Guy Fieri wasn’t trying to be a trendsetter when he auditioned for a Food Network competition back in 2006. In fact, he was almost a no-show for what became his big break. However, from his first few colorful utterances on television, it was clear that this newcomer was cut from a different cloth. This wasn’t some stodgy gourmand in a white pleated hat. He seemed more like a California surfer dude rolling in on a fresh, new culinary wave.
“The image certainly wasn’t intentional, that I would be the only chef on TV with tattoos, bleached blond hair, and earrings,” says the foodie firebrand. “I had never even seen the Food Network and I didn’t have time to watch a lot of TV because I was a chef and restaurant owner with a young son and a pregnant wife. Plus, I didn’t even want to go on the show, but my friends talked me into it.”
A Reluctant Debut Leads to Guy Fieri’s Big Break
That show he’s referring to was the second season of The Next Food Network Star. During the show he rose to the top over seven other talented food professionals. The reward was a show of his own called Guy’s Big Bite. The successful show was followed quickly by Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and a parade of others.
During the 15 years since his somewhat reluctant debut, he’s become maybe the most recognizable of all of the network’s high-profile personalities. He even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The pop-culture landmark has only two other chefs, Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay.
A Man of Many Talents
In interviews, the 54-year-old Fieri bristles a bit when the subject of his unconventional appearance comes up. He fields these kinds of queries so many times over the years that it’s become a boring routine for him. Especially when he has so many other exciting things to talk about.
His wildly popular road-trip show is bearing down on 450 episodes filmed at 1,500 different locations. He’s also the star of Guy’s Grocery Games, Guy’s Ranch Kitchen, and Tournament of Champions. He wrote enough cookbooks to fill a backpack. And has a lengthening chain of more than a hundred restaurants to his name. Including his new delivery-only concept called Flavortown Kitchen.
His Hunt & Ryde Winery (named for his sons) specializes in Pinot Noir, and he produces Santo Tequila with his buddy Sammy Hagar. Guy Fieri has been heavily involved in fundraising efforts for restaurant workers hurt financially by the pandemic. That’s on top of his charity activities for law enforcement, first responders, and military personnel. And yet, with all of this happening, he somehow finds time for another of his favorite pursuits, hunting wild game.
Guy Fieri is Cooking for the Field
His love for hunting came from exploring the gorgeous terrain near his childhood home in Humboldt County in northern California. “I’m a huge outdoor guy,” Fieri says. “I love to hike, and we used to do a lot of packing into the mountains with our horses when I was a kid. I grew up cooking with Dutch ovens and cast-iron skillets. My dad was an adventurous cook, and sometimes our friends would come and give us wild game.”
He took up bows and firearms himself when he got a little older. These sports have become one of his favorite diversions. He hunts around the country for waterfowl, like ducks and geese, and for big game like deer, elk, antelope, wild boar, and bighorn sheep. To his mild frustration, the wild turkeys on his own property have remained elusive. “You name it, I’ve been around it,” he says.
Of all of his experiences in the wild, he singles out elk hunting in Wyoming as something that’s magnificent and hard to beat. “Even if you don’t want to go to the point of actually hunting the animal, it’s probably one of the most amazing things you can ever do in your life,” he says. “The bugling of an elk, and the communication that goes on and the competition that ensues, and to sit there ringside to watch it, is really something.”
Embracing the Challenge of Field-to-Table Preparation and Cooking
We know from seeing him on TV that he is relaxed and comfortable in any kitchen. But he says he still finds field-to-table preparation and cooking to be a challenge. “First and foremost, you have to be a responsible hunter,” he says. “If you don’t like eating wild game, please don’t hunt. Or at least make sure it goes to someone who does. We have a good process of utilizing all that we harvest. We break down the roasts, chops, and steaks, leaving the loin. Then we find a good butcher to break that down into sausage.
