May 03, 2011

Guy Fieri

Real food from a rock-’n’-roll chef
Interview by
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When you bite into a burger, a steak sandwich or pile of juicy wings—and sauce drips down your wrist and your jaw aches from opening wide—you’re having a classic Guy Fieri moment.

The restaurateur, author and top-rated Food Network personality is best known for his hit show “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” and the best-selling cookbooks of the same name, in which he travels the nation in his ’67 Camaro in search of the best hole-in-the-wall joints with “good food by good people.” 

But long before “Triple D” (as Fieri refers to it), his quirky rock-’n’-roll, adrenaline-fueled food philosophy helped him win season two of “The Next Food Network Star.”

“I didn’t want to do ‘The Next Food Network Star,’” the very busy Fieri says in a phone interview. “I had no interest—go on national TV and lose? But I always had this mantra in my company: Take that hill. Be all that you can be. That’s the challenge.”

He sized up the competition and realized that most of the contestants were younger and had been to culinary school. He decided to focus on “having a good time, and maybe I’d get to meet Emeril and hang out with Bobby Flay.”

Fieri ended up winning the whole thing, and made his Food Network debut with “Guy’s Big Bite.” Ditching the traditional chef’s coat and bandana for bowling shirts, spiky dyed blond hair, tattoos and man-bling, he created a big, bold, in-your-face food category that he has made his own.

“I’m comfortable with who I am and how I cook and what I do,” Fieri says. “I don’t believe in luck. I think it all comes back to surrounding yourself with good people, surrounding yourself with information and, more importantly, feeling comfortable in your own skin.”

On May 3, Fieri moves a bit beyond his bad-boy, rock-’n’-roll image with his first cookbook of original recipes, Guy Fieri Food, which includes more than 125 recipes, plus color photos and cooking tips. The same goofball humor and big flavors are there, and the same emphasis on quality ingredients and expert preparation, whether it’s a hot dog or filet mignon. But this book focuses on how he cooks at home in Northern California, where he also owns and manages a small chain of fusion restaurants.

“I’m very into ethnic food, fresh food, vegetables,” Fieri says. “I’m a huge texture person. Love BBQ, love stuff that has to cook for 12-16 hours, love Asian food, love complexities, love French food, Italian food, love making pasta, love making food and working with it.”

Guy Fieri Food features twists on everyday classics from appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, pizza and pastas, to main course meats and seafood, vegetables and sides, sauces and marinades, a smattering of desserts and drinks, all with a funky fusion of flavors (Irish Nachos, anyone?).

“The recipes are out of bounds,” Fieri says. “Everything from Asian to All-American to cooking with your kids, to homemade whole wheat pizza dough to juicing fresh vegetables, making chicken stock, tomato sauce and meatballs—not that I’m trying to be everything to everybody. I just opened up my Rolodex to the 150 recipes that I’ve been cooking at home and this is what you get.”

While Blackened Sesame Salmon with Cellophane Noodle Salad, Caramelized Leek and Apple Pizza and Lamb Loin Chops with Mint Pesto could be at home in any California restaurant, Fieri adds Bacon Jalapeno Duck Nuggets, No Can Beato This Taquito, and Good-to-Go Pizza Dough to the mix. It’s the high and low he’s known for.

“There are some steak sandwiches, there is some crazy food in there,” Fieri says of the new book that aims to teach as well as make cooks salivate. “But what you’re going to see is a lot of fresh ingredients. I broke down all the vegetables, cuts of meat. I try to give some insight. Chili from dried beans—that’s just the energy. It’s the life of Guy with food.”

Long before he became known as a fearless rock-’n’-roll chef, Fieri fell in love with food as a 16-year-old exchange student in France. Today, he shows great respect for all the cooks he visits on his “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” show. “The guy making the burger, that’s what he wants to make, how he wants to live. That’s his domain,” he says. “When you walk into somebody’s castle, you’ve got to respect that. That’s how I was raised.”

Fieri’s new cookbook reflects the way he and his family really eat. His children have never been to McDonald’s.

“Probably the last thing you’ll ever see me eat is a hamburger,” Fieri says. “I’d much rather have a tri-tip sandwich—I can’t even tell you the last time I had fried food, and not because it’s wrong. I love a good french fry like anybody [else], but I have to keep a balance.”

“I’m not saying I’m a purist—you can look at my petite 215-pound structure and tell I’m not some dietary wizard,” he says. “It’s about eating good food by good people. Make a french fry the right way, use good beef, fresh baked buns, lettuce that wasn’t sliced two weeks ago and packed in a bag in Schenectady. Keep it real.”

It also reflects how Fieri spends his off-camera time. He helped draft California legislation proclaiming the second Saturday in May as “Cook With Your Kids Day” and just launched Cooking with Kids, a program that promotes healthy eating habits and encourages families to share quality time in the kitchen. Fieri has also visited military bases as a guest of the U.S. Navy, entertaining troops and consulting with their cooks.

Whether he’s cooking for family, hosting hopefuls on the hit game show “Minute to Win It,” “bustin’ down” another best-selling book or cooking show, or hitting the culinary highway with “The Guy Fieri Road Show,” his focus is always clear: quality food and maximum fun.


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