Last month I had the unbelievable opportunity to sit down with James Cunningham, host of the popular Food Network show Eat St. (which is now in its 4th season).
James is as funny and energetic as he appears to be on the show, and he’s a nice guy too. We chatted about his love for food, his disdain for cooking, and how he landed his job on his hit TV show.
Shareba: Have you always been interested in food?
James: I wasn’t really much of a foodie before [the show] and in my book, in the front page, I say I’m not a chef. I don’t cook. I love to eat. I LOVE it! That’s why I’m perfect for this job.
Shareba: So what’s keeping you back from learning how to cook?
James: My brother’s a professional chef – he’s the chef in the family. I wish I could [cook], but I don’t have the patience for it. I don’t know why. I don’t enjoy the whole act of making it, but I love to eat it. I hate actually making and preparing food, but I love to eat.
Shareba: I’m like that with baking. I love to eat baked goods, but I don’t like to make it.
James: Yeah, it’s too much.
Shareba: So how did you become involved with Eat St.?
James: It was kind of a weird thing because what happened was I initially auditioned for another show entirely. I auditioned for Wipe Out Canada, and it went from every comic in Canada down the final four. Now, when you go for an audition you never say, “I know I got that,” but I walked out of there thinking, “I know I got that.” And then two weeks later I got a call saying, “You didn’t get it.”
So I was like ok, but then I got a call about 2 weeks after that, and it was a guy from Vancouver. Apparently my audition tape for wipeout was so funny that everyone had been passing it around, which was awesome. That’s what you want to hear.
So he said, “listen I saw your tape and I think you’re perfect for this new show we’re doing, but the Food Network does not want a comedian. They absolutely told me they don’t want a comedian so don’t even think about it”. And he goes, “but I think you’re hilarious…can I get you on tape just doing some of the lines?”
And when you’re auditioning you never want to do a tape, you want to meet the people and sell yourself in person. So I flew down to New York and met him on the street, and he said “you know what, lets just do it!” so I just auditioned there in the street and got the job right there. And then the rest is history.
Shareba: It’s interesting that even though you’re the host of Eat St. the show isn’t about you.
James: What we did with the show is that from the beginning we wanted to make sure that it’s not about me being the star of the show. The food truck owners are the stars of the show, so they are the ones we wanted to really put the focus on. We didn’t want to be there in every shot like Triple D… it’s a little too in your face. We wanted to step back and let people be people, and let the food truck owners be the stars.
Shareba: I think that sets you apart from a lot of shows on Food Network right now.
James: Exactly, we wanted to be different.
Shareba: You’re an associate producer on the show as well right? Is that something that happened right away?
James: Yeah, when I got the role we negotiated that in my contract at the beginning. I’m very hands-on with the production of the show.
Shareba: What do you do in that role?
James: I do some of the writing, some of the scripting, and so on. When we shoot it’s a pretty small crew, there’s very few people who run the show, so we wear a lot of hats.
Shareba: That makes sense with you guys traveling so much; it’s probably easier to have a smaller team.
James: Yeah, exactly. When we shoot the trucks each crew goes out and they shoot their truck wherever they are, and then when it’s time to shoot my segments of the show we kind of collaborate. We’ll do one or two of the scripted takes for safety, and we’ll just play and do improve and stuff, and most of the [takes] that make it to air are the ones we improve.
Shareba: Do you think food trucks have become more popular recently?
James: Food trucks really exploded the last couple of years. I was familiar with them before the show, but now it’s amazing to see the presence they have today. And the thing is the types of food trucks we have are insane. We’ve got gourmet food trucks now, whereas before that wasn’t really the case.
Shareba: It seems like Eat St. has really grown with the food truck scene. You guys hit the market at a really good time.
James: The timing of the show could not have been more perfect. What we see here in Canada… I think it’s starting to get hot in Canada, but in my opinion in the US it’s already been red-hot, and it’s starting to come down now. We’re probably 2 years behind where the food truck scene is in the US.
Shareba: Your show seems to be really popular in the US
James: We’re a Canadian show, a Vancouver production company, and I’m from Toronto, but everyone thinks it’s an American show…
Shareba: Because you have so much American content!
James: Exactly, because we shoot most of our content down in the US. The show has been for the past 4 years, or so we’ve been down in the US, Portland Oregon has 750 food trucks, Toronto has downtown maybe 35-40 maybe.
Shareba: Can you recommend any food trucks in Toronto?
James: There are a lot of great ones in Toronto. Canadian food trucks have been studying, and a lot of people who own food trucks have been down to the US to talk to food truck owners. Now you can buy a book called how to open a food truck, literally there is the idiots guide to opening food trucks. Whereas the pioneers, the folks that have been on our show in the past couple years, they did it from scratch. Now it’s become a movement. The food trucks that are opening now have their stuff down pat because there’s been so much going on before that.
Shareba: Do you think Food Trucks are more sanitary than “Street Meat” carts?
James: Most food trucks are actually being scrutinized more than restaurants because of the public attention they are getting. The vast majority of the public thinks food trucks are less sanitary, yet most of the food is prepared at a fixed or commissary kitchens.
Shareba: Let’s talk about the Eat St. cookbook. Why did you decide to create it?
James: The book was a response to our audience members who actually contacted us en masse via social media asking how they could get the recipes. The cookbook was made especially for people who watch the show and want to try the recipes.
Shareba:How long did it take to put the Eat St. cookbook together?
James: The Eat St book took about 8 months to put together from start to finish. It was a really cool process, and the folks at Penguin were so great to work with!
Shareba: Who tested the recipes?
James: Penguin [the publishing company] did that. Penguin takes their cookbooks very seriously.
Shareba: A lot of people think that most Food Network cookbooks are ghostwritten. Do you want to address that?
James: I wrote the whole book myself. Now you have to understand that the recipes are contributed from the food trucks. The recipes are not mine. And when I say ‘I wrote the cookbook’ I mean I wrote the introduction to each section, I wrote the introduction to each chapter, and the introduction to each recipe, and talked about the truck. So like 200 words per section. It wasn’t a great deal, but it’s all me. One hundred percent me.
Shareba: Why should people buy your book?
James: People should buy because it’s awesome!
I’ll be reviewing the Eat St. cookbook next week, and I’ll give away a free copy, so keep an eye out for that!
Also, to read more exclusive content from this interview, visit the In Search Of Yummy-ness page on Facebook!
James Cunningham is a comic, actor, and the host of the Eat St. TV series. He graduated from the University of Toronto with an Honours BA in Theatre in Drama, and has created a show called Funny Money that teaches teens about financial literacy using comedy.
This is not a sponsored post.