The first question for John Catucci is the most obvious:
How does a guy spend 200 days on the road, eating in nearly 80 different restaurants while taping a season of Food Network's You Gotta Eat Here!, and not come home twice the size he was when he started?
"It's definitely a risk," laughs Catucci, who actually remained rather trim while shooting the series' second season, which premièred Feb. 15 and airs Fridays at 8 p.m on Food Network. "Fortunately, I have a very lovely director and field producer who, after I've had a couple of bites, start yelling at me from off camera to put the fork down.
"Sometimes I'll still steal an extra bit, but I do listen. I put the fork down."
In the first of this week's (Feb. 22) back-to-back instalments of You Gotta Eat Here!, Catucci and crew pay a visit to Diana's Gourmet Pizza in Winnipeg. The St. Vital eatery's owner, Diana Coutu, has earned international acclaim (including several awards for Canada's best pizza, and a spot on the judging panel of the World Pizza Championships) for her simple but innovative approach to making a dine-in and takeout staple.
"She really knows her pizza," says Catucci. "She's been all over the world making pizza -- it's really traditional, old-school and delicious; the crust is amazing, and the sauce is great. Some pizza restaurants try too hard; hers really stands on its own.
"She was a lot of fun to work with."
And "fun" is the magic word when it comes to shooting episodes of You Gotta Eat Here! -- the series has no ambitions to present itself as a how-to guide or a showcase of culinary craft; instead, it offers Catucci as a regular guy who has the very cool job of travelling across Canada in search of great, fun food prepared by interesting people.
"I'm not necessarily a foodie; I'm an 'eatie,'" says Catucci, a former Second City performer whose background is in musical and sketch comedy. "I like to stand around and watch people cook. I'll hold a knife, if necessary, but I'm definitely not a chef. I don't pretend to be one on the show; I'm there learning about food and recipes, just like the viewers are."
Obvious comparisons have been drawn between his show and the U.S. Food Network's Guy Fieri-hosted Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives -- after all, each features a road-weary host sampling the fare of a trio of restaurants in each episode -- but Catucci says You Gotta Eat Here! has its own distinct personality.
"When it comes down to it, food shows are about food, so in essence, they're all similar," he explains. "What it comes down to is the personality of the host, so I think the big difference between our show and (Fieri's) is that I'm not a chef, so I'm not going into kitchens with any preconceived notions of what foods and ingredients are going to be.
"And, of course, our show is all Canadian. We're celebrating great Canadian comfort food."
The host adds that shooting the second season was much easier than the first, largely because people across the country were familiar with the series and eager to show off their local dining destinations.
"When we did the first season, people were unaware of who we were, so we'd always have to explain ourselves," says Catucci. "But after the first season aired, people started to realize what we were doing, and for the second season people started recommending restaurants. We asked people to write in about their favourite places, and we ended up doing some fan-favourite episodes. That was pretty cool.
"I think there's still a little bit of 'I want to tell you about this restaurant, but if I tell you, it'll get busy and I won't be able to get a table,' but for the most part, people have responded really positively to the show and are excited to be able to share their restaurants with Canada."
You Gotta Eat Here! has another Winnipeg favourite on its second-season menu -- Kawaii Crepe, which is featured in the April 12 episode.
"That's a really cool place," says Catucci of the Osborne Village restaurant. "I always thought of crepes as strictly a dessert thing, really sweet, but they do a lot of savoury crepes and Japanese-style things. I think I had a bacon, cheese and ranch crepe, which was really great."
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