Chef Mero Cocinero Karimi hams it up--literally, feeding his audiences.
Rare is the theater performance in which audience members hold cinnamon sticks, slowly smell them, roll them between their fingers, and then taste. But such nutty-yet-philosophical antics are par for the course at The Cooking Show, which runs through December 13 at The Lab.
"The Cooking Show: A Holiday Party for the People" is part Food Network, part Broadway musical, part grassroots activist rally. It centers on a chef, Mero Cocinero Karimi, who hosts his own cooking show onstage. While cooking, he philosophizes about a wide array of topics--everything from the nature of food to the influence of corporations to the Coleman/Franken recount. Supporting his rise to fame is the host of a talk show, Christiana Clark, a self-described Oprah "with a little you betcha." Unlike the community focused Karimi, Clark supports capitalism and tries to convince Karimi to use product placements on his show and indulge corporate sponsors. Assisting Karimi with his recipes is Master Bruiser Lee, a Korean-American roller girl adopted by Polish Minnesotans, who literally rolls throughout the set.
The show is full of music, comedy, and shtick, but it's also full of food--Karimi shares his creations with the audience! He makes three different dishes and the audience gets samples of each. They can also indulge in any extras after the show. One of the funniest spontaneous moments was when Karimi proudly held up his spinach hot dish and the cheesy goop began sliding, nearly out of the container.
Katie Bradley, who plays Roller Girl Lee, encourages audience members to feel relaxed with the performers, "The audience shouldn't feel afraid to yell out. We'll play off of it," she says. In fact, there's an entire section of the show devoted to audience members asking the performers whatever they want - questions about politics or food.
When I spoke with Karimi (yes, the character!) after the show he waxed on about his love for our local cuisine. "The beauty of Midwestern food, sister, is that people really use what they have; they're aware of the seasons more than any other place." Yet, one aspect of Midwest cuisine still befuddles him: "In August, these things on a stick? Someone needs to explain to me why a tree has to die so that food can be propped up on it."
For me, the recipe for the show was thrown off by a little too much of Karimi's mini-political lectures. Still, it was a fun show to be part of -- and yes, at times, audience members do feel like they're actually part of the performance. Hey, you're all eating together, right? Tickets for the show are available through The Lab.