Orange Coast Magazine by Lisa Berghouse

It's A Mystery

Murder takes place every Friday and Saturday night in the original Gourmet Detective production of "Darling,You Slay Me." Transformed into a 1928 restaurant where the cast acts out a murder mystery while also serving a three-course meal.

The restaurant takes the identity of Lardi's, a take-off of the famous Sardi's in New York City, where anyone who was anyone came to see and to be seen. "Darling, You Slay Me" is an interactive play about the opening night party of the dreadful, three-blocks-off-Broadway musical "He Rang the Bell." As the cast serves the food in character, members of the audience may ask questions to help unravel the mystery. Guests are encouraged to interact with the actors to learn more clues as to "who dunnit?"

Written by Alyssa Canann and Tom Shelton, the story combines many 1920s stereotypes into a fun story about a flapper who is murdered. To a background of period music, the character everyone loves to hate hops around in a flapper dress singing ditties - that is, until she dies and every other character becomes a suspect with a motive.

Countless references to old film and theater stars are made. The cast members pick out unsuspecting audience members and call them by such legendary names as Laurence Olivier or one of the three Barrymores. It is pure comedy and chaos.

Production manager and casting director Dave Casper trains the troupe to stay in character while doing simple tasks like pouring water and handing out rolls. The interaction works well. Many of the actors Casper picks for the show have received training at LA Improv or other improvisational companies.

The Gourmet Detective is a 10-year-old dinner theater company. Once called The Mystery Cafe, the company changed its name a few years ago to better market the dinner element of the show.

The Gourmet Detective features "Darling,You Slay Me" every Friday and Saturday night. For reservations call 866-992-5424, or go to www.gourmetdetective.com.

Los Angeles Times by Margaret Wappler

L.A.'s Killer Theater, Selected Best Southland Scene -- The Gourmet Detective

There's an edgy breed of dinner theater on the menu, if you don't mind a little murder with your meal.

This is dinner theater, reinvented. The vision of cold, dark places with over-emotive actors in crooked wigs and circles of rouge has been replaced with quick, clever productions that increasingly rely on the formula of the murder mystery. Most invite crowd participation, where else can you be accused of a heinous crime over dessert? And, yes, the performers are generally real people with day jobs involving things like hard drives and research reports, but there's something cathartic about the proximity of audience to actor.

Traditional dinner theater is still out there, but for now we flitted about the Southland with one question: Whodunit?

Mellow and nostalgic, Gourmet Detective emphasizes '20s-themed entertainment with its 'Bullets Over Broadway'-style show. "Darling, You Slay Me," is a 1920s throwback that uses the play-within-a-play convention. While the audience dines, characters with names such as Dick March and April June swish around with cigarette holders, pouring stiff drinks, accusing one another in growls and purrs and invoking healthy doses of bawdy-but-PG humor.

The Newport News by Christopher Trela

The Gourmet Detective

There is dinner theater, and then there is The Gourmet Detective, which belongs in a class by itself. These folks have been presenting comedy-mystery dinner theater for several years, but their current production, "Murder at the Cafe Noir;" is the best yet.

The fun starts the moment you enter the restaurant, renamed Cafe Noir for the evening. Actors greet you in character and immediately transport you to the Island of Mustique, circa 1940. Seems that one Andre Gauvreau, owner of Cafe Noir and a powerful man on the island, was shot to death.

Who dunnit?

Many had their reasons: Anthony Laszio Cairo, a local low-life; Sheila Wonderly, an intimate friend of the deceased; Vince Thursby, another local low-life; Angelique Toureau, co-owner of Cafe Noir; Simon Gutterman, a martini-toting lawyer; Maria LaRue, a voodoo woman; and several others. into this scenario strolls Rick Archer (or "Just Plain Rick"), a down on his luck American who acts and talks like Humphrey Bogart, one of the greatest noir-genre actors.

