An interview with host and chief executive foodie Jesse Blanco
QUESTION. What’s your take on the food scene on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton?
ANSWER. The food scene in Hilton Head Island has always been a few steps ahead of anything else in this area. It is a large part of what made the island so popular. It's nice to have a big beautiful house on the beach or a place to play golf, but unless there are great restaurants, then it’s just not the same. What is going on in Bluffton, meanwhile, is nothing short of amazing. So much good food popping up there. No surprise really with the number of people moving there. I'm even hearing about restaurants in Savannah expanding to Bluffton. That will tell you how they feel about the area.
Q. What are people looking for these days in a restaurant?
A. The food scene in this area in many ways is a lot like everywhere else. Because of television and explosion of social media, food has become very popular. I see it almost every day. People want to know where their food is coming from. Local is good but not necessary as long as it is fresh. “Farm-to-table” is a tired marketing slogan now, but the idea behind it holds true. The more a product is processed, fewer people want to eat it. And they will pay high dollars for it. How else do you explain a $20 burger? People pay it because they want freshness. It’s healthy and better tasting, really.
Q. Where did your passion and dedication to food come from?
A. I wish I could say I had a grandmother or something who cooked and I learned from her. Truthfully? My original inspiration to cook came from a TV show way back in the day on the Discovery Channel called “Great Chefs.” It was 30 minutes long with a narrator. They traveled the country and the world. I would race home from college to watch it. This was early ’90s, before the Food Network took off. Later on, chef Emeril Lagasse's dishes inspired me. I consider myself lucky to have worked for him for a short time back in 1998.
Q. What was your professional journey to arrive where you are today, with a hit two-time Emmynominated television show?
A. My history in television is pretty simple. I grew up wanting to be the next Ted Koppel. I was a political science major. I ended up in sports for 13 years. It was fun for a while. Later, I grew up and made the switch to news. Eight years later, I quit the whole thing to focus on food journalism. For 23 years, I was a TV anchor in Ft. Myers, Savannah, Nashville, and El Paso and then came back to Savannah.
Q. What’s the latest news about the show?
A. “Eat It and Like It” is now in its fifth season in four years. The first year we did two seasons back to back because it was so popular out of the box. The plan down the road is to expand our reach. This year we expect to pitch the idea to national platforms. The idea all along has been to share our region with the South and the South with our region. The show has always been about the South.
Ed. Note: “Eat It and Like It” features many area restaurants and airs on WSAV at 7:30 a.m. Sundays. For more, go to www.eatitandlikeit.com.