08/15/2013 04:24 EDT | Updated 10/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Comedian Cris Nannarone seeks best burger, taco and pizza in new TV series

TORONTO - If Cris Nannarone has any say in the matter, octopus or beef tongue won't cross his lips. But as host of a new food competition series, the comedian says he was sometimes tricked or bullied into tucking into meals featuring those creatures.

The new three-in-one series features Nannarone on a quest to discover the best burgers, tacos and pizza across Canada and the United States. In each episode, he goes into three kitchens, whether it's a five-star restaurant, diner or food truck, to learn what goes into each chef's specialty. At the end of each episode, the three contender chefs are judged.

"You couldn't pay me to have the beef tongue," Nannarone said during a recent visit to Toronto. "On the show they tricked me. My producer went as far as learning Spanish and spoke Spanish behind my back so I wouldn't know what he was planning and told the owner, 'Don't tell Cris what you're making for him because he won't eat it.'"

But it doesn't matter if he doesn't like the food he's served, Nannarone says, because he doesn't determine the winner of each episode. A team of nine judges — "just average people like me" — sample the items from the three contenders on "judgment day" and vote in a secret ballot.

"When I open up the envelope and read the name of the winner I'm seeing it for the very first time. I don't have any prior knowledge to know who's going to win," Nannarone says, adding that this makes the show unique.

"I have judges so I can go into a place, try a burger and if I don't like the burger it's OK. I can say I don't like the burger because I don't know any better. I'm not a chef. I'm not classically trained in ... culinary arts. I just like to eat. ...

"So when I go into a restaurant and they fry me up a bison burger with avocado and foie gras, stuff I would never order in a million years, I can say to the viewers I like it or I don't like it. It doesn't matter," says Nannarone.

He admits to being out of his element when he's in the kitchen with "these very, very talented amazing chefs, trying their amazing meals. You can actually see me be convinced that 'oh, yeah, beef tongue is actually quite good, quite delicious.'

"They're so good at what they do. You forget what you're eating," he adds.

Calgary's Pyramid Productions came up with the concept for the show. "Burger Wars" airs Mondays on CMT in August, "Taco Wars" in September and "Pizza Wars" in October.

The show features man-on-the-street segments, with Nannarone walking up to people and asking them where to go to get a good burger, tacos or pizza in their city.

Nannarone, who has appeared in TV series and movies such as "Heartland" (2012), "Boot Camp" (2008), "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" (2000) and MacGyver" (1989), has spent the past 20 years travelling around North America as a standup comedian, but he says he's learned to see some of the cities he's visited in the past differently when he's there with a production crew.

Stops include Los Angeles, Banff, Alta., Toronto, Calgary, Chicago, Vancouver, Victoria, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

"I'm like a five-year-old when I'm on the road. When I go someplace I've never been before it's a big deal to me. I've always wanted to go to Chicago and I got to try Chicago deep-dish pizza in Chicago. I think I cried on that episode. It was a big deal.

"I've been to Vegas many times. I've never seen Vegas the way I saw it on this show."

Being of Italian heritage, he prides himself on being a pizza connoisseur but is not a fan of the thin-crust Neapolitan-style pizza that is becoming popular in North America, preferring thick crust and plenty of toppings.

While he found the fare in L.A. and Vancouver to be generally light, healthy or organic, he claims Toronto is the home of "monster" burgers.

"Nobody would ever believe me that the best taco you're ever going to have is in Las Vegas. And one of the best burgers you're going to have is in Las Vegas," he says.

"So to go there for the gambling is a waste of time. Go to Las Vegas for a good taco. You're going to find it off the strip."