Most food show loving people are familiar with television host, John Catucci. We happily follow (and drool over) his food adventure hit shows like the award-winning You Gotta Eat Here! which ran for five seasons on Food Network Canada and Big Food Bucket List – now airing Season 2.
Catucci is back to take viewers on a brand-new food adventure across North America as he checks buzz-worthy, crazy, delicious food off his bucket list. In each episode, John visits the restaurants behind these must-eat meals and hits the kitchen to learn how the chefs make their mind-blowing creations. We’re talking juicy, handmade burgers with doughnuts for a bun, decadent Detroit-style pizza where the caramelized crust is the best part, stacks on stacks of sweet and savoury pancakes, poutine piled high with Nova Scotia lobster, and a heart-stopping ice cream sundae topped with a whole milkshake! John’s setting out to eat each and every drool-worthy dish, and check them off his Big Food Bucket List.
We had the opportunity to check in with the food personality recently to chat all things food!
Many of us are inspired by travel and food from your shows. If you could safely travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and what would be on your food bucket list?
JC: Oh, that’s a good question. I think I’d want to go back to Rome. There’s a pasta dish that I had at a place called Flavio al Velavevodetto.
It was homemade ravioli. They make the pasta dough, and then they fill it with a pecorino ricotta mix of cheeses and make these big ravioli. Then the sauce is cherry tomatoes that they crush by hand and mixed with olive oil, more cheese, and mint. Then he put it in the fridge – he didn’t even cook it – it was a cold sauce. Then he cooks the ravioli, mixes it with the sauce, and then pipes more ricotta pecorino on top of it. It was one of the most incredible dishes I’ve ever had. It almost brought tears to my eyes. He was also such an amazing man who loved food and loved sharing his recipes and loved feeding you. He fed us this amazing lunch while we were there. It was magical.
Canada is home to many great restaurants from coast-to-coast, what’s one of your most recent experiences on this series that you’d return to in a heartbeat?
I have a soft spot for Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I was a fisherman in another life, but walking around Lunenburg feels like you’re transported to another time. There are beautiful houses all painted in different colours. It’s a UNESCO heritage site. There’s what I think is a golf course on the other side of the inlet and you can look back into the city and see all these beautiful houses painted yellow, blue and red.
It’s one of those places where when we were there last time I was looking at real estate thinking, I could live here. The seafood that’s there is just incredible – the best seafood in the world – and you’re getting it so fresh. It’s right off the boat and onto your plate. We shot at a place called Beach Pea Kitchen & Bar in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and they had scallops called A&K scallops that are just the biggest, juiciest, most plump scallops. Not only are they the freshest, but the chef knew exactly how to cook them so that they’re still buttery and not overcooked. Then he made linguini and clams. There is nothing like fresh seafood. In big cities, you can get it within 24 hours. But to get it within minutes of it being caught, it’s magical. And then you’re eating it and looking over the water and seeing all of the fishing boats. It’s one of those little towns that I dream about.
You must get a lot of friends and family asking for food recommendations. No pressure, right?
JC: Every Christmas, instead of doing gifts for each other, me and my two sisters go out for a meal. It’s always my job to choose where we go. Last Christmas, we went to Dailo in Toronto. We had shot there for Big Food Bucket List and they wanted to go somewhere funky that has good cocktails and great food. So I said, okay, we’re going to Dailo. It was one of the most incredible meals we’ve had.
My friends and family will send me texts or tweets asking where they should eat in different cities too. I’ll tell them which places they have to go to and the dish they should have as well. I do the same thing too. If I’m going somewhere I’ll reach out to friends who’ve been or food writers that I’ve stayed in touch with or follow online and look through their feeds for ideas. People who I think, if they’re saying it’s good, I’m going there.
We think you are living the food lover’s dream! What would you want us to really know?
JC: That there’s a lot of work that goes into the show, separate from me. You see me on camera, but there’s a lot of research that goes into it and a lot of work in the background from the producers, writers, researchers, directors, sound and camera people, and the network. There are months of work that go in before I even step into a restaurant. There are a lot of people that work on the show who put their heart into it. I’m just so proud to work with them. They’re just such a great crew, great people.
With over the past decade and the rise of “instagrammable” food, how has that changed the landscape for you?
