Guy Fieri: Beyond Diners, Flames, and Flavortown
Guy Fieri is everywhere. He has Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, he has California restaurants Johnny Garlic's and Tex Wasabi's in Santa Rosa, his Carnival Cruise Lines endeavor Guy's Burger Joint, two new Food Network shows in addition to Triple D (Triple G aka Guy's Grocery Games, and Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off), and he still has his New York City restaurant Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar (snarky New Yorkers, and New York Times restaurant review critic Pete Wells be damned). So it should’ve been no surprise for New Yorkers to see him involved with at least three events during last year’s New York City Wine & Food Festival. Still, as much visibility as he has, you may find you actually don’t know as much about him as you think. And it was shortly after the festival that The Daily Meal was able to catch up with the star, an opportunity to discover a few things beyond the flames, the hair, and the iconic key phrases.
Did you know, for instance, that Fieri spent a year as an exchange student in Chantilly, France? That’s where he first had chicken feet soup. Did you know that when it comes to baseball, this California native, at least when anyone is going up against the Red Sox, roots for Boston? His wife is from Providence. Where do the flames come from? How about the iconic hairstyle? What did general manager/senior vice president for Food Network Bob Tuschman tell Guy about his hairstyle after he won Food Network Star?
We’re getting ahead of ourselves — it’s all in the interview below, along with his explanation for where catchphrases like "Flavortown" and "TheBomb.com" come from. Read on for more about this, his new cookbook recipes, and a new restaurant expected to open in 2014.
The bio on the New York City Wine & Food Festival website notes that, "by selling pretzels and washing dishes, you [Guy] earned enough money in six years to study abroad as an exchange student in Chantilly, France. There you [he] gained a profound appreciation for international cuisine and the lifestyle associated with it." It seems as though few know this side of you. How long did you stay in Chantilly and what's the one culinary lesson you learned, serious or not, from your time there?
A lot of people don’t know about it, and not because I’ve kept it a secret or anything, but because everybody thinks your life begins after college. I left to study in France before I went to college at the age of 16, not through an exchange program or anything — just on my own. I went and lived in a boarding house and I barely spoke any French. My mom and dad hosted some French exchange students through the community college when I was a kid. But we learned so much when they came, and when I decided to go to France, my parents said, "Well, you’ll figure it out." It was about a year that I spent over there — 11 months. And I’ll tell you, this will sound funny, but in terms of culinary experience, well, you are much more likely to eat something when you are hungry."We were just talking about the new cookbook and talking about the font for it, and I took a picture next to a fire and said, "I want flames. Not Guy Fieri flames. Enough with the fake flames. I want real flames. Real fire."
That may sound stupid but let me explain. That’s how I’ve taught my own kids to eat. That’s how I got them to eat sushi at the age of 8. When you’re hungry you’re a lot more willing to be a lot more daring. Take for example, chicken feet soup. I remember eating it when I was over there because I was hungry. That’s about the only time when you’re going to eat chicken feet soup when you’re 16 years old — when you’re hungry. There wasn’t a lot of snacking going on when I was working in the restaurant kitchens in France. It just wasn’t that way. You had a breakfast and a break and a great lunch, and you came home hungry for dinner. But the meals! Everything from foie gras, mussels, and pâté to this unbelievable mushroom tart — and I wasn’t even a huge mushroom fan at that age. But when you’re hungry you learn to appreciate things. I think it’s a great example to follow.
Too much snacking is no good. But eating great ingredients in correct fashion, prepared with the correct methods… that’s the good stuff. It was funny when I came back, my parents were like, "When did you start eating this stuff?" And it wasn’t just the restaurants where I worked. The families that I stayed with all had outstanding home cooks.
Is there anyone that you’re still in touch with from during that year?
My best friend from that time was Vince Oisel. And actually, he‘s planning a trip! Well, I’m planning a trip to have him come over. I haven’t seen him in about 20 years. I was visiting Cognac, and I went and saw him, and it was a great reunion.
Given your experience there, what if anything do you think is the most important thing that most Americans could benefit from understanding or applying from French cuisine?
First, and this is enormously important, and not as unknown as it was before, but it’s my interpretation of what French food is — and I really think that that’s just really cooking seasonally. That’s what it is. It’s really just using what’s available and to its fullest extent. And in that culture, it was always commonplace to make chicken stock after you used the rest of the chicken. You didn’t buy chicken stock. The simplicity, the appreciation of the ingredients, and the utilization of what was available, that’s just part of the culture. And you had these other things and then you just bought bread every day. You bought fresh bread every day from the bakery. You trimmed your vegetables and then you made stock out of that, too. Nothing gets wasted — you make vegetable stock.
I didn’t live with a poor family when I was in France and that mentality was everywhere. I would go to people’s apartments in Paris and they had the same outlook: you wasted nothing and things in moderation. When we would finish eating dinner after sitting down together, everything was gone. Why? Because you didn’t make more than the family needed to eat! When you’ve come from a country that has been poor at some point, you learn that. And you have that with these countries that have been through wars, and been through famines. Those people have learned how to make soup from chicken feet. First you pluck the feathers for the pillows, and then hey, "Today we’re having chicken feet soup!"