How does this all tie together? Amazingly, the plot makes sense, more so than previous Gourmet Detective shows. And there is an abundance of humor strewn throughout the show, which takes place among the tables of the intimate Mezannine Restaurant. The actors - in character - chat with diners about clues while revealing their possible motives, and also act out segments of the play in the center of the restaurant. There are some very clever touches to "Murder at the Cafe Noir." Rick Archer happens to have the same last name as Bogart's partner in "The Maltese Falcon," a replica of the famed "black bird" is used as a set piece, and many characters are named after those in various Bogart movies (Cairo, Laszio, Thursby). Numerous other Boggie references add to the fun. The actors, who also serve as waiters (in character, of course), are a rotating band of local stage veterans who divide their time between The Gourmet Detective and other stages. Most nights you can find Steve Sturm ("Holiday" at the Vanguard Theatre) playing Rick Archer. It's hard to imagine anyone else in the role because Sturm is so convincing, and like the rest of the cast, appears to be having a grand time sending up the noir genre.

The night I saw the show, Nicole Maringer ("Much Ado About Nothing" at Stages) was a beautifully convincing Sheila Wonderly; Patrick Munoz ("Don't Dress for Dinner," Laguna Playhouse) was a perfectly sleazy and drunken Simon Gutterman; Bob May ("A Child's Christmas in Wales," Laguna Playhouse) is a swarthy riot in the dual role of Thursby/VanGilder; Silvie Boggs (also the show's director) made a splendid voodoo chanting Maria LaRue; and Ceptembre Anthony and Andy Pinon were ideal as Madame and Cairo, respectively. Kevin Weed provided very appropriate accompaniment on the piano. Performances of "Murder at the Cafe Noir" are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. The Gourmet Detective is indeed a tasty, satisfying theatrical treat. For more information, call (866) 992-5424.

Daily Pilot by Tom Titus

Sleuths Are on the Case at The Gourmet Detective

If you grew up reading the murder mysteries featuring Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, you'll find the current attraction at Irvine's The Gourmet Detective particularly appetizing.

"Nancy Hardy and the Riddle of the Sphinx" (also titled, "Your Dinner or Your Life") is the latest laugh-packed whodunnit from the fiendishly creative folks who brought you "Murder at the Cafe Noir," "Abracadavar" and "Death Under Cover." The show has just settled in for an indefinite run showing every weekend.

Locally created - authors Alyssa Canann and Tom Shelton reside in Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach, respectively- this show contains all the vital elements that have distinguished The Gourmet Detective in its first eight years.

First of all, it's the antithesis of Agatha Christie. No proper stiff-upper-lipping here. Director Bob May (who enacts three characters in the show) has encouraged his cast to serve up the ham, no matter what else is on the menu. The result is broad, outlandish comedy reminiscent of the earlier, better days of "Saturday Night Live" or the old "Carol Burnett Show."

Secondly, the audience becomes involved, though not so much in this show as in past productions. The actors are skilled in the art of improvisation and, at Saturday night's performance, even brought a fellow critic onstage to sing a jingle he'd written (the playgoers ostensibly are finalists in a soap company jingle contest).

May puts on a seminar in wackiness as he enacts the crazed Nazi captain of a cruise ship up the Nile (circa 1938), a Marty Feldmanesque busboy who's really theexiled king of Chad and a Scotland Yard investigator with dossiers on all concerned.

The sleuthing young Nancy is winningly portrayed by Tracy Purdue with all the sweet spunkiness she can muster. Her doting father, with a past that catches up to him on the trip, is solidly done by Michael McKay.

A pair of consummate pros in the interactive theatre genre are Mignonne Profant as a seductive songstress and Lori Schneide as a sourpuss spinster. These two manage to steal whatever part of the show May hasn't already absconded with.

Profant enhances the evening's enjoyment with her femme fatale mannerisms and her torchy songs from atop the piano (played by Kevin Weed), while Schneide (who must have grown up watching Ruth Buzzi on "Laugh-In") is an absolute kick in her California debut (her character name, by the way, is the pseudonym used by the author of the Nancy Drew books).

Daniel Emmett as the gin-soaked wastrel playboy pulls out all the cliches to this familiar character but manages to remain sympathetic. Likewise, Tom Royer wrestles with caricature as a shady, mob-connected passenger and comes out the victor in this and two other assignments. Hardy Boys fans will recognize the first name of his last character, Fenton, as Frank and Joe Hardy's Dad. The show is well-paced, and the actors maintain character well as they break to serve the three course dinner. And, unlike past Gourmet Detective shows, you'll probably guess the murderer well in advance of the final curtain, which for serious armchair sleuths, may be the production's only weakness.

