John Catucci vividly recalls the moment COVID-19 threw production of the second season of Big Food Bucket List into disarray. They were filming in Georgia, and things got serious really fast.
“We were in Savannah just before the lockdown happened,” Catucci recalls. “Savannah has one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parties in the country. We got there just the week before that was going to happen. And then everything changed. When it changed, it changed fast.” And, rather than fly back to Canada, he and the crew piled into a car and hit the road for an 11-hour-plus drive back to Canada via Pittsburgh.
Returning Saturday at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada, Big Food Bucket List once again finds Catucci travelling North America—pre- and during the pandemic—making and tasting dishes in joints you just have to check out.
You’re still filming now. I guess you’re not walking into a restaurant with a restaurant full of people.
John Catucci: We’re following the production protocols. The hand sanitizers are just pumping nonstop all day, making sure masks are on until the last second, until we start shooting and stuff like that. The crew is wearing masks all day. People are getting tested. They’re trying to stay as safe as possible.
Has there ever been anything that you’ve tasted that you didn’t like and had to fake it?
JC: I think I had clam poutine once, years back. And it just didn’t work for me.
For you, yeah.
JC: And that’s a good point. For me, right? I think it was something that I had to learn on this show is that you’re not going to love everything on the menu. Sometimes you as a customer, you ordered wrong, and that’s not on the restaurant. That’s on you. I remember going out to dinner one night and everybody got steaks. I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to do the fish. I’m going to do the halibut. It looks good.’ It just didn’t hit. And again, it’s not their fault.
For Season 2, you went to places like Portland, Winnipeg, you were down in Florida, Seattle, Brooklyn, a wide variety of places you’ve been to. You must be really pinching yourself to get the chance to have gone to some of these cities.
JC: Portland’s got a great food scene, Seattle’s got a great food scene. San Diego’s got great food, that was great too. I love Manhattan. I love going to New York. I love going to Brooklyn, that vibe that happens in that city is unlike any other city in the world. It’s got grit, and it’s got this edge and it’s got this energy that, there’s a rush, there’s a bustle that you don’t find anywhere else. And I’ve never had a bad meal in New York. Never once. Restaurants can’t afford to have bad meals there because there are so many restaurants in there that if you have a bad meal and somebody hears about it, you’re done.
This industry has been hit hard by COVID-19. Do you think it can come back?
JC: I think it can come back. I think it might come back in a different way. Can we go back to sitting down in a restaurant full of other people? I hope so. I really miss that. I miss that energy that happens in there. I miss sitting down at a table and looking over and seeing what is that person having? Oh, that’s coming by, what’s that? I miss that. That was one of the things that I loved about going out to restaurants.
It’s not just a place where you eat. It’s the connection that it has with the people around them. And it’s the connection that it has to the community. And it’s the neighbourhood that sometimes grows around a restaurant. People come in to your restaurant, but then they go to this store and they go to that store, and they go to the paper store, and they were the card store, and they go to the park. That’s how important a restaurant is.
You’re very active on Instagram. Your garden this year has been incredible.
JC: The company is called The Good Seed. Melissa Cameron helps design and create gardens for small spaces, whatever space you have. But my backyard is a small Toronto backyard and she was able to help me design the garden space, what I could grow, and what grows together with what. And even though I’ve got a limited space of two raised beds in a little side garden, the amount of stuff I was able to grow this year was incredible. And again, it comes a lot with her knowledge and this spring, summer, I was able to be home and tend it.
For the past years, I’ve been on the road every spring, summer because that’s when we shoot our show, but I’ve been able to slow everything down and watch this garden just create food for my family to eat. And every morning, I’d go out there with my espresso and I’d water the garden, and I’d see how the tomatoes were doing and how the beans were doing, and my zucchini and my carrots. The garden this year was just spectacular. It was one of the places where I found solace. It was one of those places that helped with my mental health, was able to ground me. There’s nothing like putting your fingers in soil to connect you with the earth. It was a beautiful thing. And I was so, so happy.
Big Food Bucket List airs Saturdays at 8 and 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.
Images courtesy of Corus.