This weekend, after facing a five-month production delay due to COVID-19, celebrated Food Network Canada personality John Catucci is back to take viewers on a brand-new food adventure across North America in the second season of Big Food Bucket List.
Similarly to Catucci’s previous endeavours in Season 1 and his award-winning series You Gotta Eat Here!, the sophomore season of Big Food Bucket List follows the Canadian-born comedian as he checks off buzzworthy, delicious, and oftentimes outlandish food from his bucket list, while learning a thing or two along the way from the chefs and restaurateurs behind them.
Catucci, whose talents range from acting and singing to stand-up and sketch comedy--many of which seem to invariably lead back to food--grew up in the culinary melting pot of Toronto with a food-loving family who showed him the industry firsthand.
We recently had a chance to chat with Catucci as he gets ready to provide the same behind-the-scenes look into Canada’s rich restaurant community on the season premiere of Big Food Bucket List this Saturday on Food Network Canada, to get his thoughts on what makes the Canadian food scene unique, his hopes for future seasons, and the importance of supporting local restaurants.
What was your biggest takeaway from filming Season 2 of Big Food Bucket List?
We have some really incredible restaurants in this country; very diverse and very unique. And as unique as each restaurant is, it all comes down to feeding people, to making them feel good, and to feeding their soul. That’s the main thing--we eat our feelings every meal, whether we think we are or not. But it’s definitely all about your feelings, it’s all about your soul, it’s all about soul food.
As someone who’s eaten all over the globe, what do you think sets Canada’s food scene apart from the rest of the world?
I really think the fact that we’re so multicultural in this country and that there’s parts of Toronto, for instance, that you can walk down and eat from every part of the world. You’re just a short drive away from Chinatown or Little Korea or Little Italy or Little India--and you’ve got some of the best food around that is as authentic as you can get outside of those nations.
As different as every culture is and every style of food is, there are so many similarities; everybody has a dumpling dish or a rice dish or an egg dish; those things are universal. How they’re being used is different but the sentiment is there that, “We want to feed you and we want you to feel good and have a good time.”
Is there anywhere in Canada you haven’t been that you’d like to check out in future seasons?
Anywhere and everywhere. I’d love to go to Labrador, I haven’t been there yet. I’d also love to go to Nunavut and Northern B.C. and just try out some of the local cuisine. This country is so vast and so beautiful you kind of forget that in just Ontario alone, you can drive for 24 hours and still be in the province. That’s crazy when you think about it.
But sometimes it’s cheaper to take a flight to Europe than it is to fly across your own country. I wish travelling in Canada was a little easier for people so we could try food all over. It’s pretty wild though. We’ve been in different parts of the country and we've seen people who would take road trips just to hit all the places we featured on the show. That’s crazy when you think about it.
You don't shy away from featuring critically-acclaimed eateries, but you seem to have an affinity for the lesser-known local landmarks. How do you think the new landscape of dining will affect the country’s hidden gems?
It’s really hard because we’re in a place where we have never been before. The restaurant business on a regular day is tough to navigate. The profit margins are so small and it’s been amazing to see those little places transition and work with what we have now. Some of those little restaurants were able to pivot toward takeout and smaller dining rooms, and I’m hoping that those little places can still exist.
I think it’s all dependent on us as customers and restaurant-goers. Those restaurants in your neighbourhood and your province need your love and if you can go out and spend some money at these restaurants--go in and have a meal, get some takeout, by some gift cards, spread the word about these great little restaurants--and even if you can’t support them financially, give them some love on social media.
We’re in a weird place right now and I think we as a society need to work through it together, and I also think governments have to step in and help out too. Restaurants aren’t just a place where you go to eat; they’re places where you fall in love and you meet your partners and you celebrate life achievements. Those restaurants are also community hubs and centres to neighbourhoods and without them, you don’t have really have neighbourhoods at all.