The Press Enterprise by Lesley-Anne North

My little girl was having a sleepover at her grandma’s house last weekend so my fiancé and I planned a date night. Instead of dinner and a movie, we went for dinner and a murder and headed for The Gourmet Detective, which is an interactive dinner theatre. We had gone to The Gourmet Detective before, nearly two years ago when the show was new to Riverside and I was curious to see how much we would enjoy it the second time around. I won’t keep you in suspense… we had such a great time that we’re still talking about it a week later.

The show has gotten better with age and the cast runs the place like a well oiled machine. We arrived, were shown to our seats, and the fun began immediately, as we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a murder mystery. The suspects are all around you, serving you dinner, gossiping about who they think is the murderer, and performing musical numbers from time to time. Piano accompaniment compliments the atmosphere as the story unfolds. It’s very classy…very Bogart.

The murder mystery suspense is spiked with fierce comedy. I laughed so hard that I was brought to tears on several instances throughout the evening. One suspect flirted with my fiancé so much that his face turned red. At one point a detective stormed in to the room asking what all the commotion was and an audience member sheepishly replied “next door,” which sent the detective searching into what was a closet. We fed off of each others laughter and it was fantastic. The more involved we became in the show, the more outrageous it was. Between acts, we were served a delicious dinner. Guests have their choice of Slow Roasted Tri Tip, Pan Seared Chicken Breast, Grilled Atlantic Salmon or a Vegetarian Mexican meal You’ll also enjoy a fresh salad and a slice of cheesecake with your meal. While we dined, our table would talk about who we thought was the murderer and we’d bounce theories off of each other. However when the time came to wager a guess the woman across from me laughed and said “I’m usually pretty good at these things but I have no idea!” The murderer was revealed while I sipped on coffee. It was a bitter sweet finale because we truly didn’t want it to end.

The Gourmet Detective is a great night out and a perfect escape from the daily grind...and a great way to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. What takes their show from “good” to “extraordinary,” is that they allow the audience to dictate how much they want to be involved. You can be like the man across the row from us, who sat back and laughed but didn’t engage the performers. Or you can be like me, who got pulled up alongside the actors to re-enact a possible ending based on my ridiculous guess at “Whodunit?” Whatever your style, to loosely paraphrase a line from one of the musical numbers: “So you’re a saint, so you’re a sinner, either way you’ll still get dinner.”

Table for Two by CHRISTOPHER TRELA and STASHA SURDYKE

Noir Nosh

It was a hot summer night, the kind of night that Newport seldom sees, with the kind of heat that could curb your appetite and make your taste buds take cover.

However, my palate was primed for food … and intrigue.

The interactive mystery dinner theater troupe, Gourmet Detective, had taken up residence at the Balboa Inn, and it was my job to check out their show (“Mystery at the Café Noir”), and the cuisine.

Accompanying me on this gastronomic excursion was fellow culinary sleuth Stasha Surdyke, an attractive actress with full red lips and exceptional cooking skills—two of my favorite attributes. Only problem on this particular evening was that Stasha was running late.

I paced in the parking lot of my office building until Stasha arrived. As she got out of her car, I noticed her lovely long legs were entrenched in a short dress that clung to her body like Saran Wrap.

She stared at me and smiled the kind of smile that would melt sorbet in two seconds flat.

“Sorry I’m late,” she purred as she poured herself into my car.

“No problem, sweetheart,” I replied in my best Bogart voice.

We headed south down Newport Boulevard to Balboa Village, hitting green lights and making good time. We parked near the pier and strolled to Balboa Inn, where we were greeted and ushered to our table.

Costumed actors in 1940s garb milled among the diners, chatting and offering clues as to who might have killed Andre Gavreau, the owner of Café Noir. Gavreau was a powerful man who was shot to death, and each character had a motive, including Sheila Wonderly (an intimate friend of the deceased), lowlife Vince Thursby, Angelique Toureau (co-owner of Cafe Noir), Simon Gutterman (a martini-toting lawyer), and voodoo priestess Maria LaRue.

As we ate our salads, the lights dimmed and private detective Rick Archer strolled onto the scene. Rick provided appropriate and necessary narration as the evening’s mystery unfolded, played out in the center of the room and among the tables.

