Monday, October 21, 2013

Steven Page Becomes A TV Foodie

I couldn't figure out why I was so nervous meeting Steven Page.
One of the founding fathers of Barenaked Ladies, he's reinventing himself as a traveling food  critic in the new series The Illegal Eater premiering on Travel + Escape Tuesday October 22 at 9 p.m.
And he's very charming.  ingratiating, comical and thoroughly at ease.
Was it because my taxi driver deposited me at the Drake instead of Gladstone hotel and I had to high tail it down Queen street West to make the appointment?
Or was I trying to figure out how to get Page to open up about his very public split from Barenaked Ladies four years back.
But there was Page with his signature bow tie and natty suit sitting placidly in the bar and looking more like a TV interviewer and less the music star he was for almost 20 years.
"It's not such a big stretch," he told me.
"I like food and when we were touring I'd try to take in places off the beaten track to dine. Foodie is actually not the right word because while I like food I'm hardly an obsessed expert."
But how did Page become so relaxed before camera. I guess I was expecting some early season jitters.
"I had a summer interview series with CBC Radio a few years back," he says. "I learned there how to interview people and get them to talk. And all the times I did TV talk shows there'd always be a pre-interview."
Page says he jumped at the chance to host the new show which runs 13 weeks and includes two segments per every half hour.
"We look at out-of-the-way places. We learned about them through gossip, friends, it was an exciting way. Illicit sometimes means illegal or just plain underground.
"Besides the food stuff I get to talk to the chefs and they are an eclectic mix. "We started off shooting more than we could ever use on air. Sometimes I have to calm the subject but most are just plain eager to talk about their cooking. We were looking for the unusual but it also had to be good stuff."
In the first episode Page starts off in Los Angeles accompanied by old buddy (and fellow Canadian) Jason Priestly and they go to the Green Bar Collective which serves organic liquor that can only operate because of state regulations at special occasions.
Then it's on to a chef who prepares Indian food called Uncurry not in a restro setting but for large parties in individual homes. Her aim is to show Indian cooking is far more than curried dishes.
Page discusses the food but also gets to clown around with a gigantic Jerome giraffe for the patrons.
The second segment is set in Charleston described by Page as "where ugly and beauty meet." The ugly is the location of the old slave market where human beings were bought and sold. The beauty is the amazing architecture.
The guerilla cuisine here is composed equally of pork bellies and moonshine plus guns.
Forced to brandish a revolver for the first time in his life and Page bleats "This is freaking me out."
There are just as many comedy moments as cooking moments and Page even sings here.
Page says when he was traveling with the band "I got to know the places to eat everywhere.  It's one way of surviving the monotony of the road. It sort of kept me sane."
Page says he was up for most of the sight gags although he looks pretty uncomfortable shooting off that gun and refuses outright to fire a repeating rifle.
"Not all segments were shot in sequence and I had to be careful not to soil the suit. We couldn't afford a wardrobe person."
I carefully asked Page who very publicly disengaged himself from Barenaked Ladies in 2009 if it was a truism that all bands eventually break up.
"Unless you're a Rolling Stone," he laughed. "But the dynamic seems to be always there."
Page has since followed a successful solo singing career and even has plans for  recording a new album.
I point out that being highlighted on the boutique network Travel + Escape is a plus because the network can carefully publicize the series and grow the ratings week by week.
"We traveled light, two cameras and a sound man. I think I got better at it. We didn't stage anything, that kept me on my toes. I enjoyed it. I think a second batch would be even better."
MY RATING: ***1/2.

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