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George Egg: The Anarchist Cook

30 October 16 words: Hazel Ward

He's put mussels in a kettle, toasted pittas with an iron and done unimaginable things with a trouser press and salmon

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What’s the idea behind The Anarchist Cooking Show?
Most comedians have an idea and then write the show around it. This show really came from being a stand-up on the road. After doing my normal set, I spend a lot of time back in the hotel, full of adrenaline and wanting something nice to eat but not wanting to spend money on overpriced room service. One day I thought, there’s an iron there that emits heat – I could be inventive with that. I tried ironing some pitta bread, which works really well with a pot of hummus, and from there it just got more ambitious. I started doing more elaborate stuff, and thought ‘Actually, this would make a good bit of performance.’

What’s the most complicated dish you’ve made in a hotel room?
Moule mariniere. It’s the most complicated and the most dangerous. You boil the mussels in the kettle, then pour wine in the kettle instead of water. Hold the lid down and the mussels steam open, then you put cream, parsley and garlic in. It really works.

I’ve cured salmon in a trouser press before too, for a dish called graved blacks – ‘graved’ coming from the word ‘buried’, because traditionally it would be covered in salt, herbs and spices and then buried. The weight draws the moisture out and cures it. You can do the same thing if you put salt, sugar, pepper and spices in a freezer bag with the salmon, and then put it in the trouser press. Put some weight on it, and it presses in the salt and draws the water out. You leave it in there for 24 hours and after that, you’ll have cured salmon. You can thinly slice it and have it with some scrambled eggs that you’ve done in the kettle, on a bit of toast from the iron.

Do you share your food with the other comedians?
I have cooked for them in the past and they’ve been impressed. There are actually quite a lot of comedians who have used some of the techniques when they’re staying away from home. They’ve cooked pasta in the kettle.

How did the hotels feel?
I’ve never got in trouble. I’m pretty stealthy and I’ve tidied up after myself. I’ve not been banned or anything.

Do the audience get a chance to try the food that you make during the show?
The audience all get given a fork on the way in. I then cook a three-course meal during the show, and at the end the food is taken outside into the foyer and everyone follows with their forks. The audience get to try everything I’ve cooked and post it to social media. What I like about the show is that it’s a multi-sensory thing – people see what I’m doing, but they also get to smell it and taste it.

How do you manage juggling food and comedy on stage?
With a hell of a lot of practice. It’s almost like playing the piano – you practice it enough so you can multitask. Once I worked out the lines for the show, it was just a case of rehearsing doing the cooking so that by the time I was performing, it was automatic. When you see a comedian that’s a really good musician – someone like Bill Bailey – as much as you appreciate the comedy, you’re going, “He was really funny, but actually he’s a really good piano player as well”. I hope that comes across in this show.

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Have you ever had a disaster on stage?
Not on stage. There has been in hotel rooms – things boiling over, and I’m always worrying about setting the smoke alarm off. There’s the contents of the hotel room on stage – the trouser press, the hair dryer – but no major disasters.

Is there a cookbook in your future?
I do have recipe cards that I sell at the end of the show, but I’m working on a recipe book.

How did you get into comedy?
It’s all I’ve ever done. When I was at school I started street entertaining after going to see a French circus called Archaos in the early nineties. They didn’t have any animals, but they had cars that had been welded together and lots of fire. It was a mad crazy circus. I was so inspired that I started doing a street show with another guy called Leo Taylor, and then I started to do my own solo show. That led to doing indoor stand-up, but I’ve always rejected straight stand-up because my stuff has always been prop-heavy. I never had a real job, I’ve always been doing this circuit, always been doing this proppy stand-up. It was in 2013 that I started coming up with the cooking ideas.

Have you ever worried about being pigeon-holed as the anarchist cook?
I was more worried I was going to get pigeon-holed as a prop artist, which is why I started doing the anarchist cook thing. It would be nice to be seen as the anarchist cook rather than the prop comedian.

Who would you say your culinary and comedy heroes are?
Culinary hero – Gennaro Contaldo, the Italian chef who works for Jamie Oliver. He’s so watchable. His YouTube videos are hysterical, he’s a natural clown. There are real elements of Laurel and Hardy in the way he presents. It doesn’t feel written, it doesn’t feel like he’s composed that character, it’s just what he is. He’s a real influence and inspiration in the way he cooks and the passion he has. Comedy heroes – I love Bill Bailey and Eddie Izzard. Stuff that’s a bit surreal or doing something unusual. Like Harry Hill.

Do you have any tips for anyone trying anarchist cooking?
The biggest tip is to come to the show, then you’ll learn. Although it’s a comedy show, it really is an instructional lecture. People have asked afterwards, messaging me on Twitter saying, “Look, I’ve made a pizza on an iron”. The ethos of the show, if you want to get philosophical about it, is about experimenting and thinking, “I’m not going to be constrained by conventions and the ideology behind how these instruments are just for this purpose. How can I repurpose it and how can I think divergently?” If someone did want to start doing anarchist cooking, just look at everything you’ve got and ask, what can I do with it?

George Egg's website

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