|Page stuffing illegal substances down his pie hole|
Steven Page’s new Travel & Escape show is called The Illegal Eater (premiering Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET). He might eventually qualify for another show: The Illegal Driver.
Page was bombing along the QEW a week or so ago when he blew out a tire.
The problem began when he tried to fix the tire earlier himself. “I used that fix a flat stuff, you know, that stuff in a can?” he said on the phone while waiting in a repair shop. “When the tire blew up, I guess it got the crap all over the rim.”
The former Barenaked Ladies lead singer (he wrote and sings the theme for this series) was happier to talk about The Illegal Eater. As a lad growing up in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, he frequented such local hamburger hangouts as Johnnys. As a traveling musician, he developed an appetite for more adventurous fare. Now he makes a point of investigating secret supper clubs that have popped up all over North America and beyond. “The first one I was really aware of, as far as the kind of the higher end supper clubs and so on, was actually in Toronto – one called Charlie’s Burgers,” he says.
Page followed the email instructions to try and get on the list at that club. “They send you a bunch of questions back to see if you meet their requirements and I was accepted I guess to their list, but what I didn’t realize was that their list ends up being like three thousand people long.”
TVFMF: What kind of questions do they ask?
Page: Sometimes they’d be questions about things like food and wine matchings or what’s your favourite ingredient on a menu, – those kinds of things, and you wonder, well, if I said truffles or caviar, is that too obvious and they go, – we don’t want those people there. You know, if I said, Big Mac, would that make them go, oh this guy’s our guy.
Steven: You never know what the right answer is, right? Cause it’s a matter of trying to fit into their vibe, so you try to answer with some degree of wit and cleverness if you can to try and stand out.
TVFMF: Did you get in?
Page: I never got invited to any of the meals. You know, once I had my own TV show, OK. But the nice thing is actually, with those guys especially, they’ve been very very secretive over the years, and they haven’t let cameras into their events before, so it was really nice that they actually let us come in and film the whole event.
TVFMF: What was the meal like there?
Page: The meal there was, I think very different from anything they’d done before. You know, chefs who have worked in some very high end restaurants and very very skilled with molecular gastronomy, and essentially what they were doing, was recreating the junk food of our youth. Everything from their version of Alpha-Getti to their version of a Joe Louis. It was one of the great things to learn, these meals are quite often an opportunity for experienced chefs to do stuff they wouldn’t be able to do in a regular restaurant. It’s not even something about offering something illegal to the clientele, but something that lets them do a one-off and really spread their wings and do something they would never be able to pull off anywhere else.
On the other side of the coin, some of these meals have been incredibly extravagant, and then, other places like in Los Angeles, you know, we went to a Mexican outdoor market place, a day before Cinco de Mayo, and there were just rows and rows of foodstands, completely unlicensed, and apparently, they’ve been shut down time and time again by the health department, by the police whatever, and they just kind of pick up and move to a different neighbourhood. And it was there, that I had some of the best food on the whole series.
TVFMF: You’re finding name chefs who just have a bit of that street guerrilla kind of sense, who want in on this. Is that true?
Page: Absolutely, yeah. Sometimes they’ll be in the back of a bar or sort of pop up one night only and bring stuff out of their house or somebody else’s house. And sometimes it’s about the exclusivity and sometimes it’s just about the opportunity to try something that a restaurant kitchen or some clientele wouldn’t necessarily allow them to. Perhaps it’s so elaborate, that they couldn’t make multiple seatings worth of it, or have to serve it for an entire week or two weeks on the menu. And sometimes it is ingredients that are illegal. We had everything from wild game, which is the kind of thing that – you know, in Europe you can eat in a restaurant, but in North America, it has to be farmed game.
TVFMF: What is it that draws you to it? Is it the food or the fact that it’s illegal?
Page: Really for me, it’s about the food and the place. What always attracts me about food is that it’s a reflection of where we are, and so many cities and regions are defined by their food, whether they know it or not in fact. It’s like, southern barbeque and so on, where you can say, well that’s the taste of that area, but some cities grapple with whether or not they have their own identity. Sometimes that’s where you find it, you know, there are so many cities that, as a musician, I’ve rolled into town and all you see are the Olive Gardens and the Tim Hortons and so on and they all start to look the same, so you kind of have to look deeper, and sometimes they are off the beaten track, places that are legitimate and sometimes their real best expressions are in people’s kitchens, and when they start making those available to the public and not just for friends and families, that’s when you can get a real sense of the area.
TVFMF: Of all the places you’re featuring this first season, which one do you think will surprise viewers the most?
Page: Well, I have a real soft spot for New Orleans. I just think it’s an incredible city. A city of survivors, a city of mixed cultures and a city of contradiction. I’m inspired every time I go, and right now, there is just a great wave of young cooks there who are trying to do things that, you know, they may have learned and come up in the grand kitchens of New Orleans, but they’re really doing their own thing and I think that’s quite exciting.
But we also had amazing meals in Chicago and you know, our finale is pretty fun between looking at Toronto where I lived most of my life and then upstate New York where I’m living now and I try and kind of recreate a lot of what I learned on the road. It’s quite a fun thing too.
TVFMF: Do these places tend to be expensive?
Page: They’re all over the map. I mean, some of them are as much as two hundred bucks and some of them are 35 bucks. One of the ones out in New Orleans was 15 dollars.
Page: I had some of the best scallops I’ve had in my life. It was in the back of a dive bar. I had three courses and it was like 15 bucks. It was so good.