It’s hard to watch Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and not get hungry. It’s also hard not to smile. Guy Fieri knows it, too. We sat down to chat about what makes the show tick, Guy’s pop culture presence, and how to find success in doing what you love.
BY MATT TUTHILL
COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF CAESAR’S PALACE
Robert Irvine Magazine: First off, congratulations on having your very own cult. FieriCon is amazing. How does it feel to have a phenomenon like that built around your personality?
Guy Fieri: [Laughs] You know, my son just asked me if I ever thought I would be famous. He’s 12. I said, “No. That’s not what I ever went out to do. I just went out to be a good person and be a good member of society and be a good dad.” I always wanted to be a great dad like my dad is and I wanted to be successful in whatever I chose to do. My goals are very simple and very, I don’t know, grounded.
I haven’t moved from that, and so what happens with all of this craziness—all the emojis and FieriCon and people selling bathroom curtains with my face on them and stuff, I mean all I do is just smile and say, “As long as I’m making somebody happy and I’m entertaining somebody and they’re having fun and they feel good about it, then I’m doing something right.”
I’m adding to it, visiting kids in the hospital and the fact that that brightens somebody’s day and takes their mind off of what they’re going through, and you can’t be any more excited than that. You can’t be any more appreciative of your opportunity.
RI: You’re not affiliated with this convention in any way, are you?
GF: No. I hope to make it one day. I heard a lot about it and I’ve had a lot of people send me pictures of it and all that kind of stuff. I was just having a laugh about it. I said, “What happens if I show up to it and just act like I’m one of the greatest impersonators?”
RI: That video would get around.
GF: Could you imagine? Tell them they better watch out. They’ll never know.
RI: Food Network airs an incredible amount of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. It’s like you have your own television network on most nights. What are your thoughts about how much they air that show?
GF: Well, as long as people aren’t getting sick of it, I’m fine with whatever they choose to do. The show brings a lot of happiness to a lot of people. I get letters and e-mails all the time and that’s the beauty of it. This isn’t about me anymore. What it does for the mom and pop restaurants is amazing. The restaurant climate is so difficult. It’s so difficult to make money. Prices of everything are going up. You name it, there’s another price hike on something. So these mom and pop restaurants don’t have money to market themselves or advertise. When they get a chance to be featured on the Food Network, be it Triple-D or Restaurant: Impossible with Robert, that has a huge impact.
So as much as people will watch it and as many people as we can help with it, I’ll do it until that stops.
RI: Do you ever come across it late at night and get hungry yourself? Because that’s what happens to me. I’m sitting there and I’m fine, then I watch two minutes of your show and I’m starving. It’s dangerous.
GF: Years ago I didn’t understand that. Then maybe three or four years into doing it, I flew into Salt Lake City late one night and I was waiting for my film crew to show up and I was sitting in the bar at the hotel and they had it on and I’m sitting there and I’m going, “Oh, I remember that place. Oh boy… Oh God, that was good.” Finally I said to the bartender, “Hey, you guys serving food?” He says, “No.” I’m like, “Is there anybody around here serving food?” He said, “No. There’s a vending machine on the second floor.” I’m like, “Oh my God! I’m going to be sitting here eating potato chips and corn nuts as my meal tonight.”
It was funny, because that was the first time it ever really struck me. So I feel the pain, brother. I feel bad. I’ve heard the stories like, “My husband made me get up in the middle of the night and drive to the 24-hour supermarket because he wanted to make those Asian noodles you ate at some place,” or, “We went and bought a smoker barbecue 300 miles from our house because we had to make the smoked brisket you made.”
The beauty of the show is that it’s all-American. It’s who we are. It’s the melting pot. Food’s a common denominator of everybody. You might not like the same music, you might not like the same sports, you might not like the same politics, but you all love food.
RI: What is the best piece of cooking advice you ever got, and who gave it to you?
GF: I think that the best advice that I ever got was from my dad. My dad’s not a chef, but he’s a really good cook. He said, “Don’t be scared. Don’t make everything crazy, don’t cook everything off the radar, but be willing to take chances. Be willing to try new stuff.”
I tell people this all the time with their kids. Don’t sit there and build your kids up to it with, “Okay now listen. We’re going to make something different tonight, and if you don’t like it, well, we can order a pizza if you don’t like it.” Bullshit!
I remember the first time I fed my little kid, my little guy Ryder, and he must have been eight or nine at the time, I fed him curry. Curry’s a pretty distinct, pretty unique, pretty out there flavor. I told my wife before everybody sat down to dinner, “Don’t say a thing about this. Don’t say a word about what he’s getting ready to eat. Just let him go.” He ate it, and now this kid’s the biggest curry fan in the world. We had curry last night.
We’ve got to eat without prejudice. We’ve got to listen to music without prejudice. We got to listen to stories without prejudice. We got to cook without prejudice. Stand outside of your comfort zone a little bit, take some chances, and experiment a little bit. It doesn’t mean you do the whole dinner that way. There were enough times that my dad made something crazy and we just figured out how to eat the rice and the green beans and the salad. But I think that people get so nervous and so tight that they only cook their same traditional dishes and that kind of puts them into that position where they keep playing the same record.
That’s the advice that I’ve kind of followed, and I think it served me really well. I touch almost every ethnicity of food, and it’s really helped with my vision and my ability. It’s like in Triple-D. I have to talk about and have to have so much insight and awareness on so many different types of food, and I think that that’s one of the reasons that I’ve been able to do that is because I never cooked with any regulation.
