Meet Toronto's Food Porn Star, John Catucci
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Meet Toronto’s Food Porn Star, John Catucci

And his show, You Gotta Eat Here, showcases the best in city eating.

John Catucci of You Gotta Eat Here Photo by TK

John Catucci of You Gotta Eat Here. Photo by Josh Henderson. Photos courtesy of Lone Eagle Entertainment Ltd.

When the onion rings boil in grease, it’s like foreplay. When the deep-fried pickle is engorged in tartar sauce, the camera closes in leeringly. When host John Catucci stuffs a glistening chicken wing in his mouth, it’s like a money shot.

Many cooking shows have been called “food porn,” but not all porn is the same. If much of the Food Network’s programming is like glossy Cinemax fare, then You Gotta Eat Here is a frantic bathroom fuck recorded with a high-quality cell phone.

And, like sex, food can be an enjoyable if frustratingly impermanent way to cheer oneself up. “Listen, I love eating my feelings, and comfort food does that,” says comedian John Catucci. “It fills that space, that hole, that whatever-it-is that you’re missing at that moment.

“Food is just so attached to feelings in general. I love that connection that food has to your feelings. Not just the food, but the restaurant, the space, right? And we get to see that a lot on the show. I love those moments when you walk into a restaurant and it feels like home,” he adds. (Your humble correspondent here reflects mournfully on the visits to Mandarin that have invariably accompanied his harshest disappointments—its sterile decor, characterless muzak, and rubbery noodles now indelibly linked to personal and professional calamity).

Now in its fifth season, You Gotta Eat Here positions Catucci as a warmer, less aggressive, more Canadian version of Guy Fieri. He travels his country seeking the finest in comfort foods: whipped-cream piled precariously atop waffles; deep-fried hot dogs that taste like chicken wings; teeming double-decker hamburgers, overflowing tacos, crêpes drenched in chocolate sauce, and other irresistible plates that would pulverize the stomach of a mere mortal.

“How do you maintain your physique?” I ask.

“I had to hire a personal trainer, because I am a lazy bastard. I’m very lazy. I mean, some people might say, ‘Yeah, you’re busy,’ but I’m just lazy.”

“What sort of training regimen are you on?”

“Right now, it’s trying not to eat so much, but mostly it’s just seeing my trainer whenever I’m in Toronto. He put together a little routine of stuff that I can do on the road—stuff I can do in the gym or in the room if I need to if there’s no gym, and again, also try to kick myself in the ass with the lazy gene that exists that is quite strong.”

This season sees the show expanding its scope to include episodes in Rome, Florence, Dublin, and London. He also interviews chefs and food-lovers at diners across this great nation, including Toronto eateries such as Little Fin, Casa Manila, and Kinton Ramen. “I mean, yes, cooking and eating, I love that part, but getting to meet the locals and talking to people and just being able to sit down,” he says.

“I think we really like finding those little mom-‘n-pop shops—those little hidden gems all across the country. It’s like, if I were coming to visit you, and you would bring me to your local, right? What’s it for you? When people come to visit you, what’s that restaurant you always take them to?”

“Oh, for me? Geez…” I say, as I struggle mightily to think of a restaurant that is not Mandarin. “Well, there’s that place in Chinatown, King’s Noodle, that is an extremely dependable Chinatown shop. I think anybody in the city would know it.”

“And it’s just delicious, right? And it feels good when you’re in there. That’s basically what the show is. We’re going into these towns and bringing you into these restaurants where you wouldn’t necessarily know about. I like that idea of going in and showcasing and giving some love to these little places.”

I ask if there was any resistance to a show that so gleefully celebrates the artery-clogging side of cuisine. “Comfort food used to be, like, meat and potatoes,” he says. “Now, yes it’s still meat and potatoes, but people know where the potato’s coming from. There’s a lot of farm-to-table stuff that’s happening, and not just at the higher end—even the smaller places are sourcing stuff locally and know where the food is coming from.”

“What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever eaten?” I ask.

“Ha! ‘Disgusting,’ I think that’s a tough word…I think it’s stuff that maybe wasn’t my palate.”

“Too judgmental?”

“Too judgmental, yes! Maybe something…I remember having a clam poutine once and it just didn’t sit. It just didn’t hit everything that I wanted it to hit. How’s that?”

You Gotta Eat Here airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on the Food Network.

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