JC: I think Instagramable food creates a buzz and that buzz translates into other areas. There are restaurants that we shot at this season that have the Instagram buzz, and that’s partly what brought us there. For example, the chef has some pedigree and has worked all over the place, and now they’re creating food that everybody wants to take photos of. So it’s interesting. These days, can you even eat a meal without taking a photo of it? Did it even happen?
There are so many great restaurants right across our country, what cuisine has surprised you the most?
JC: It’s funny because no one likes to say “fusion”. I think it’s a word that gets thrown around by people, but when you talk to chefs, they don’t like talking about fusion. But I think as Canadians, we are fusion, in a way, because we are ourselves influenced by so many different things and cultures. Take Dailo in Toronto and Bao Bai in Vancouver, for example. They’re taking traditional Chinese food and adding North American elements and putting their own twist on it. So I think that’s surprised me in a way because the Chinese food I was brought up with was the takeout, North American style Chinese food. Having traditional Chinese food that has so many layers of flavor and is perfectly balanced and comes together in one perfect bite is something I hadn’t experienced before but am now a big fan of.
Speaking about the Toronto’s food scene – any dishes or places you’ve checked off your bucket list here or still want to get to?
JC: Kiin is something I was able to check off my bucket list this season. They specialize in Royal Thai cuisine which is the food that was created for royalty. The curries are very flavourful, but mellow in spice because you don’t want to make the royals sweat. All of the meat and protein is deboned because you don’t want them to have to rip their food apart or have trouble chewing. Everything is vibrant, and beautiful, and colorful, like the Chor Lodda which is a sweet and savory dumpling where they use a butterfly pea flower to make vibrant tea that is then used to colour the dough of the dumpling. When you see some of their dishes you can’t help but think, is this for real? Is this food? They use so many edible flowers and a lot of the rice they serve is coloured with different flowers and petals as well. It’s all very beautiful. They have some amazing vegan dishes there too.
Another thing I got to check off my bucket list during season 2 was eating at Barberian’s Steakhouse. I had heard about it for years. Everyone knows about this amazing old school steakhouse that every famous person who comes through Toronto goes to. When we shot there, Carol Burnett had just been there. They age their own meats and they cook it over charcoal – it was a beautiful steak. They also have an incredible wine cellar downstairs that’s about three levels high with a table in the middle of it where you can eat. It’s pretty wild.
During COVID the restaurant scene globally has changed. What have you’ve experienced so far?
JC: Restaurants are such a community hub. When they go away, the community suffers as a whole. Communities are better and neighborhoods are better when there’s a restaurant there – it brings people and life there. I’m so happy that some restaurants have been able to transition and shift their businesses to work during these times, but I am so sad to hear about restaurants having to close down.
I think there are a lot of people who are still worried out there. So if there are restaurants that are open in your neighborhood, and you’re able to, show them love. Order takeout, go for socially-distanced indoor or patio dining if you’re comfortable, or buy gift cards. If you can’t do any of that, post about them online, and spread the word that way. I think that goes a long way to keep them in people’s minds.
Since you travel so much, we’d love to know what souvenirs you bring back?
JC: Sometimes I bring paintings home. When my daughters were younger I would always make sure to bring them home something like a toy. But then every time I came home they would ask ‘what did you bring me?’, so I thought, okay, I should stop this for a second. I’ll also get stickers or pins from the restaurants sometimes and will put them on my gear. But I’ve been traveling so much that if I bring anything more to the house, my wife might say that we don’t need anything more.
How do you keep the balance and not over-indulging while working on the shows?
JC: At the beginning, I was eating everything because I felt like it was rude if I didn’t. And then the plaid was getting tight and I thought, okay, I have to make sure that I still look TV ready, you know? So asked some of my crew to remind me to slow down and tell me that I don’t have to eat everything – just a couple of bites. But there are still dishes where something goes off in my head and I have to eat it, the whole thing.
Anything final thoughts to share?
JC: I’m so excited, and happy, and proud of this season. We’ve been able to showcase some really great Canadian restaurants. It’s a fun show and it’s fun to watch. It’s a nice little getaway from everything going on right now.
Season 2 of Big Food Bucket List premieres with back-to-back episodes on Saturday, September 12 at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.