RI: Shane Torres is a comedian who went on Conan and offered this defense of you against anyone who would tease your look. (See the clip HERE.) Then he lists every philanthropic endeavor that you’ve ever been involved in, and it’s a staggering amount of stuff. It’s also a hilarious bit. Do you know this guy?
GF: Well let me first give a big shout out to Shane. I haven’t met him yet, but I’m looking forward to it, and you got to love a guy that speaks his mind and does his thing his way. We’ve had a blast with all of the energy that Shane’s brought to the game.
When it comes to charity, I grew up in a small town in northern California and my parents were always, and still are, always about helping others. We’re really blessed. If you’re up and you’re walking around today and you can experience and embrace and appreciate all the things that are going on around you, you’re a very lucky person because those simple things that we all take for granted, a lot of folks don’t have. Be it the freedom, be it the ability, be it the environment. We’re just blessed.
Whenever you have a chance to, as soon as you get a chance to recognize how lucky you are, now is the time to start to recognize how unfortunate a lot of other folks are and it’s time to help. I don’t devote my entire world to it. I’ve got a family and a business and these things, but there’s so many opportunities to help folks that need the love and support. Our military, all of our civil services, police departments, and our fire departments.
Then you have kids who should be dreaming of having a pony and becoming a basketball star and not worrying about where their next meal is coming from or worried about the cancer they have. It’s just heartbreaking.
I’ve had a great opportunity and a great life and I’ve got a little bit of a spotlight that people will listen to some of what I say, and if I can shed light on any of it or help fundraise, then that’s my responsibility to do as a member of the community and as an American. There’s a million reasons we all should be doing this. All I say to people is just do what you can. Not everybody gets to do what Robert Irvine does. I mean, he’s amazing, he’s over the top. I don’t think Robert takes a personal day. That type of enthusiasm is contagious.
RI: Very true. So you like Shane Torres. How about Bobby Moynihan (who played Guy on Saturday Night Live.)
GF: Bobby’s the best. When Bobby left Saturday Night Live, I was really bummed. I had always hoped that I would make it on to Saturday Night Live with Bobby and have Bobby imitating me and me imitating Bobby imitating me. I always thought it would happen, and it didn’t. I texted him on his farewell and he’s just a great dude and he’s an incredible, incredible talent. I remember when my son turned 16, Bobby sent him a video wishing him a happy birthday.
You got to be able to laugh at yourself and you got to be able to take it and realize how funny life is. Man, you sure are doing good when somebody can put a skit about you on Saturday Night Live. Getting a skit on that show is really difficult. I know quite a few people that have gone through the process and what goes on there. For Bobby to come up with it and to work it and to get it through and to air it, that dude, he was on his game.
RI: If you were to think of all the menu items you’ve tried on Triple D, if you had to go to a desert island and take one menu item with you from all those restaurants, are you able to pin it down to one item?
GF: That’s like saying, “What is your favorite song?”
GF: I don’t have a good, clean answer and I always want to be able to give it. I mean, I’m a huge fan of Asian food. I love soy sauce, I love ginger, I love garlic, I love spice, I love fresh vegetables. I’m a huge vegetable junkie. That’s one of the things people don’t even know about me. I’ll make six different types of vegetables for dinner. I would say that it would be in the Asian culture… but then again, that tiptoes right over into taking the noodles over into Italian, and then that Italian could go into French.
So do I have a good clear-cut answer for you? No. I don’t. Do I wish I did? Yes. I’ll say whatever I picked, I would be on the island eating and happy for the first month and then trying to figure out how to incorporate sand and coconut into diversifying the dish into something else.
RI: You’ve followed your passions and it has paid off handsomely. What advice would you give to a fellow traveler who is struggling to get to where they want to go?
GF: Well, I said it to my son today. He asked me about being successful. He said, “Do you think I’m going to be successful?” I said, “You know what, Ryder? I think that the question is the beginning of the journey.” Because once you can recognize some of the things that you’re looking for in your life, then you have your own definition of what success is and you can start to work towards that path. Not everybody’s success is the same success. I don’t want to live in a big city, and I don’t want to have an apartment on the 58th floor and be able to go out to all the restaurants and the clubs in the city. That isn’t my definition of success, but for a lot of people that’s the definition.
I don’t have a house that is in the mountains that I can only get to by horseback, but that’s somebody else’s version of success. Everybody has their own personal definition of success, so all I say is set your goals at what you want to be. Set your goals at how you want to live. Set your goals of what you’re going to stand for. Once you form those opinions or set those parameters, then I think the path is much more clear.
Then remember nothing is free. Nothing I’ve ever seen worth having is for free. Everything takes time, energy, effort, respect, love. It takes all of that. It’s like doing television. It’s like doing the restaurant business. It’s tough work, but if you really love it, 12-hour days aren’t as bad. If it’s something you didn’t love, 12-hour days would be impossible.
But what a lot of people do is they chase somebody else’s version of success. They keep up with the Joneses. They use a roadmap that’s not their map, and when they get to the end of it, and they worked their ass off and they’ve gone through all these trials and tribulations, they get there and it’s not where they want to be. They say, “Well I’m not happy. I make a ton of money, I live in a big-ass house, I’ve got this, this, and this, but I’m not happy.” So then they’re 50 and they have to quit everything, move to the mountains and go, “Oh, this is what I’m happy about.” Well, shit, too bad you couldn’t have done that when you were 20 and spent the last 30 years in bliss.
First you have to define what success is for you, then you can start to move toward it.