“I’m trying to follow the plot, but I’m not sure who did what to whom,” I whispered to Stasha, who was sipping a martini as she watched the mystery unfold.

“That’s the point. It’s a mystery,” she whispered back.

“Oh, right.”

I contemplated my glass of cabernet as the characters came to our table, cleared the salads and served the entrees.

“I didn’t know the actors served the food, too,” said Stasha.

“Gives them a chance to mingle more with the guests,” I reasoned.

“They also don’t have to pay more servers,” added Stasha.

Sheila Wonderly was about to serve our entrees when Stasha asked her for double veggies instead of mashed potatoes for her salmon entrée. Sheila went back to the kitchen and returned moments later with Stasha’s salmon. I cut into my chicken parmesan, which covered most of the plate.

“Not bad,” I mumbled with my mouth full.

“The salmon is wonderful,” cooed Stasha. “It’s simply grilled, and the capers set it off well. The veggies are perfect.”

As we ate, the lights dimmed and the mystery resumed. By now, the dinner guests had gotten into the spirit of the evening and were offering retorts to the actors’ antics.

By the time the final denoument came, Stasha and I were full yet still managed a few bites of the strawberry cheesecake dessert.

Rick asked everyone to write on a slip of paper who we thought committed the murder, and why. I wrote “Sheila Wonderly—because she’s a blonde.” A clever answer, I thought, but no doubt the wrong one.

Turns out Stasha followed the plot better than I had and knew who the murderer was (which we cannot reveal in this column). However, my flip answer was singled out, and I was coaxed to come to the center of the room and assist the actors in reenacting the crime scene.

“How was I,” I asked Stasha when I returned to my seat.

“Keep your day job,” she replied with a laugh.

We posed for a photo with the actors before returning to our car. On a whim, I decided to take the Balboa Ferry route.

“That was a fun evening, and the food was actually pretty good,” I noted as we boarded the ferry.

“Yes it was—very fun,” agreed Stasha. “But—where are we going?”

I paused, looked at her, and said in my best Bogart voice, “Sorry sweetheart, it’s a mystery.”

The Press Enterprise by Lesley-Anne North

My little girl was having a sleepover at her grandma’s house last weekend so my fiancé and I planned a date night. Instead of dinner and a movie, we went for dinner and a murder and headed for The Gourmet Detective, which is an interactive dinner theatre. We had gone to The Gourmet Detective before, nearly two years ago when the show was new to Riverside and I was curious to see how much we would enjoy it the second time around. I won’t keep you in suspense… we had such a great time that we’re still talking about it a week later.

The show has gotten better with age and the cast runs the place like a well oiled machine. We arrived, were shown to our seats, and the fun began immediately, as we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a murder mystery. The suspects are all around you, serving you dinner, gossiping about who they think is the murderer, and performing musical numbers from time to time. Piano accompaniment compliments the atmosphere as the story unfolds. It’s very classy…very Bogart.

The murder mystery suspense is spiked with fierce comedy. I laughed so hard that I was brought to tears on several instances throughout the evening. One suspect flirted with my fiancé so much that his face turned red. At one point a detective stormed in to the room asking what all the commotion was and an audience member sheepishly replied “next door,” which sent the detective searching into what was a closet. We fed off of each others laughter and it was fantastic. The more involved we became in the show, the more outrageous it was. Between acts, we were served a delicious dinner. Guests have their choice of Slow Roasted Tri Tip, Pan Seared Chicken Breast, Grilled Atlantic Salmon or a Vegetarian Mexican meal You’ll also enjoy a fresh salad and a slice of cheesecake with your meal. While we dined, our table would talk about who we thought was the murderer and we’d bounce theories off of each other. However when the time came to wager a guess the woman across from me laughed and said “I’m usually pretty good at these things but I have no idea!” The murderer was revealed while I sipped on coffee. It was a bitter sweet finale because we truly didn’t want it to end.

The Gourmet Detective is a great night out and a perfect escape from the daily grind...and a great way to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. What takes their show from “good” to “extraordinary,” is that they allow the audience to dictate how much they want to be involved. You can be like the man across the row from us, who sat back and laughed but didn’t engage the performers. Or you can be like me, who got pulled up alongside the actors to re-enact a possible ending based on my ridiculous guess at “Whodunit?” Whatever your style, to loosely paraphrase a line from one of the musical numbers: “So you’re a saint, so you’re a sinner, either way you’ll still get dinner.”

