TORONTO - Checking out the street food scene in diverse cities in Canada and the U.S. gave TV host Matt Basile a whole new appreciation of what his food truck cohorts have been doing.
Basile spent about three months on the road, with a whirlwind four days in each of the 11 cities he visited, filming the second season of "Rebel Without A Kitchen." The series returns Tuesday on Travel+Escape.
In each location, Basile concentrates on getting a sense of the food scene and then "pops up" to serve a concoction at a local event.
"I would eat at a lot of places that were kind of like the go-tos, the must-haves in every single city, and then I would eat some stuff that was a little bit more fringe, like things that weren't as well-known or as popular, and then I would come up with a dish that would pay respect to what that city was known for but with my own little unique remix to it," says Basile, who runs his own food truck in Toronto called Fidel Gastro.
"It was a lot of research by way of cooking and eating. I ate a lot this season. The interesting thing about season two of the show and what separates it from other travel and food shows is it's not just me being a host in the traditional sense of 'I'm so-and-so and I'm going to show you so-and-so's place and the recipe and then I'm going to move on to the next one.'
"There was that, but then there's this element of now I need to source my food that I need for this event, then I need to actually cut to this event, then I need to actually execute this event. So there's so many stages of what we do in every single city."
Basile's travels took him to a rodeo in Texas and a popular night market in Philadelphia where he "literally just put a table on the sidewalk" and started selling food. Other times he popped up at other people's trucks, trailers or carts.
He attended a burger festival in Florida, an arts and music festival in Detroit and a clam chowder cook-off in Boston. In Canada, he visited Montreal and Cape Breton. The season's first and last episodes are set in Toronto.
In New Orleans, he took part in a festival dedicated to the pear-shaped vegetable mirliton, a type of squash also known as chayote. A popular way to serve it is stuffed.
"It was unbelievable doing an event around something so specific," Basile says. "Like, we are here to celebrate one vegetable. I thought it was so cool."
The food he created was sourced in each area.
"We found ways of tapping into what was traditional of that city but finding new ways to put the 'Rebel Without a Kitchen,' Fidel Gastro twist on all the menu items," says Basile.
The Toronto-bred Basile, 29, gave up a career in advertising to follow his dream of opening a food company. He also owns a restaurant called Lisa Marie on Queen Street West in Toronto.
Basile used social media to connect with people and "to kind of figure out what was cool and hip in each city we went to."
"I was excited to show people what I was learning when I was on the road, whether it was a new recipe or something interesting in a city. The food truck laws are different in every city, for example, so I'd be ready to tweet out photos of how some cities allowed food trucks to operate within that city," he says.
"Portland and Austin have food trucks everywhere. That is very much a part of the fabric of the food community.... Cities like Austin and Philly, Miami, L.A., the food truck laws specifically are a lot more lenient.... Then you have places like Detroit that are in the infancy of food truck laws and they're kind of where Toronto is, or even where we were about a year ago."
He says a lot of Canadian communities have embraced food trucks.
"Cities like Hamilton have a very developed food truck program, Ottawa's street food scene is very developed. Vancouver, Calgary, even Edmonton and Winnipeg have a little more lenient bylaws with regard to how food trucks operate within the city. Toronto is actually trying to make changes, literally right now, but we're still not there yet. We are quite behind other cities....
"I've always said to people the job of the government isn't to make your food truck business or your food business successful, but it's just to help you to have the opportunity to make it as successful as you can."
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