John Catucci is back on Food Network Canada but this time he’s taking viewers on a brand new food adventure across North America as he checks buzz-worthy, crazy, delicious food off of his bucket list.
In each episode, Catucci visits the restaurants behind these must-eat meals and hits the kitchen to lend a helping hand and learn how the chefs make their mind-blowing creations.
We’re talking sticky, saucy Missouri-style ribs, Nova Scotia’s straight-from-the-sea, succulent lobster, Vancouver B.C.’s crispy, out-of-this-world fried chicken, and Irvine, Calf.’s overloaded spaghetti grilled cheese you have to see to believe.
Catucci’s setting out to eat each and every drool-worthy dish, and check them off his Big Food Bucket List.
Global News sat down with Catucci in Toronto ahead of the premiere for Big Food Bucket List to ask him about the new show, how he picks which locations to visit, his favourite foods and much more.
Corus / Food Network Canada
Global News: What is the premise for the new show?
John Catucci: The premise is I go around to awesome restaurants all over North America and I eat incredible food and I’m finding those specific dishes that you have to check off your bucket list. So let’s say, Katie, I come to your town and you’re like ‘John, this is the best pizza because this is the best of the best cheeses.’ I’m gonna have that specific dish so I’m that person that is bringing you to those places to have those specific dishes.
How does it differ from You Gotta Eat Here!
I think the restaurants themselves are a little more elevated than the last time. You Gotta Eat Here!, we kind of did the restaurants for the restaurants. But this show is more about specific dishes.
How do you pick which restaurant to go to compared to the different ones that serve similar food?
There are some places that I always wanted to go so those are the places we kind of hit. And then we have a production team and researchers that are looking and are scouring the Internet and even stuff that they’ve heard of and word of mouth. So there’s a lot of that happening as well.
What about the dishes? How do you pick which ones you want to eat?
I think I just look at them and I’m like ‘I like that one more.’ It comes from the researchers checking as well. For example, what makes this restaurant famous for this specific dish. We know we got a good place in Chicago, Connie’s, that is famous for their deep-dish pizzas. We know we’re going there and we’re going to have the deep-dish pizza at Connie’s and it’s been around for like 60 years and it’s the same family. They know what they’re doing right there. It’s just incredible food. Big pizzas stuffed to the gills. It’s just insane.
Are we going to see you cooking at all?
Oh yeah, I will be trying at least, attempting to cook. I still have all my fingers which is great and nothing has been chopped off.
My team and I do Twitter polls to see what people think is the best pizza, chips and other foods like that. What do you think our next poll should be about and what should be on it?
I like the way you work! I think it should be the best burger. What’s the best burger in Toronto that I really love…
I love the Beyond Meat burger at A&W. It is honestly so good.
Oh yeah? I haven’t tried that one yet. Do you not eat meat?
No, I do eat meat but I just think that the Beyond Meat burger tastes better than any other burger I’ve tried.
Wow, I will have to try it out. I mean as a fast food restaurant I really like A&W. If you’re on the road and always know ‘OK, this is consistent’ then I’m gonna get it. But I try to go to like the mom and pop shops. There’s an old school burger place right on St. Clair near Caledonia and it’s called Dairy Freeze and it’s been there ever since I was a kid. I’m 46 now and I always remember it being there. I was there yesterday just picking up some burgers and stuff for my kids and myself. It’s just a quick easy place and it’s like old school greasy spoon. Even though they’ve just renovated it — they took like a year renovating the whole thing — but it’s still the same. I love it. I think my kids just like the milkshakes more than anything else.
What is the most food that you cram in your mouth on Big Food Bucket List?
There’s a lot of food, there’s a lot of big burgers. I had a really big burger from Patois here in Toronto. It was on a pineapple bun. It’s like a sweet bun on this amazing burger and it’s just like the sauce and the lettuce and it’s trying to smash that in your face. It’s hard to look pretty on camera when you’re smashing a big burger into your mouth.
Do you ever get self-conscious about how you look on camera when you’re eating?
I do at times. There was another place we had another burger in San Diego and it had four patties it was called Hodad’s. They take bacon and cook it all down and then they cook it on the flat top and they make almost like a sheet of it and then they cut that into squares. So instead of just strips of bacon, you get the square bacon on your burger. It’s insane. And it’s one of the messiest burgers that I’ve ever had. I’m always like ‘okay just have a stack of napkins because I’m gonna make a mess out of myself, out of shirts, out of anything.’ I’m just asking for napkins offscreen all the time. More napkins, please! You know it’s a good burger if it’s messy. If it’s not running down your arm and you’re not licking the burger juice off your arm, it’s not a great burger.
I went for Ethiopian food the other day at Rendez-Vous on the Danforth. That’s my favourite spot ever but I had the same issues with napkins. Every time they brought me some I felt like I used them all instantly. And then I can’t even touch the injera because my hands are so filled with sauce.
And you’re also eating with your hands. That was an experience the first time I had Ethiopian because the bread is very different. It’s spongy and chewy and, in my head, I thought it would be similar to naan bread but it’s not at all. So the first time I was like ‘I don’t know if I like this.’ But the second time I said ‘I’m into this!’
Did you do anything this season that blew your expectations?
Yeah, we went to a place called Willie Mae’s in New Orleans and it was an old school fried chicken place. And it’s always a lineup, it’s jammed. You’re going to wait in line but it’s the most delicious fried chicken you’ve ever had. And it was — it blew my mind. I’ve had fried chicken before but then this is like what all fried chicken is gonna be compared to. It’s crispy, it’s juicy, the batter was really light, it wasn’t heavily battered fried chicken but it had a nice little kick of heat to it.
Would you ever go on Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party?
Yeah, I think so. Is it more pot than luck? What is it exactly that is happening?
Basically, one guest celebrity cooks with Martha Stewart and another guest celebrity cooks with Snoop Dogg on the other side of the kitchen. Each person puts their own spin on dishes for themed meals and they all sit down and eat it together at the end and judge who’s is the best. Some other people that have been on the show are Rick Ross, Seth Rogen, Wiz Khalifa, Robin Thicke, and Kathy Griffin.
There’s something so amazingly charming about Snoop Dogg and his interactions with Martha Stewart. And where in the world would these two even have met? And then it just works. It just worked so perfectly together and they’re funny.
Where is your favourite place in the world to eat?
I was lucky. On the last show we went to Rome and Florence and it was so magical. I have been to Rome and Florence and a couple of places in Italy 15 years ago, but I was on a budget. So this time it was nice to not have to go on a budget. When they sit down for a meal in Italy, it’s like three hours long. You’re not eating just so you can watch something on TV and it takes time. You just go through this meal and there’s wine and there’s chatting and there’s fun. There’s nothing that they’re not eating out of season so they’re using everything in season and everything is fresh. I remember in Florence they put this huge lunch together for us and we were like ‘we only have an hour to eat.’ They’re like ‘That’s not happening. This is gonna be a two-hour lunch at least. So just deal with it.’ And they brought out these sliced tomatoes and a couple of my crew members are like ‘I do not like tomato.’ And they were the most delicious tomatoes, sweet, juicy, plump tomatoes I’ve ever had in my life and all they did was put fresh olive oil on top and some salt and it was just spectacular. And the crew were going back for seconds and thirds I’m like ‘I thought you said you don’t like tomatoes.’ Store bought tomatoes don’t have any flavour. But if it’s a tomato that’s been ripened on the vine and then picked and served to you at the perfect time. There’s just there’s nothing like it.
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)
Big Food Bucket List premiered Friday, May 24 with back-to-back episodes at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. ET/PT Food Network Canada.
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