and ponchos. And music. And maybe an air cannon or two.

“I loved that there would be a musical act and then a skit and then some other act,” he said. “You never knew what was next.”

Being in front of an audience is different from playing to a camera. That's good, he says, since he can be more spontaneous and make changes each night.

“The downside is you have to get it right every time,” Brown said. “ On any given night, there's only one shot.”

He talked about the show recently by phone during a tour stop in Connecticut:

Q. How do you incorporate the audience?

A. When you're doing a theatrical show, you're talking directly to the audience. They become, essentially, partners. And not even silent partners. They take on a role in the show by their reactions and timing. To go further, we have two very, very large cooking demonstrations during the show where we bring up volunteers. We do use the audience every night, and we never use plants.

Q. What are you trying to convey? That food is fun? Food is entertainment?

A. I don't have a message. You know what I want? I want people to walk out at the end of the night and say, “That was fun, I'm glad we went.” That's it.

Q. What does it do for you in terms of performing in front of a live audience?

A. I won't say it's more fun than being in front of a camera, because being in front of a camera has its own benefits. But an audience brings a lot of energy to a show and they'll give it to you if you treat them correctly. And that means at the end of the day you walk out, you're not tired, you're not exhausted, you're not beat up because the audience brought you their energy.

Q. Is there anything that it largely impromptu or unscripted?

A. It's kind of like jazz. It's all scripted and all impromptu at the same time. There is no script. None of the show is written down. But it tends to follow the same pattern every night, except with constant ebbs and flows and changes. Every night is different.

It's just me saying, “You have to fill two and a half hours to craft an entertainment that is family friendly, funny, educational and, above all, fun.” You work up the material and you try it out and if it works, it stays, and if it doesn't, it goes.

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