Plenty of people have backyard grills. Guy Fieri presides over a char-broiler’s Shangri-La. Behind his rustic family compound in Santa Rosa, Calif., the halogen-haired host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and other popular Food Network shows has a gas-fired griddle, a Santa Maria–style barbecue (which can be raised or lowered over the heat), a commercial-grade brick pizza oven and—aloha, gorgeous!—a Hawaiian huli-huli rotisserie that can slow-roast 36 chickens at once. Even Fieri’s bird coop is mega: His 13 free-range, organic egg layers (none of which are destined for the dinner table) share a designer abode bigger than many apartments. “People go, ‘Who has stuff like this?’ ” Fieri, 46, says with that giant laugh. His wife of nearly 20 years, Lori, walks by with a good-natured eye roll. “But I’m like, life goes by in a click. You gotta enjoy it in a massive way.”
Take a tour of Guy’s outdoor kitchen in this exclusive video:
No question, Fieri (pronounced the Italian way, by rolling the r—or just say “fee-eddy”) lives large; but he’s also as down-to-earth as they come, and that’s a huge part of why his shows, cookbooks, and restaurants are successful. “I think what translates to most people is just, ‘I could live next door to that dude,’ ” he says. Ever since he exploded onto the scene in 2006 as the winner of The Next Food Network Star, Fieri’s rock ’n’ roll style and focus on unpretentious American comfort foods have made him a hero to anyone who’s ever gone “Wha?” at the mention of foie gras. “Guy’s the bad boy in class you hang around with anyway because he’s hilarious,” says chef Rachael Ray, who has teamed up with Fieri on a couple of shows. “Plus, he can really cook.”
As mayor of what Fieri dubs Flavortown, a culinary world dripping with “off-the-hook” dishes like Dragon’s Breath Chili and, yes, double-fried French fries, he refuses to let food snobs put the squeeze on his signature Donkey Sauce handiwork. Critics certainly try. A 2012 New York Times review of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square was the most scathing takedown ever penned about pretzel-crusted chicken tenders. “Okay, but for every snooty critic, there’s a dad, grandma, kid, biker, dentist, or garbageman who’ll tell you Guy’s the man,” says chef Robert Irvine, host of Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible, who tapped Fieri to be best man at his 2012 wedding.
This summer grilling season, Fieri has a new cookbook, Guy on Fire; a new restaurant, Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar; and a second round of Guy’s Grocery Games on Food Network. That he remains so popular is a testament to his iron will—and stomach—plus a talent for knowing what and how America likes to eat. We sat down with the chef to discuss great meals, coping with critics, and how family fuels his love of cooking.
PARADE: What do you love most about summer cooking?
GUY FIERI: The energy. People get a little bolder and more wild in summer. You’ve got things going on kabobs, things cooking on the bone. There’s something about standing over a grill or outside with the family that inspires us.
Save us from disaster: What are the biggest grilling mistakes?
The most common problem is not cooking with enough fire or cooking over coals that haven’t established themselves. But using lighter fluid, I think, is the biggest mistake people make. It’s nasty and you don’t want it in your food. Get some real charcoal, something that’s got wood in it, and none of that self-lighting stuff. Then use a charcoal chimney starter. It’s the greatest thing ever. You load your paper in the bottom, put your favorite type of charcoal on the top, and light.
What should people be cooking that they’re not?
People are very phobic about fish. And if they do cook fish, they fry it, which kills all the flavor. Tuna is probably the most readily accessible, easy to work with, and best tasting. So try searing some ahi. Grilled fish tacos are also great. Just substitute some firm white fish for ground beef or turkey. Sauté it in the pan or cook it on a hot grill, add a little lime juice, cumin, oregano, a bit of garlic, salt and pepper. Serve it in a tortilla with sour cream, avocado, and pico de gallo. If you’re feeling adventurous, grill up some marinated octopus. It’s so healthy.
