If celebrity chefs are the new rock stars, what to make of a rock star who hosts a food show? Steven Page, former vocalist for the Barenaked Ladies, is the host of "The Illegal Eater," a new TV program about underground restaurants, black market ingredients and other food items of clandestine or controversial origin.
Premiering October 22 at 9 p.m. EST, 10 p.m. PST on the Travel+Escape channel, "The Illegal Eater" sends Page on the road across Canada and the United States to eat things he's not supposed to. The show's title seems a little cheeky considering Page's well-publicized arrest in 2008 for drug possession, but the singer says he's in on the joke.
"It is a bit of a wink, sure. It was the producers' idea and they wanted to make sure I was comfortable with it. But I get it. I've always been known for being self-aware."
Page describes himself as a food lover ("foodie is a bad word, apparently") and an avid home cook who first became interested in seeking out unique local cuisine while touring with the band. And while he admits to a period of infatuation with famous chefs, he also says he's done with the typical restaurant experience.
"Part of me is over restaurant eating. Sometimes I think, 'that was three hours I could have spent at home, cooking.' I don't need to always be seeking out the best spot in town like it's a notch on my belt.
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New York City-based chef Eddie Huang has been controversial since he first gained acclaim for his bao eatery, BaoHaus. The marijuana-loving, fouth-mouthed chef has slagged fellow toques the likes of Marcus Samuelsson and David Chang, and his recent book, "Fresh Off the Boat," is already turning heads. On the positive side, at least Huang can take a bad review from Sam Sifton, even if he did say reading it felt like being yelled at by his dad.
Everything we could say about Anthony Bourdain, you've likely heard already. The drug-addict-turned-executive-chef-turned-television-star has a sharp tongue when it comes to his likes and dislikes, the latter which often include other celebrity chefs. His antics have gained him a fervent following, but a good share of criticism, as well -- some people are getting tired of his shtick.
Oh, Gordon Ramsay. These days, you're the chef everyone loves to hate. Ramsay's in-your-face and often controversial personality is the prime appeal of television programs in which he stars, "Hell's Kitchen" and "Kitchen Nightmares," and has earned Ramsay a fearsome reputation worldwide.
Need we remind you of New York Times critic Pete Wells's epic takedown of Guy Fieri's recently opened restaurant in Times Square? We thought not. Fieri is a popular target of scorn for foodies, but his restaurant is still in business -- you do the math. He still landed on GQ's list of least influential people for 2012, though.
Rachael Ray's cutesy catchphrases like "yum-o!" and "delish!" are ripe for mockery -- Anthony Bourdain knows what we're talking about -- but the Food Network star remains one of the channel's most popular draws.
Paula Deen needs no introduction. The butter-loving Southern cook stirred up controversy when she announced her diagnosis of diabetes -- just as she revealed an endorsement deal for a diabetes drug. Throw in a sexual harassment lawsuit, and you've got one polarizing chef. Despite all, she still has a devoted fan base.
Marco Pierre White was once called the first enfant terrible of the food world -- in his first moments of celebrity chefdom, White developed a reputation for ejecting customers from his restaurants when they asked for salt or pepper. Granted, he's calmed down quite a bit in recent years -- he even shells for Knorr boullion now.
Sandra Lee may be the first girlfriend of New York state and a Food Network star to boot, but not everyone is a fan of Lee's semi-homemade brand of cookery. Anthony Bourdain once called her Kwanzaa cake -- a frosted angel food cake with a can of apple-pie filling in the center garnished with corn nuts and pumpkin seeds -- a “crime against humanity.” We won't go that far, but one does have to wonder what she was thinking.
Nadia Giosia, the namesake and host of "Nadia G's Bitchin' Kitchen," takes a punk approach to cooking -- but not everyone is on board. Nadia boasts a rabid fan base, but some are turned off by her pseudo hardcore shtick.
Todd English has enjoyed celebrity chef status since arriving on the scene in the late 1980s. He's been lauded for several of his restaurants -- and named in numerous lawsuits. He's also landed in the tabloids thanks to his rocky personal life, and he recently was accused of failing to deliver on a promise to a reality show contestant on Food Network program "Chef Wanted."
Jamie Oliver's bid for healthier school lunches has earned him praise as well as criticism. At least he has a sense of humor about it.
"There was a time in the '90s and early 2000s when I idealized Alice Waters and Mario Batali — bumping into him was like meeting Paul McCartney for a minute. I remember years ago going to the now-closed Alain Ducasse restaurant in New York — it was so over the top. For the squab course they would bring you a selection of handmade knives and you could choose which knife you wanted to use; when the cheque came there was a selection of 10 different pens to sign your name. It was ridiculous.
"Sitting next to me was a table of dot-com people who were listings off the places they had been, it didn't sound very fun, it sounded like stamp collecting. What's more important to me now is an appreciation of what makes a town unique and what is the purpose of serving this food. I think that's why I was comfortable with this show.”
The illegal eateries of the show's title range from unlicensed markets to private homes to secret distilleries. Page calls what they are doing "a legal grey area," citing the battle for food trucks in Toronto, or the right to consume raw milk products.
"There are all these rules for things that aren't necessarily unsafe," he says. "Sometimes they are banned for other reasons, primarily trade reasons."
While the show doesn't dwell on the "ick" factor of far-out-there food or extreme eating challenges Page did have to put some weird things in his mouth, such as the balut egg, a Filipino specialty.
"It's a fertilized duck egg," he explains. "There is actually a fully developed embryo in the egg. I'm not squeamish, but feeling the little bird's feathers in my mouth, and its head…it's big. You have to bite it. I couldn't do it, and then I thought, 'Am I a cultural snob?'
"I don't want to offend someone. Meanwhile the chef is laughing her head off. She admitted she hated them."