writing << celebrity features

[originally published in Smoke magazine]

guy fieri: the grease and the glory [cover story]

Guy FieriLast summer, a Kansas City Royals sportscaster made a break from the broadcast booth during the bottom of the fifth to head into the stands to interview rock ‘n’ roll restaurateur and star of numerous Food Network programs, Guy Fieri. The typically boisterous Fieri was uncharacteristically subdued during the five-minute exchange as the conversation devolved from awkward back-and-forths about ballpark hotdogs to the sweatband that Guy had around his wrist. Finally Guy took a call on his cell phone as the inning mercifully ended and the station went to commercial.

It turns out there was a reason Fieri wasn’t his typical jovial self: this “Guy” turned out to be just some guy. Some guy who apparently got in a little too deep with his scam, whether it was for free seats or a simple taste of local media spotlight. There’s a long and proud history of people pretending to be someone famous in order to plunder a little fortune or fame from the unsuspecting. It’s a high compliment. If someone decides to take the time and effort to impersonate you, then you can be assured you have finally arrived.

“We never found out who that cat was,” laughs real actual genuine TV personality Guy Fieri, “but we did find an impersonator in Seattle which we had to get some people involved in. Personally I don’t have a problem with that. I find it kind of flattering. I just don’t like it when it comes out that the person is being rude or disrespectful. Like when people come up to me later and say ‘yeah, we knew it wasn’t you because you wouldn’t sign autographs.’ I don’t like hearing that.”

Before becoming one of the most visible members of the TV Fooderatti, Guy Fieri had already created two successful northern California restaurant chains. His first was Johnny Garlic’s, a comfort food joint where, despite its name, your menu will not be limited to heapings of that namesake vampire repellent. “I didn’t realize people would get so caught up on the garlic thing,” he adds before joking, “you wouldn’t go to Applebee’s and expect to be served apples and bees, would ya?” Guy followed the success of Garlic’s with Tex Wasabi’s, a fusion experience that combines southern BBQ and sushi, a juxtaposition best captured in the restaurant’s logo which features a cartoon cowboy riding on the back of a wild galloping koi. In 2006, Fieri made the jump to national attention after winning the second season of the aptly-titled The Next Food Network Star. However, most people probably recognize Fieri as the host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which premiered in 2007 and has since gone on to become The Food Network’s top-rated show. Diners follows Guy on road trips across the country in search of the best greasy spoons America’s highways and back roads have to offer. The show was an instant hit and even inspired a New York Times-best-selling book of the same name penned by Fieri. There are plenty of road trip shows out there, but what separates Diners is the host’s heroically animated persona mixed with his passion for all things edible. “I love food, man,” Guy proudly proclaims. “I wake up in the morning thinking about what I’m gonna have for lunch.”

Guy is almost as well known for his trademark fashion sense as he is for his culinary knowledge. With his signature spiky blonde hair, tattoos, earrings, shorts, bowling shirt, and backwards-turned sunglasses, this 40-something father might seem more at home in a Warped Tour audience as he would in the kitchen of an upscale bistro. This wasn’t a look he invented just for TV, but a style he cultivated long before he even considered trying out for The Food Network. “I don’t ever believe in this stereotyping that goes along with age,” Guy explains. “I mean 40 doesn’t mean anything. I’ll be 60 and I’ll be the same way. I’m not gonna change because my age changed. That’s not my style. My gig is: I’m not doing this to impress anybody,this is how I choose to dress—I still wear flip-flops, and surfshorts and t-shirts everyday. I’m just being comfortable being Guy.”

