Interview: Steven Page

 

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Gordon was the soundtrack of my life for a time. Doing bottle tokes to Enid, cruising down the main strip in Tracey’s mom’s burgundy K car to If I Had A Million Dollars, daring each other to shoplift while Grade 9 played over the sound system, making out in the backseat while Hello City burbled through the speakers, pogoing to Yoko Ono and always hitting skip when The King of Bedside Castle came on (sorry Steven!) and singing our hearts out to Brian Wilson and What A Good Boy.

I recently go the chance to interview him in front of two back to back live audiences at First Canadian Place. We were there to talk about his new show, The Illegal Eater, which premiered on Travel & Escape this month.

I saw the commercial for this new show of his and I thought it looked like another in the long line of D, D & D-style programming. I quickly got schooled on why it isn’t.

In those shows they introduce you to the friendly, simple folk cooking away and making stuff from scratch and sharing their Mom & Pop values with a gang of happy customers from the community. What they don’t show is where the ingredients come from. How is Pop’s roast chicken any better than the one at Swiss Chalet when they both got made with the same tortured, disease-ridden sorry excuse for a chicken? Is it the original formica topped and chrome rimmed tables that make it taste better?

“A lot of cooks care about high quality, but the quality is in their preparation rather than in the ingredients. I live in central New York and there’s a history of diners and some of them are really cool looking but you go in and they’re serving Sysco food.”

He’s also interested in watching culinary scenes grow and develop:

“In Charleston, where we shot some scenes with this great guy Jimi Hatt. He looks just like Zach Galafinakas and he taught me how to shoot a rifle while sharing his moonshine with me. So, in Charleston they got Husk which was this great thing and then everybody else did the same thing, but they have to go through this phase in order to mature. The cool thing I see in New Orleans now, it’s not mature yet. The young chefs there are all trying to do something different from the traditional. They’re all over the map now, trying to figure out what that thing is, but they’ll get it and they’ll get to a point where they become more refined and they have their own culinary voice. The food is hit or miss right now but they’re still trying and they’re improving.”

 

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Then he told us about butchering a whole pig, and planting a huge garden and owning chickens for fresh eggs. They have three freezers at his house, “one is for beef, one is for pork and chicken, and the third is for Eggo waffles.”

I asked him about an awesome rock and roll moment from his glory days with the band and he told us about the time the Barenaked Ladies were invited to play Neil Young’s annual Bridge School Concert*.

He was very excited to play it because Jonathan Richman was going to be there, as was REM and he’s a huge fan of both. On the first day they had sound check, the concert would happen over the following two days. After sound check they were all invited to Neil Young’s massive ranch for a barbecue. Steven said he imagined that a barbecue restaurant would be catering but when they arrived he realized he recognized the guys manning the grills.

The grill cooks were Crazy Horse, Neil Young’s backing band. Not some caterers! The band members were flipping burgers and grilling sausages.

“Later we all lined up in the dining room and helping ourselves to this big spread on the table. It was like being at any get together with family and friends but I was standing there filling my plate between Jonathan Richman and Michael Stipe.”

Watch for the Illegal Eater on Travel & Escape channel Tuesdays at 9pm.

*This year’s guests include Tom Waits and Queens of the Stone Age! And Heart! And Arcade Fire, Elvis Costello and Diana Krall!

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