By Veronica Dudo
It has only been five years since Guy Fieri was introduced to America on season two of the Next Food Network Star and eventually won the TV competition. After clinching that coveted title, he captivated the country with his big heart, genuine love for food and wild personality. The success that followed him has been just as tremendous as his legion of fans. The best-selling author has penned More Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: A Culinary Cruise, and Guy Fieri’s Food Cookbook. In addition to his culinary shows, this TV personality also hosts the game show, Minute to Win It. With a full plate, the restaurateur still manages to make time for charities currently working to educate young children about cooking healthy dishes.
Over the weekend, Fieri appeared at the Food Network’s Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival in the resort hosting several events including Guy Fieri’s Cheese Steak Battle where local Wit or Witout Cheesesteaks won. The celebrity chef talked about the importance of the festival, his new show with Rachel Ray and his efforts to teach kids how to cook healthy meals.
How is the Atlantic City Food and Wine Show going this year?
You got water, the boardwalk, and a bunch of great casinos, restaurants and entertainment. I will tell you something—I fly six of my buddies out from California to come to this and they go through it like it’s the NFL draft; they’re all jockeying for who gets the shot to come out to AC and this actually is my kids’ first time to come out. My son Hunter comes out of the hotel and he goes, ‘Wow, is what the whole town’s like?’ and I said pretty much. We’re big White House fans so there’s just a whole energy and attitude there. I’m really proud that the hotels work together and put on this Food and Wine Festival I think first of all you’ve got South Beach Food and Wine, you’ve got Aspen, you’ve got Pebble Beach, you’ve got some big hitters out there but what I think AC does and the effort that they put into it and how it continues to get better each year—each year it gets better.
What is the premise of your new cooking show with Rachael Ray?
Rachel and I coached them, we picked teams a mixed bag of characters and I tell you fierce competition not negative competition; I’m not into negative I don’t play, I don’t like gossip—that’s just not my gig. I said when this whole thing was coming down, I said I’m not voting people off, ‘You’re fired’ I’m not doing any of that, that’s not my style; bring other people in to be the judges. I’m the coach so we have different scenarios where different people got involved and judge, sometimes large audiences judge but watching my boys they’re cooking—I have guys and girls—watching them go through these issues and trying to cook at higher levels and listening—I’ve got 30 minutes to tell them, we go through this thing where they look at me in the middle of cooking and they’re like, “When do I add the garlic?’ and I’m like, ‘I want to help you.’ I must have lost five pounds—I mean it found me but I lost it for a while; we just shot for about five days. It was just bananas and it was so funny because my manager Reed, we were getting in the car after I had lost one of my guys on the show and I was so bummed out about it and he goes you know what, I know you’re really sad about losing one of your guys but trust me if it feels like that to you think what kind of television it’s going to make.
What was it like working with Rachel Ray?
Rachel Ray is simply amazing. She is funny, witty, quick, smart, super culinary talented she goes by I’m a cook I’m not a chef; that’s not even the truth she knows so much about food. She’s so well read and I stand there with her and I usually go toe to toe with all my boys about one-liners and movie quotes and jokes and random information about food and this girl stands there it’s like Ali Foreman in a great way, in a very positive-energy way. She’s like a sister, it’s a really neat relationship and I’m glad to see that because I never knew Rachel that well, I knew her from shows and interactions but the depth of the person, phenomenal I go in (my dressing room) and have to answer emails and have to get on the phone for conference calls she’s in hers writing recipes and this woman is non-stop.
It’s only been a few years since you were competing on Next Food Network Star and won. How do you keep balance in your life with your superstar status?
I was old enough when I got into this; I think I was 37 when I got this shot so I had already done what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a Dad, that’s my first line and first title on my business card is Dad; and then I wanted to be a chef and a restaurant owner and I did those things. I was just cruising life, I was cool, and everything was great. Plus, if you really look at the baseline of what this whole thing is about, it’s just about people, it’s about people enjoying other people and being around other people that like doing similar things that they like because food is the common denominator of most people I think of all people. Some people say I don’t like food, well you just haven’t had the right food and people that don’t eat the food that they want to eat—you just eat food in moderation or try to and exercise and so forth—I think they’re hurting themselves by not living their life to the fullest because who knows what happens tomorrow? But, this is a community meeting of food and wine and different people carry different roles in it. You’ve got the baseline stuff of cooking the food and hanging out and talking about it and then the crazy stuff and the wild and the parties and everything in-between.
Do you watch Next Food Network Star or interact with any of the contestants?
I do and that’s one of the reasons that I try to give a little mentoring to those guys because whether or not they won or not, they’re in it and I personally think that this (season) is the best Food Network Star series that they’ve had. I think it was so well produced and so well handled we DVR it. I don’t watch a lot of TV—or my kids—that’s not our big gig but we sit there as a family and watch it, and my kids say who they want to win and I don’t tell them what the story is. But, I try to give them a little insight to what’s available to them just because you didn’t win doesn’t mean the game’s over you’re in the top echelon of people in food that are recognized and you got to do something with it.
You have worked for the past couple of years to educate kids about cooking healthy dishes, have you seen progress?
My kids, they stood on the Senate floor with me in May and we took a resolution from the state of California. I’ve been working for the last four years to get more of the movement in California about cooking with kids and so we got the resolution that the second Saturday in May would be ‘Cook With your Kids Day,’ in the state of California. It was awesome and we did some nice projects with it, we did some cooking classes and we really got some people focused. But I said, ‘That’s not enough, one day. We’re only going to do one day when we have child obesity, diabetes and we got all this craziness going on and we’re only going to give one day? Wow, that’s really putting our foot forward.’ So, we went back to the legislature, the coalition of players and said I want it once a week so we have Sundays now in the state of California is deemed, ‘Cook With Your Kids Day.’
This year’s Guy Fieri’s Cheesesteak Battle was fun but also very competitive. Will you be making any changes for next year?
I tried to make it the Academy Awards of Cheesesteaks! We’re going to go big or we’re going to go home. People are there, who’s coming back next year? Are you in this? Who’s the champion? And there’s the guys over there from The Butcher and then Wit or Witout wins and (Nicole) DiZio, she’s jumping at the whole thing and I hope that locks in everybody’s mind. I was telling the event planner, I said next year I want to write and send a letter out to all the cheesesteak joints, I want to tell them hopefully, we’ll have a new category of presentation because they’re all a bunch of crazies, they’re all so into it; have one on presentation, have one on creativity and one on actual cheesesteaks. So you can go and maybe didn’t win the exact cheesesteak; you go away with something else—you got the wildest fans, those kind of things and continue to make it grow because cheesesteaks are their own identity, they’re their own uniqueness.