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From Long Beach Island, a journalist celebrates the American food journey

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David Page

David Page, creator of "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives," sits outside The Local, in Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island. The Beach Haven resident has written a book on the American food experience.

David Page is a man infatuated with food.

He identifies as someone who lives to eat, instead of the apparently more appropriate reverse.

Page was born in Flushing, Queens, in New York City, and has moved extensively throughout his life, eventually settling down on Long Beach Island, a place he now calls home.

This has nurtured in him an understanding and appreciation for both the subtle and marked differences between cuisines.

For example, the fact that the Philadelphia and Trenton tomato pie are distinct, or that Texas and North Carolina barbecue are remarkably different, are facts not lost upon him.

His obsession with food runs so deep that it led him to create and produce the wildly popular show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” starring none other than the mayor of flavor town himself, Guy Fieri.

After 11 seasons running the program, he decided to move on and write, because as he said, all television producers believe they have a book in them.

His quest has culminated in a work of food journalism titled “Food Americana.”

“I wanted to answer the question, ‘What is American Cuisine?’ And as it turns out, our entire cuisine has been created from the cuisines of other countries or other cultures,” Page said.

Page traversed the country in search of America’s favorite dishes, weaving their history into a story about the people who make them and those whom they feed.

“We don’t venerate the remarkable experience of eating just simply good food that was made well by someone who really gives a damn,” he said.

He feasted on Neapolitan pizza in San Francisco, devoured burgers in Indiana, savored lox on the Lower East Side and ate mole in New Jersey at a restaurant called La Bamba, which happens to be right down the street from his house in Brant Beach.

Going like this from one place to the next is nothing new for Page. He has spent the majority of his life bouncing around the globe.

“When I got older, I sort of went to college,” he laughs. “But mostly I chased radio jobs, which took me to Oklahoma and Kansas. And then TV jobs, which took me from Kansas to Phoenix, to Atlanta to Houston.”

Following a brief stint in the Chicago bureau, NBC sent him to Europe, where he lived in London, Frankfurt and Budapest, covering the fall of communism.

This is where his passion for food truly began.

“That’s where I really started to pick up an appreciation for the cultural wonderfulness of food and the differentiations and how it spoke to where a country came from,” he said.

He eventually moved back stateside so that he could recover his status as a native New Yorker, and brought his newfound interest with him.

After getting married, his wife asked where he’d like to go during the summer to escape the excruciating heat of the city. She suggested the Jersey Shore, Beach Haven in particular, which is where she always visited growing up.

“The only thing I knew of Jersey was driving past petroleum plants to get to my grandparents,” he said, sort of jokingly.

After coming here for nearly two decades, they transitioned to full time residents nine years ago when their daughter went off to university.

“We’ve just loved the place,” he said. “It’s hard not to love it.”

Now, as most homegrowns are, he is a zealot for all things Jersey.

“It really is the Garden State,” he asserts. “I mean, there is no better tomato than a Jersey tomato. There is no better pizza than pizza in Jersey.”

And he would know.

Throughout his time as an investigative journalist in the Old and New World, Page experienced a wide assortment of regional cuisines.

He is now bewildered when tourists come down to the island during the busy season and don’t indulge in the incredible local fare.

“Whenever I go to a restaurant here and I watch the tourists who could have the best scallops on earth or fresh tuna caught off shore, or tile fish, I see them eating fried shrimp,” he said with what seems like genuine concern. “I just, I just don’t get it.”

Distressing for him as this may be, as long as his local haunts still serve up the indigenous fish and mollusks he has come to love with an intense fervor, he’ll survive. Places like Polly’s Dock, Delaware Avenue Oyster House and Parker’s Garage in Beach Haven, and Ship Bottom Shellfish in Ship Bottom.

“I’m a huge oyster fan, and what’s fascinating is that we don’t get acknowledged here for our oysters.” He pays his respects to New Orleans, a place famous for their bivalves, but maintains that ours are much better.

But this is par for the course for New Jersey, a state sinfully overlooked for pretty much everything it has to offer.

Maybe David Page, though, a man who has had such a significant influence on how people in this country have come to see food, can change some minds.

Asked if he ever plans to move away, he did not hesitate in the slightest with his answer.

“Why would you leave?” he asked. “You don’t leave LBI.”

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