This month George Egg returns to Didcot to present Moveable Feast, the third of his culinary shows in which he attempts gourmet style cooking in tasking environments. It’s an hour of live cooking and comedy, about making food on the move, where he’ll demonstrate how to cook with an engine, get the most from the car battery and even utilise the air-conditioning. We caught up with him after a weekend of regular stand-up in Cardiff, to discuss stage wounds and drive-thrus.
Do you feel more at home doing your comedy/cooking shows or regular stand-up in comedy clubs?
The cooking shows are what I like doing best. The difference is, when I do a tour show I’ve got an audience of people who have come to see me do that – they’ve gone ‘ah, I like the look of that.’ Whereas if I do a comedy club, it’s people going ‘oh, let’s go out to see some comedy’, and I might not be their cup of tea. I might not be their cup of tea if they’ve decided to come and see the cooking show, but the chances are it’s for people who want to go and see a guy cooking with unconventional things.
What led you to the combination of cooking and comedy?
I’ve been into cooking as long as I’ve been doing stand-up. In fact, about six or seven years ago, before I started doing the cooking-on-stage shows, I genuinely contemplated packing it in and opening a cafe or doing something in the food world instead of the comedy world. It was after that realisation that I enjoyed cooking so much and was so into food, that I thought ‘well actually, let’s combine the two’. It was a real sort of epiphany.
Both cooking and comedy can be very isolating at the same time as being immensely social.
I’ve never thought of it like that but that’s very true. I suppose all my shows are about someone being isolated; the first one was about cooking in a hotel room, which is someone by themselves away from everyone else, and the second one was set in a shed. This one is set in a car so they’re all quite isolating environments. Yet I’m doing it all in front of an audience which is quite an interesting psychological thing.
You’re not long back from the Fringe with Movable Feast, how did it go there?
It was such a success; I really seem to have found a niche and an audience. Every time I’ve done the Fringe, I’ve jumped up a venue size. When I was there for a full run in 2017, I was doing a 90-seater venue. This year I did a 200-seater and sold out the weekends and was very full in the week. It went really well, really good audiences, and I got some great feedback. Grace Dent came to see the show and wrote a nice thing in The Guardian about it. It was hard work but I loved it.
In what other ways is it different to your former shows?
What’s quite nice for building an audience, is they’ve got the familiarity of ‘right, we know he’s going to cook on stage, he’s going to do three recipes while making us laugh, and we’re going to get to taste some at the end.’ So the actual format has been the same with all three shows but the environment, content, methods and menu are different in each one. They know they’re going to get something new but they also know how it’s going to play out.
Have you had any onstage mishaps?
I did Soho Theatre and cut myself, I’m using chef’s knives and one just went into my finger quite deeply. I had to get a member of staff to come and put a plaster on, but it just turned into part of the show and I managed to improvise around it alright. Beyond that, no, not really. The fact there’s so much multi-tasking going on means I have to really rehearse it.
Do you ever worry that everyone is just going to start staying in watching the stand-ups you can find on Netflix, instead of going out to see it live?
I think a lot of people are and it is certainly a worry. The whole live theatre and comedy thing, it’s not a shrinking scene, but it’s certainly changing. Prices of everything are going up and actually it’s a lot cheaper to go to the supermarket, buy some cans and then stay home and watch TV. You’ve got to create something that is more of a spectacle. I suppose the advantage I’ve got is that you can’t yet create a TV programme where you can smell it and taste it, so what I’m offering is something that can’t be put on a TV – the audience get all their senses stimulated. I’ve had quite a few partially sighted people come and see the show with guide dogs, getting the smells and the tastes. I did one show where there was a blind guy and I said, “Are you getting the smells?” He said, “Oh, I got them before everyone else.”
Has the idea of what gourmet is changed since you first started doing this concept?
I don’t know if it’s changed but there are different ways of interpreting it. In some places gourmet would be considered ridiculously small portions laid out in a poncey way, whereas for me gourmet is something that’s really tasty, interestingly cooked, maybe with some flavour combinations that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of – stuff that I would want to eat.
Where do you most like to eat?
The irony is that I cook this really nice food on stage and the audience eat it. Then I get in the car, I’m hungry having done the show, and want to move on to wherever I am next or head home. So I often find myself in a drive-thru which is just ridiculous. I do try and take food with me sometimes if I can get around to it, but there’s so much preparation for the show, that’s the last thing on the list. I like to eat at friends’ houses, and there are some brilliant restaurants in Brighton where I live. There was a great one called Silo that’s sadly (well, good for them) moved to London now; it’s a zero-waste restaurant where they turn everything into something else – they’ll boil down all their vegetable peelings to make like a vegetable treacle which will go on desserts.
Who makes you laugh the most?
The person who makes me laugh most of all isn’t a comedian; he’s the chef, Gennaro Contaldo – Italian guy, Jamie Oliver’s mentor. I just find him so funny, such a natural clown. And I was really lucky to meet him earlier this year when I presented an episode of The Food Programme on Radio 4, about food and comedy, which was mostly recorded at Edinburgh. Before Edinburgh I had an interview with him and he was just as entertaining in real life as I’d hoped he would be.
Movable Feast is clearly plenty of work, but have you got anything else on the radar?
I’m really hoping to do some more episodes of The Food Programme. I’ve got some ideas which I’ve presented to them for other episodes, so hopefully something will come of that. I’m also talking to a couple of publishers about book ideas. It feels like this concept of cooking in a more anarchic and resourceful way is a nice angle that hasn’t been particularly tapped into by anyone else. I’m having conversations with people, there’s nothing concrete yet, but hopefully down the line…
George Egg: Moveable Feast | 14 November, 7.30pm | Cornerstone Arts Centre, Didcot