Host of You Gotta Eat Here! careful to keep his appetite in check
There are times when John Catucci can’t help himself.
As the host of Food Network Canada’s You Gotta Eat Here! the standup comedian and his crew are faced with temptation in every city they visit, encountering delectable and often not particularly healthy specialties in restaurants throughout the country and beyond.
To keep his waistline in line, Catucci is often forced to show moderation when sampling the goods at any given restaurant. He has also hired a personal trainer to help him burn off those calories.
“I can’t eat everything, even though I want to,” he says, in an interview from his home in Toronto. “It’s a couple bites here and there. But then there are some dishes where you just can’t help yourself.”
A case in point would be the fried chicken on lemony grits that Catucci and crew dug into a few weeks back at Toronto’s Saturday Dinette for an upcoming episode.
“We just destroyed that dish,” he says. “Usually, I’ll take a few bites, we’ll talk about it and I’ll bring the dish out to the crew. With this one, they were like hawks coming down and attacking it.”
Fried chicken, towering burgers, massive sandwiches, heaping piles of pasta, desserts of all variety and deep-fried everything have become the norm on You Gotta Eat Here!, now in its fifth season of shining a spotlight on some of the country’s best-kept edible secrets. Over the years, Catucci and crew have sampled 1,188 dishes from 396 restaurants and travelled more than 300,000 kilometres to find them. The lion’s share of the restaurants have been Canadian, although the team has occasionally strayed into the U.S.
This season they’re pushing farther outward, hitting spots in Italy, Dublin and London, which are three of the 45 cities the show will visit in Season 5.
But, for the most part, Catucci and his taste buds have been put to work celebrating distinctly Canuck establishments, often boosting traffic for the restaurants as a result. After five years, there are still no shortage of recommendations for the producers to sift through, coming in from fans or restaurant owners themselves convinced they offer the sort of comfort food the show is generally drawn to.
The series has also given rise to a group of You Gotta Eat Here! super fans who are not content to live vicariously through Catucci’s culinary adventures.
Sean Molloy, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces who lives in Fredericton, began watching the series in the first season. While he has sent the producers a few suggestions from his hometown — oddly, You Gotta Eat Here! has yet to visit New Brunswick’s capital — he has also travelled wide and far to hit the spots Catucci has championed.
By April, Molloy will have eaten at 40 establishments featured on the series.
His recent trip to Prince Edward Island was made solely to sample some of the restaurants from the series, including Season 1 favourites Rick’s Fish & Chips in St. Peters Bay and the Landmark Cafe in Victoria By the Sea.
Of the 39 he’s been to — he plans to hit his 40th in Ottawa sometime in April — Molloy says all but a handful have lived up to the hype
“I’m one of those people with an Instagram account who has to put pictures of everything up,” Molloy says. “I like pretty basic food, as long as it tastes good.”
Which has been the major thrust of You Gotta Eat Here! since its inception in 2012. Taking his cues from the similar American series, Drive-Ins, Diners and Dives with Guy Fieri, Catucci eats, chats with patrons and learns how to make signature dishes in the restaurants he visits.
There isn’t any criticism of the food or the decor. Catucci is unconditionally supportive and enthusiastic.
So, not surprisingly, restaurants featured tend to get a huge boost in business after the show airs.
“For a small business, it is like going to the Super Bowl,” says Nick Yee, whose Holy Grill in Calgary was featured in Season 2.
Business exploded after the episode first aired and tends to spike again whenever it’s on in reruns.
Catucci’s admits there are certain establishments he and his crew will return to when visiting various cities. Not to film another segment, but simply to eat.
The Holy Grill is among them, he says.