We all know and love John Catucci as the guy who introduces us to all of the best restos and on-the-road grub. But even he has been hanging out at home more as a result of the current pandemic, chatting up fans on his Instagram account, reconnecting with his family, and re-watching basically every Marvel movie ever made. However, now that Big Food Bucket List is returning for a delicious new season, we thought it was the perfect time to pick the host’s brain on all of the fun (and yummy!) things he’s been getting up to lately.
He’s really perfected that green thumb
Because John is always on the road testing out all of that delicious food, he hasn’t ever really been able to enjoy a summer at home—not in a long while anyhow. This year that changed, and so John took the opportunity to finally start his very own veggie garden. To do that he teamed up with The Good Seed, and together they came up with a plan to grow all of the host’s favourites in garden boxes in his backyard.
“This is really the first summer I’ve been home to really tend to it and watch it and to learn from it. It’s pretty amazing. I have more than four different types of tomatoes growing, zucchini, cucumbers, and I harvested a whole bunch of carrots,” he says, noting that earlier in the season he had leafy greens and garlic too. “It’s been quite amazing being able to kind of go out there in the morning, water it, take a look at it. It’s really helped with my mental health for sure. It’s been so beneficial.”
His backyard is now his own little oasis
Considering how much time John has been spending in his backyard, you can’t blame the guy for wanting to spruce up the space a little bit, right? To elevate his backyard game John invested in some string lights (he got savvy with some YouTube tutorials to hang them), and he painted the railing a pretty blue colour… one that he may have accidentally stolen from a neighbour.
“I realized it was the exact same blue colour that my neighbor down the street used,” he laughs. “It must have filtered into my subconscious. So then when I saw her I was like, ‘I hope you don’t mind but we kind of stole your idea…’”
That baking craze is real in his household
Remember those people who hoarded flour and yeast at the beginning of quarantine? Yeah, John admits that he was totally one of those guys. Like gardening, he says that baking gives him a sense of accomplishment because he’s creating something with his hands that can then feed his family. In fact, he says that after making quarantine bread and even cinnamon rolls, he thinks he may have been a baker in another life.
“I was eating my feelings for sure,” he jokes. “There was a lot of bread. A lot of bread. There’s something about being able to see it from start to finish… I really got obsessed with it, trying to figure out the perfect amount of kneading… there were days and like, all day I would be doing it. There’s just something magical about baking your own bread.”
He’s been perfecting some classics
When it comes to downright comfort food, John admits that he’s prone to snacking on anything with Nutella, and he still loves sipping on a good Negroni. (No, he has not seen the controversial but mesmerizing Stanley Tucci tutorial just yet.) However, in terms of his go-to meal it’s got to be pasta, pasta, and more pasta. While he hasn’t started making his own noodles, he has definitely been working on perfecting his own sauce during these stay-at-home months.
“It was all carbs, all the time. I was really kind of perfecting a really delicious tomato sauce—tomatoes that I had jarred last summer and we still had,” he says. “It was that whole idea of cooking it low and slow for hours and hours. Just the way the flavours developed and would come together… there were times where I really impressed myself, it was really good!”
He also continues supporting local restaurants
As much as John enjoyed being able to take a summer at home and to partake in some great home-cooked meals, he and his family also made a huge effort to continue supporting restaurants in his neighbourhood so that they could hopefully stay afloat during these difficult times.
“I definitely cooked more but we also made a conscious effort to order in. The amount of restaurants that have had to close down during all this has just been so sad. I wanted to show up for the restaurants that were still open, that were still doing takeout, making sure that they were able to stay open,” he explains.
“A lot of people did that. They did what they could to help their restaurants in their neighbourhoods and in their communities. It’s not just a place where you go to eat, it’s a community hub,” he adds. “It’s a place that draws people to your neighbourhood. When the restaurant goes, the neighbourhood goes. I’m so happy to know restaurants are able to open up again—we should still show them love as much as we can.”
Working out has been a mind-saver
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John has always been conscious to add exercise to his daily routine, especially since he eats and talks about food for a living. With all of the comfort food to tuck into these past few months though, and with nowhere to really go, John has had to up his at-home workouts too. Luckily his trainer put together plans (including all the burpees) that helped John stay healthy—not just physically, but mentally too.
“That was another lifesaver, that really helped with my mental health, with my stress and with my anxiety,” he reveals. “And now when I don’t do it for a while I can feel all those anxious feelings coming up. It’s pretty wild. Working out, the baking, the gardening… that’s been the holy trinity for me!”
Watch Big Food Bucket List September 12 at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. ET/PT and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.