In a world of buttoned-up chefs and unpronounceable ingredients, Guy Fieri, 42, is the Food Network’s resident rebel. The Ohio-born UNLV alumnus made a name for himself as the culinary world’s everyman with his bleached-blond locks and laid-back attitude. Fieri’s rise to Food Network fame came after winning The Next Food Network Star in 2006, and he now hosts three shows: Guy’s Big Bite, Ultimate Recipe Showdown and Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, in addition to his new NBC game show, Minute to Win It.
Fieri began his journey to culinary stardom at the age of 10, selling pretzels from a cart and washing dishes. He saved enough money to study abroad in France, solidifying his love for international cuisine. After graduating from UNLV with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management in 1990, Fieri, along with business partner Steve Gruber, opened the Italian eatery Johnny Garlic’s in Santa Rosa, Calif., in 1996. Two more Northern California installations of Johnny Garlic’s followed, along with two locations of Tex Wasabi’s, a Southern barbecue and sushi restaurant. Though plenty busy with five restaurants in Northern California—where he lives with his wife and two sons—and his three hit shows, Fieri says a Las Vegas eatery is in the works.
How did Las Vegas influence you?
Vegas is such a melting pot. One, it’s the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” and you can’t beat that. I mean, there’s so much going on in entertainment, food, nightlife, day life, school life … there’s a million and one things out there. I just realized how big the world is and how expansive the opportunity is. I was there when The Mirage was being built and we all just stood there with our mouths wide open, “It’s The Mirage, man.” Now from The Mirage on to all the other big hotels that have come, it was kind of play big, dream big, be big.
How do you get kids interested in cooking?
What we have a tendency to do so often with our kids is say, “OK, we’re going to cook together, all right, so here you go—you get to peel the potatoes.” In today’s world, a kid’s attention span to peel all the potatoes is about nada. They want to be there for the glory moment. So, pick something you like to eat. Do the chopping, get everything out of the way for them, let them show up when it’s stir-the-pan time, let them show up when it’s smell-the-food time. Get them into the action.
What is your favorite place to eat in Las Vegas?
When I went to school there, it was kind of in the buffet era. Everyone had a righteous buffet. Now you go in and Bobby [Flay]’s got a restaurant, Mario [Batali]’s got a restaurant, Guy Savoy’s got a restaurant. I ate at Guy’s and it was just a dynamite meal. It was just over the top. So I would say that there’s a wide variety, and everyone is just playing top-level ball. If you go to Paul [Bartolotta’s], oh my God, and I don’t get that bombarded, but we went there and these cats lay it out. … Go to my favorite haunt [from] when I was in college—Four Kegs over on Jones Boulevard and U.S. 95. I talk about that place all the time.
How did your famous look come about?
I would love to tell you that there was some really cool reason why the look happened, but there is no reason. … The girl who was doing my hair, about 10 years ago, said, “That’s it, you’ve got to cut your hair.” I said, “Why?” and she said, “You need a new look.” I said, “Fine do whatever you want.” So I think out of shock factor she tried to wow me by hacking all my hair off to about an inch high and bleaching it. When she took the bag off my head I said, “Well, are you going to wash this stuff out of my hair?” And she said, “That’s your new hair color, baby.”
Is it safe to say thinking about food takes up a lot of your time?
It’s the center. I mean my kids are my world, my wife and my kids, but everything that goes on around us, from my business to my personal passion, is food. Not just because I’m on TV. Way before I was even on TV it was always food. It’s always been food, it will always be food. I love experimenting with food, trying new food, seeing new food. Besides liver, there’s probably nothing I won’t try.
What will you be grilling for Memorial Day?</p>
We’ll be out at Lake Sonoma [in California], and a lot of times what we’ll do is we’ll marinate a lot of meat and bring handmade tortillas out there, so it’s probably going to be Mexican themed. We like tomatillo salsa, a roasted-tomato salsa, we’ll get a little pico de gallo—my mom loves pico de gallo—some good solid tortillas and a little assortment of meat. We’ll do some roasted pork, going a little Cuban with it, with a little momo sauce. We’ll do some carne asada and a little tequila lime chicken. I just try to make it nice and easy for when we’re going to the lake.
What are your plans for a Vegas restaurant?
I want Vegas for so many reasons. One, I love the town. Two, I love to do things with UNLV. Three, I love the town. Four, my son wants to go to UNLV, and he’s only in seventh grade. I think four or five years gives me a chance to get a place going there, get a house down there and establish a little bit of consistency down there before he goes to school. So that’s five. And six, I love the town. Hopefully, it’ll happen.