Eateries around St Anne’s Square in Belfast advertise pre-theatre menus. But for two nights in November, people attending George Egg’s show at the MAC will be given a fork to sample his comedic cooking once the show is over.
That would seem normal if this was a mere cookery demonstration. But there is a twist. After 20 years on the comedy circuit this performer abandoned room service menus and identikit restaurants in budget hotel chains and instead learned to cook for himself using the equipment he could find in his hotel room.
What can audiences expect?
‘Most comedy shows will stimulate your ears and eyes. This one stimulates your sense of smell and taste and touch as well. You come away with a real multi-sensory experience. And it even stimulates your sense of humour!’
On stage George Egg will rustle up a mouthwatering three course meal – starter, main course and dessert – using an iron, a kettle, the ironing board, the minibar fridge and maybe even a trouser press. And there won’t be a Pot Noodle in sight.
‘I’ve always been into cooking, separate from comedy’ he explains. Like his dad, he does the cooking at home and is passionate about it, running the Mealmen blog with a friend. ‘I’m so into food that if I wasn’t performing I’d be a cook or a chef or have a café or a deli.’
‘The Anarchist Cook was completely born out of true life experience. I did start cooking in hotel rooms and realised how much scope there was for being creative with it and so turned it into the show.’
Doesn’t he get strange looks from hotel reception when he asks for an ironing board, cutlery and an dinner plate?
‘Usually there’s an ironing board and an iron in the room. Sometimes you need to ask for things to come up. They’re always better asked for separately, then no questions are asked! If you ask for an extra iron because “the iron I have is malfunctioning” then they’ll send one up and then half an hour later you say “I’ve just got some takeaway food, can you send a plate up?” then they don’t seem to mind.’
In all his years of crafty bedroom cooking he’s never got into trouble. He tidies up and 'makes sure' he leaves it as he finds it, 'so I'm allowed back.'
Oddly, his show’s reputation hasn’t harmed his welcome in hotels. Back in 2015 when the Anarchist Cook started in Edinburgh, one hotelier came to a performance and was so excited by the concept they made their own videos for the hotel website to show guests what equipment was available to cook on.
Some festivals and venues however find it hard to categorise Egg’s performances in their programmes. Comedy? Lecture? Demonstration? ‘For me personally I think that’s really nice for audiences to have something that really spans genres … for an audience and for a performer it’s really refreshing doing something very different that no one’s done before.’
In August, a story circulated in the press about people boiling their underwear in hotel kettles. Apparently some bacteria are resistant to high temperatures and could leave deadly toxins awaiting the next guest wanting to make a cup of tea … or poach some fish in the kettle.
George Egg is not too alarmed, though the articles did leave him with a bad taste in his mouth. ‘Boiling should kill pretty much everything? I’m sure that as much as my show has an element of theatre, that article has an element of over-dramatisation.’
And he could be right and the threat may be more theoretical than practical. Most of the coverage ignored molecular bioscience expert Dr Heather Hendrickson’s statement that people are ‘unlikely to have a large number of highly heat resistant pathogens in [their] dirty undergarments’.
The hotel room recipe that left George feeling ‘most proud and mischievous’ is for moules marinière, an extreme dish that involves a kettle.
‘You put wine in the kettle instead of water and bring that up to the boil and then drop a load of mussels in and a bit of garlic and parsley and a little pot of cream. Shake that all up together and pour it out into a bowl. And then you’ve got a big plate of wine steamed mussels. That with some chips is very nice.’
I can’t begin to imagine what he’d use to fry the chips…
When I mention that crème brûlée might be difficult to pull off in a hotel room, within seconds Egg’s lateral thinking kicks in and he suggests how the custard is possible and while browning the top would be difficult ‘you could always make caramel on the iron and pour that over it’.
Egg says that ‘almost anything with a little bit of adaptation is possible’. That’s the message of his show.
‘While it’s an entertaining and amusing demonstration of how to cook in a hotel room, I hope that the subtext is about being resourceful, not giving up, attempting anything however unlikely the outcome and adapting yourself to your environment and adapting your ideas to suit the equipment.’
Sounds perfect for Brexit!
Anarchist Cook wowed audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe for two years in a row and then toured extensively. But this is the first time his blend of food and fun has been brought across to tickle the taste buds and funny bones on this side of the Irish Sea.
While George Egg’s first solo show in Belfast, it’s not his first visit. He has fond memories of stand-up gigs in The Empire a decade or more ago and is ‘looking forward enormously to coming back’.
The trip will be bittersweet as these will be the last performances of Anarchist Cook before he puts it in the freezer and fully switches to his new show DIY Chef. It continues the food theme but also folds in his other passion of building. The venue changes from a cramped hotel room to an even more cramped garden shed, but he’ll be serving up his nouvelle cuisine using an expanded arsenal of gadgets that will include power tools, gardening equipment and office supplies!
Later on in the year, George is bringing his cooking and comedy to the bill of Robin Ince’s Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People which returns to Holborn’s Conway Hall in London after a three year hiatus. It’s just possible that Christmas pudding will be steamed under a wallpaper stripper or some such festival delight.
I wonder if it’s possible to whip up an Ulster Fry on an upturned iron?
Maybe we’ll find out when George Egg: Anarchist Cook comes to the MAC, Belfast at 8.00pm on Thursday and Friday, November 9 - 10. Tickets from £16. For more information and ticket booking visit http://themaclive.com/event/george-egg-anarchist-cook.