OC Metro by Chris Trela

Mystery, Magic, Drama

One of the longest-running productions in Orange County has been the mystery dinner theater presented every weekend by The Gourmet Detective. The actual play changes every year or two ("Your Dinner or Your Life" is the current offering), but the dinner theater concept of presenting an interactive mystery play that roams throughout the restaurant as patrons dine and attempt to discover who dunit has been a long- standing hit.

Now, the Gourmet Detective has expanded with a new production, "Mumm's the Word." A better title might be "Fun's the Word," because the show is an enjoyable - and tasty - two hours of mystery and mirth.

"Mumm's the Word" was first produced nearly eight years ago, but has since been re-written and revived. The new "Mumm's the Word" is the perfect play for a glitzy place like the Hilton. The play re-creates the atmosphere of a 1929 speakeasy (here called the Mumm's Club) inside one of the Hilton nightclubs.

The story is set the day after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which means that a handful of unsavory characters are wandering the club, as are local floozies, singers and assorted riff-raff. During the course of the evening, one of the characters is murdered. The audience's job: do some amateur sleuthing and attempt to guess who pulled the trigger.

While there are a few dramatic moments, the evening is played for laughs, with a couple of songs thrown in for good measure. The actors are accomplished at the fine art of improv, and interact well with the seated guests and each other.

Of course, when nearly half the cast (and director Patrick Gwaltney) are company members from Stages (one of the best independent theaters in the Southland), you know you're in for a treat.

Guests also have a treat with the Hilton food, which includes a choice of chicken marsala, grilled top sirloin, broiled salmon and pasta. A full bar and cocktail service are available.

For reservations or more information, call The Gourmet Detective at 866-99ALIBI. Tell 'em Mugsy sent ya.

the voice by HAYES SPENCER

Published: September 16, 2013

Imagine yourself enjoying a French cuisine on a typical friday night… When all of the sudden, you realize a murderer is amongst us. Check out the Gourmet Detective, a murder mystery dinner show located in Newport Beach and Riverside.

Shows play every Friday and Saturday evening, with different crimes popping up weekly.  This award winning comedy makes murder fun and also engages the audience. It’s a one of a kind experience that will capture your imagination. From the moment you arrive, you enter the world in which the murder takes place.  You will find yourself involved with a cast that brings the performance to life.

The show I attended was set in the French Riviera in 1962.  The four former comrades and their loved ones are gathered for a birthday bash.  Unbeknownst to guests, scandals are arising: a missing set of jewels, an insurance scam, and a blackmail scheme are just some of the mysteries that  you will become a part of.  During your excellent dining experience, the plot will thicken as you find yourself on the edge of your seat waiting with angst.  Anyone could be guilty and it’s up to you to solve the mystery.

The cast, which has performed over 3,500 shows, will also be the ones serving you throughout the evening.   Even the food will “wow” you, it has received rave reviews from customers and critics.  The official website states, “The gourmet detective is the Most Award Winning Mystery Dinner Theater in Southern California.” Other reviews include, “Raves… Best Dinner Theater” from Orange Coast Magazine for their debut production way back in 1990, as well as, “Best Mystery Dinner Theater” in 2003 from Sunset Magazine.  These are only a few of the great reviews that The Gourmet Detective has received by acclaimed Orange County publications.

Should you be worried about your food since there is a murderer amongst you? Have no fear, they’ve already picked out their victim and it’s not you.  Get ready to become your own detective, starving and ready to devour a scrumptious three-course meal as well as the mystery at hand.

It was a fun, family oriented environment and I got a good laugh.  The French inspired cuisine was not only delicious but appropriate for the time frame as well.  Are you celebrating a special occasion or trying to do something out of the ordinary? Do you feel the urge to solve a murder mystery and want to enjoy good food while you piece together the clues to catch the murderer?  The Gourmet Detective is a perfect evening for you and your family.   If you’re wondering who is the murderer…that’s a secret I’ll never tell.

For more information or to make a reservation, visit:

www.gourmetdetective.com