By the way, with all that diner grub, how’s your cholesterol?
Good, actually. I love to exercise. I’m a big hiker, and I like boxing. I mean, I love a good burger, but I keep things in moderation.
You cook on your TV shows, on the road, at your restaurants. Who runs the kitchen at home?
After a show, people say, “I bet you want to just sit back and relax.” No way. First thing I want to do when I’m home is cook. We usually have a lot of friends and family over, and I’m teaching my boys to cook.
Do you remember the first meal you made that wowed people?
Without question. I was 10. Growing up, my parents were a bit earthy. We ate a lot of macrobiotic cuisine, and I hated it. My mom said, “You know what, Guy? If you don’t like the way we cook, you can cook.” So I did. I went into the grocery store after school, told the butcher I wanted some red meat, and cooked it before my parents got home. At dinner, my dad takes a bite and sets his fork down. I thought, “Oh, God, I’m going to get it now.” My dad looks at me and says, “This might be the best steak I’ve ever had.” Also, I didn’t have to do the dishes, which was the rule for whoever cooked. That’s when the bell went off—ding, ding, ding!
What was the first time you got paid to cook?
I always had a business. In second grade I had a Kool-Aid booth, and in fourth grade [I discovered] these awesome soft, steamed pretzels, and my dad and I built a cart [to sell them]. Now my foundation, Cooking With Kids, gives pretzel carts to children’s organizations to get them working with the public, learning safety, sanitation, salesmanship, all that stuff. Because the common denominator of all people is food. We all love to eat.
How’d you develop your rad look?
I’ve always liked tattoos and jewelry. One day the girl who cut my hair said, “You should change your hairstyle.” I had really long hair. I said, “All right.” She took almost all of it off and it was bright white. Since then it’s been like that.
Bobby Moynihan has done a spot-on impression of you on Saturday Night Live. What’s your take on it?
I love it. Whenever he’s done it, he’s texted me the next day to ask how I liked it, and I always tell him he’s brilliant. But my goal is to go on SNL doing Bobby doing me, alongside Bobby doing me. Wouldn’t that be nuts?
You clearly don’t take yourself too seriously. Still—if Gordon Ramsay cooks with three sticks of butter, it’s fancy food. If you do it, critics scream. Why?
I don’t pay attention to that. I’m more focused about what my friends think of me, what my family thinks, what my fans think. If someone has a concern with what I eat, or how I dress, brother, take all that energy and go focus on something for yourself.
But it must have hurt getting skewered by the New York Times critic who wondered if you had even eaten at your own restaurant.
I’m not going to make everybody happy. And anybody who wants to hate is going to hate. You have to be confident in who you are and what you’re doing. Of course, you try to evolve. I would never tell you, “Today is the best I will ever be.” I’m always trying to be a better chef, a better dad, a better person.
You lost your sister three years ago. How has that changed you?
I’ve had quite a few bangs and bruises in my day, so I always knew that we weren’t invincible. But my sister was a vegan most of her life, didn’t really drink, didn’t do drugs, was a massage therapist, did African dance; you couldn’t be much more grounded. She had cancer when she was 4, survived, lived cancer-free, and was just a gorgeous redhead, a symbol of life. That she could get melanoma and die within a year—I’ve always been aware of the tenderness of existence, but it reminded me to live for today. It was almost the difference between watching a movie in black and white and then watching it in IMAX.
Do you ever just want to slow down and open a little restaurant?
One of my favorite places in the world is Mexico, and I have a little piece of property down there. I’ve said this to my wife—who laughs and goes, “No way, you’ve got too much going on”—but the end game for me would be living on the beach. The days I want to cook, I’d open my restaurant, put a flag out in the sand, and cook whatever was fresh. I love to cook for people. It’s my honor, honestly. It’s what I have to give.
Click below for these flavorful recipes from Guy’s new book, Guy on Fire.
And another great dish from the chef: