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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"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."
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