TORONTO - John Catucci thinks he has one of the best jobs in the world.
As the host of TV's "You Gotta Eat Here!," he travels the country highlighting little-known restaurants and in the process meets some amazing people and samples incredible food.
He got to visit the Wildside Grill in Tofino, B.C., where chef Jesse Blake serves up a lunch menu based on what commercial fisherman Jeff Mikus catches in the morning. During Catucci's visit it was spot prawns.
"They're thick and meaty and juicy and sweet," said Catucci, waxing eloquent. "We got to have it fresh off the boat and we brought it back to the restaurant and they had a big boil for us. And it was incredible. So delicious.
"Those are the moments where you're like, 'We have a really good job. This is a really great job!'"
Funnyman Catucci criss-crosses the country seeking must-try restaurants and their specialties to feature on the Food Network Canada show. The second season premieres on Feb. 15 with back-to-back episodes.
And now he has a new cookbook, which has the same name as the show, co-written with Michael Vlessides.
"After the first season wrapped, the production company (Lone Eagle Entertainment Ltd.) came up with the idea of doing a companion book with stories, recipes and photos from each restaurant, showcasing each place we hit," Catucci said in an interview from his home in Toronto.
Catucci has performed across Canada, in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia as one-half of the musical-comedy duo The Doo Wops with David Mesiano, which won the Homegrown Comedy Competition at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal in 2001. He also played Bus Driver Bob on CBC-TV's "The Doodlebops."
Some of the skills he acquired doing improv translate into his work on "You Gotta Eat Here!"
"The comedy, thinking on your feet, talking with people, talking to chefs. Each chef is a different type of person, what way to come at each of them," said the 39-year-old. "It's trying to come at them and get the best interview."
Catucci said the establishments the show focuses on tend to be family-run with home-style cooking, and often the chefs are also the owners. They have a connection to their community and customers. The patrons likewise feel a kinship.
"It becomes more than just a restaurant," he said. "It becomes like a meeting place. It becomes a place where friends are made and people just come out to hang out. It's pretty awesome. It's really cool to see that. Those places that have the family attached to it always have touched my heart even more."
While filming episodes last summer in the Maritimes for the second season, Catucci went back to some of the restaurants they'd shot for the first season and met people from Ontario and farther West who'd made a point to eat at restaurants featured on the show.
He has also found joy in being treated like family when revisiting restaurant owners.
"Those are the moments when you realize you've made a connection with these people and it's not just a show. It's their lives. This is how they make their money, this is how they pay their mortgage and how they get their kids through school," he said.
Catucci attributes his fondness for food to his father, Antonio Catucci, and writes a loving tribute to him in the cookbook's introduction. His parents came to Canada in the mid-'60s and settled in Toronto.
"My mom did a lot of cooking, but my dad would do the big celebratory dinners, like the Christmas dinner and Easter dinner," he said. "He just had a knack for cooking. He just knew how to put stuff together, and like quick, fast. He'd do six courses in five minutes. He could just take something and know what was inside of it."
When complimented on a dish, Antonio Catucci would meticulously list all the ingredients. "It was his own way of imparting recipes to us and to put them in our heads without us even knowing he was doing it."
Catucci said his father, who died in 2009, would have been proud that his son eats for a living.