As far a the hosts of the many food shows go, Toronto’s John Catucci (Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here) has to be considered one of the most unassuming. But the show has proven to be so popular that HarperCollins has now released a big, wonderfully produced companion book to the show that is interesting, informative and very entertaining, and takes the reader even deeper into the places and dishes covered on the show.
The basic premise of You Gotta Eat Here puts a somewhat average guy, Catucci, on a cross country road trip sampling famous and not so famous little restaurants that probably never make it into travel guides and tourism brochures. Catucci is neither a chef nor a restaurant professional, which makes his wide-eyed discoveries a little easier for the average viewer to identify with. Most of the places covered on the show and in the book have both long and interesting histories, or are newer, but with unique character attached to them because of the people who run them and the philosophies of food they apply to them.
Now, I referred to Mr. Catucci as somewhat average earlier, but I was referring strictly to the context of his hosting a food show–Catucci is actually an accomplished sketch comedian and TV veteran (one of his roles on television was that of Bus Driver Bob on the popular kids show The Doodle Bops, a show that my daughter never missed!).
I hung out with John Catucci recently by the swimming pool in the health club at the Royal York Hotel; he is a friendly, talkative, self deprecating guy who is quick with a laugh and a joke. Our first topic of conversation was how dangerous it is hosting a show that involves the sampling of so many delicious comfort dishes in such a short space of time.
“Did I gain weight? Is that what you are asking?” said Catucci.
I nodded but added that I sympathized and suggesting that anything but gaining weight would have to take enormous discipline.
“Which I don’t have!” said Catucci. “But seriously, I did put on the pounds because the food is fantastic and all we do is travel and eat and at the end of the day we were all pretty tired so the idea of then working out was not all that appealing, especially to someone as lazy as me,” said Catucci. Without a hint of humour Catucci then added, “For the second season we had to put a rule in place that I was never allowed to finish a dish–that I would sample it, give it due diligence, then someone would come in and take the plate away from me–that is actually a rule.”
I was curious about the authenticity of the show since Catucci seems so enthusiastically positive about everything he samples–I asked him if he ever came across a dish that he genuinely did not like.
“Well, we all have our preferences–there will be things that I like more than others,” said Catucci. “But I can honestly tell you that everything I proclaim about the people and places and things I am eating are exactly what my real impressions are. In fact, when we would visit cities for season two that had nearby restaurants we covered in season one, we would use our free time to make little road trips to revisit the places we had already covered just to try more of their stuff.”
When I asked Catucci if the gig was as easy as it looks he laughed a hearty laugh, “Whenever I am asked what I do for a living I can only say I travel around the country and eat for a living–there is no way in the world you can describe it in any way that would even approach the definition of tough!” But I pressed him for some behind the scenes stuff that didn’t make it into the book or the show. “I know what you mean,” said Catucci. “You are asking about the nuts and bolts construction of the show (and book). And yes, there are times when it is a bit difficult because the restaurateurs we are featuring are not necessarily comfortable in front of the camera or talking about themselves. A lot of chefs are very introverted people and that is why they are in the back whipping up dishes rather than out front with the guests. But that is part of my job, to make everything seem as easy and natural for them so they will be themselves and share the enjoyment of what they do with the audience.”
When I raised the question of what were some of his favourite joints he smiled broadly and simply said, “Every one covered in the book.” Which of course was every joint covered in season one of the show.
What Diplomat Catucci won’t do, I will step in and do for him.
Having sampled a number of the places covered in the book and on the show I can tell you that two of my favourites are Bubi’s Awesome Eats in Windsor, Ontario (if you like garlic, this is the place for you–they serve uniquely prepared French Fries there called Dillion Fries, named after the cook who created them–thick, wedge cut fries tossed in garlic butter and Parmesan cheese then dipped in their signature garlic dipping sauce–have them with the chicken strips.)
Another out of the way little gem is called The Harbour Diner in Hamilton, Ontario–order the seafood Mac and Cheese there–it is so rich and cheesy and there is so much crab and lobster in it that when it is placed before you, you are sure you will never be able to finish it–I certainly thought that but then ploughed through the entire big bowl. I was 198 pounds when I walked in to The Harbour Diner–204 pounds when I walked out.
You Gotta Eat Here is a fun show and the new companion volume to the show is even more so. The book has the space and time to add in so much more in terms of detail and provides hard copy recipes of many of these fantastic dishes that you might not have been able to catch all of while watching the show, and it is all served up with John Catucci’s particular brand of humour and wit attached to each and every page.
At this point in our conversation we were joined by actor and sketch comedian Josh Stone (who is co-creator and co-star of the truly hilarious sketch team called The Sues) and the conversation turned to comedy, and I was left in the dust. So the only logical way I can end this is by saying, You Gotta Eat Here–you gotta see it, and you gotta read it.