Thursday, March 21, 2013

Eating Out One's Heart

Post Rogue Festival greeting friends and readers!  The great arts festival of Fresno has come and gone.  And with it's annual passing, so do we say farewell to two weeks of frantic rehearsals, prop buying, fact checking, venue scouting, flyer pimping, panic drinking and gut wrenching fear of bombing in public.  But also we shed a wee tear over new artist friends flying home or on to their next fringe festival, having the excuse to rub elbows with the locals while you're doing promos, the victory drinks after a sellout night and the warm regards of an audience that doesn't seem to hate you after the show.

It was a mighty fine Rogue Festival year this year.  And of course it is the first year that I've head honcho'ed my own, ever.  I've got to say that it has been an extremely rewarding yet panic inducing experience.  Has someone ever actually cooked during a stage show?  Will it work?  Is the idea of incorporating an odor component to a storytelling show stupid?  And that's just the early conceptual fears.

It's a week before Rogue and my show-mate Jody and I are sitting around writing out various stories from our lives.  Gritty, real things.  Ok, his were gritty and real, mine were pretty much universally gross and silly.  But the idea was to give a peek at the inside of a kitchen and what stories we share with each other.  Pretty dark stuff, although compelling.  But something just doesn't feel right.  Which is shit-your-pants panic time when your opening show is less than 3 days away.

So it's in the midst of the fear and a double handful of beers that it seizes my pen and forces me into a manic tornado of writing.  It's so simple!  It's a show about food and people who make it.  So keep it close to the food!  And who hasn't had to take a food job at some point in their life?  From there it was just a matter of winnowing out some topics where we have fertile ground to remind us of the comedic and horrifying experiences that we've had as spatula jockeys!

Two days.  Two days to self generate our lines and attempt to rehearse them with an eye to fill our 45min time slot.  Two days to gather the food for the first week's show, attempt to get flyers passed around, buy supplementary props like whisks and spatulas and then organize it all in such a manner that we can load in and load out somewhat quickly.  And don't even get me started on the nightmare of trying to find wireless microphones for under $200.

So there we are.  Friday night.  The first show.  I have to grab a shot of Jameson's to steady the nerves and wake up the gabber inside.  It's a light audience.  Maybe a dozen or more.  But that's okay.  I'd rather tank in front of a dozen people than realize that I've disappointed a sold out house.  We start the burners, arrange the ingredients, wait for the venue manager to do her opening and then we're off.

Ahhh theres The Fear.  Not of the audience or what their reaction is going to be.  The plain old, pants down, I shoulda studied harder, it's all my fault, Fear.  Fortunately it has been with me at every show for every performance.  And though it turns my guts into ice water, it's also a comforting old friend that is there to greet me as we start. 

I'm staring at my notes too much.  Pans are getting too hot.  One of the burners has flamed out.  The pepper isn't sticking to my steaks.  How much smoke is that pan kicking off?  Crap, did we bring enough bacon?  Squash?  Who the hell cooks squash for aroma?  Wow, the drug talk is getting bad reaction?  Wait until we get to the molesty manager stories!

All of this is running through my head at a million miles an hour while I'm trying to coordinate my hands and feet into the familiar rhythm of cooking under the gun.  And at the same time I'm forcing my mouth to keep pumping out life story after life story.  All the while, my mind keeps dancing around the fear that the crowd is going to collectively stand up, call me a hack and tell me I need Jesus.

They didn't.  Thankfully.  Although one terror did come out in the show.  My flambe' fizzled like no other.  The only real cookery showmanship I had to display, ruined due to not splashing enough brandy into the pan.  Okay, so I had one other fear, burning the whole place down.  So I was a little conservative.  I'm sure the Spectrum Gallery thanks me for it.

Then it comes.  The monkeywrench of doom.  I'm SURE we're only about halfway through the show, when I start getting wild signals in my peripheral vision.  I'm looking at the venue manager wildly gesticulating FIVE, FIVE, FIVE.  I smile and wave a fiver back and plod on.  Then, she gives me the WRAP IT UP sign.  And I'm like "Fuck! How did we burn 45mins already?"  So I let Jody finish his section then break in and apologize and tell everyone that we've run long and need to wrap it up...

But WE HAVEN'T and DON'T!  Shit on me sideways with a series of shallow dermal incisions!  Talk about fucking up your flow and the suspension of reality!  Crack a joke and get back on track or you're done for!  The crowd is kind.  The muse is still there.  And so we forge right on into our last 15 minutes of the show.  The food gets finished, the stories are told and I don't flub our closing too terribly.

We've done it!  The first show is officially in the past.  And now friends and audience members can come up and attempt to chat while I'm furiously breaking down like I'm closing the kitchen and want to get out in time for a night on the town.  Because really, I am.  To both. 

We soak up some love after the show and then hike up the road to a friend's house for the victory dance.  16 year old Lagavulin never tasted so good.



  1. as a fellow hack cook and blogger, I'm damn proud of you.. still have "Rogue Food" dreams and ideas dancing in my head...

    1. Thanks! It was really a heartwarming gig all the way around. Everyone we spoke to was very supportive and complimentary. I might just let it go to my head and consider putting on another show!