And the second thing is, every animal is different. An animal that eats in a feedlot gets fed a specific diet. That diet makes for a pretty consistent base product that you’re going to get to work with. But when you’re eating an animal from the wild, you don’t know where it lived, what it ate, how much it ate, what stage of its life it was in. There are just so many factors. There is a lot to learn and there’s a lot to know. But you’ve got to be on your game – no pun intended. And you do have to be ready for some disappointment.”
To illustrate how different meats require different preparations, Guy Fieri tells of a memorable dinner his charity foundation put on as a law enforcement appreciation. “I made them a wild game jambalaya with duck sausage, elk, wild boar, and alligator. People lost their minds,” he says. “It was legendary. Each meat had to be respectfully cooked so that nothing was tough. You have to handle them all in the right way.”
Rolling Toward Flavortown
On the screen, Guy Fieri’s casual, quirky approach has built him a huge following. And has probably helped to fuel what he says is a relentless fascination with food. His own enthusiasm intensified when he lived for a year in Chantilly, France as a teen-aged exchange student. “There was no fast food, no Mini-Marts, or anything like that,” he recalls. “Every meal we ate in France was freshly prepared and something you really looked forward to. When I came back, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a cook and own my own restaurants.”
His timing was good, as a sizable sector would soon tire of mass-produced meals made from frozen and overly processed ingredients. “At the time, people were going to restaurants where there were more microwaves than stovetops.” While he’s become popular for his snappy expressions like “on point,” “off the hook,” and “out of bounds,” this was also a time when more down-to-earth buzzwords like “fresh,” “seasonal,” and “local” entered the common culinary vernacular.
“America is on fire right now about food – it’s unbelievable,” he says. “I give the Food Network tons of the credit for being what I think of as the bandleader. And getting everybody to pay attention and say, ‘Hey, wait a second, there’s really good food out there.’” As for his own role, he says he’s just part of the team. “I just appreciate being put into a platform that allows me to do what I love. Which is food and restaurants and the people who are in restaurants.”
Finding Those Funky Joints
That’s why Guy Fieri loves to showcase those standout eateries on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Not all of them are neatly categorized as one of the three Ds. However, many of them share an independent spirit that helps to lift them over their competition. “If it’s funky, I’ll find it,” he has famously said. And here’s what he looks for beyond the mind-blowing flavors: “Mom-and-pop joints that have a real strong culinary foundation and culinary attitude. It’s got to be real food by real people. They’ve got to have a story, and they’ve got to have character.”
The good news for both viewers and eaters is there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of them. After recent visits to the Dakotas, he and his crew have covered all 48 of the continental states. So we may see them venturing off to Hawaii and Alaska before long.
There are food lovers who try to visit each of Triple D’s destinations, and it’s more than a badge of honor for the restaurants that are featured. In the wake of his famous ’68 red Camaro, some of the small businesses have had to expand their space to accommodate more diners. For others, the wide exposure has kept them from having to close their doors.
Guy Fieri’s Dining Scene at Home
If you’ve ever tuned in to watch Guy’s Ranch Kitchen, you have an idea what his home life is like near Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. If you think a TV chef wants a break from cooking when he’s off work, guess again. Food lovers tend to gravitate toward one another. So Fieri says it’s not at all unusual for a crowd of 15 or more to gather at his home around dinner time.
In addition to his parents, his wife, Lori, and their sons, Hunter and Ryder, there’s a good chance he’s also setting plates for close friends. “They’re all die-hards when it comes to food,” he says.
Most people Guy Fieri encounters on the road share their food fervor. However, it’s the exceptions that leave him scratching his platinum head. “Every once in a while I’ll run into somebody that looks at me and says, ‘Yeah, I don’t know, man, I just don’t get it about the food thing. I just eat.’ And I’ll be like, ‘How can you go through life and not have this love affair with food that everybody else has?’” For the most part, though, here’s what he sees out there on the road: “It’s a fever-pitch level of admiration for food. I mean, in some way, shape or form, whether it’s going out to eat, cooking for yourself, or watching it on TV, America’s got this undying passion.”