In addition to Diners, Fieri also brings his gormandizing to the more traditional cooking show Guy’s Big Bite and as host of Ultimate Recipe Showdown where amateur chefs from around the country go to war with their signature dishes. It could be said that Fieri’s zeal for good food helped spark the nation’s voyeuristic and gluttonous love affair with food TV. Basic cable channels are now crammed with shows for and about foodies and the chow they adore: cooking shows, cooking competition shows, funny chef shows, mean chef shows, shows about eating large portions of food, shows about traveling around the world to eat food, shows about eating weird food, and at least two reality shows about tough guys who make fancy cakes. And they’re not even all on the TV network dedicated to food. It’s almost as if to officially make it in today’s food world, you have to make your mark on television as well as in the kitchen. “I think it’s a component. It’s a facet. It’s a part of it,” Guy comments on the modern culinary-industrial complex. “The best chefs I know are unbelievable talented people who don’t have shows and have been offered shows, but choose not to have shows. To each their own. I also think [being a TV chef] is a lot harder than it looks. People think cookin’ is cookin’. But when you have to do it in real time and on TV—with or without an audience or a film crew—it’s nerve racking.”

What Fieri has had less of a chance to explore on his shows is another passion he holds in close esteem to food: cigars. Cigars are a fervor often shared by chefs and food professionals. “To me, cigars are flavor. Cigars have a nice bold flavor to them,” Guy says. “A lot of what you do as a chef is through palate or through flavor. That’s how we create what we do.”

Fieri was first introduced to cigars in college when a girlfriend’s father gave him a Macanudo from his humidor. “And I smoked it and was like ‘this is killer.’ Then he gave me the whole education on humidors, humidification, and temperature, and all that. And I was taken by it—immediately. So, when I was in my 20s, I just completely immersed myself in cigars. I read all the books and hung out at my local shop in Long Beach where I was living at the time and learned all about it. I’ve just always been a fan, man. Always been a fan. There is nothing better than a cigar that’s properly handled—that’s my biggest complaint about a cigar is when they’re not handled properly. If you know what your doing with your cigars, there’s nothing better.”

Recently, Guy has done some events with the staff from Camacho Cigars whom he sums up as “Good cats, good cigars. I also enjoy the product. It’s not too tight. Consistent. I hate when you buy a cigar and the draw sucks or it’s running on you. Consistency really pays off.” Fieri is able to delve respectably far into the deep end of the cigar knowledge pool. He’s a fan of Avos as well as anything from Fuente, which he describes as “kinda like the Cadillac of cigars. Those little short Fuentes—I’ll take a handful up to go skiing. I’m a big fan of maduro and double-maduros. The deeper, the darker, the spicier the better. I’ve got a big palate, so I just want to push the line on it. Rocky Patel’s another of my favorites. I think my favorite of all ‘legal’ cigars is the Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur No.1. That’s always my go-to favorite. Big ring gauge, nice deep rich flavor. And what is my favorite that I’m not supposed to know about? That’d be the Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona.”

Before California law killed the after-dinner cigar in the Golden State, Fieri’s first restaurant even featured a cigar patio where a local smoke shop would hold events. Now, of course, there’s no more smoking at any restaurants in the state. “I don’t think under California law you’re even allowed to think about smoking.”

Throughout the fall and into winter (and possibly beyond), Guy will take his show on the road—literally. In true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, he’ll be embarking on the Guy Fieri Road Show, a live multi-city tour complete with live DJ on stage.

“The idea started out before I was on TV with my restaurants. One of the best ways to promote your restaurants was to go out and do food demos. My demos were always a little bit wild and crazy. Not for any reason other than that I’m a little bit wild and a little bit crazy. It just escalated.

“So in the last few years with the TV shows, people were like ‘this isn’t the ordinary culinary show—you should really take this on the road.’ Finally a couple of my rock and roll agents from William Morris agency in Los Angeles were like, ‘seriously, we want to take this on the road.’ So, it’s a full-blown show of talent and people and excitement and non-scripted culinary mayhem. Twenty-two cities in 30 days. It’ll be wild and it’s coming to a city near you soon.” So, Guy Fieri impersonators take heed, Guy may be coming to town, and this may just be your time to shine.