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Fieri, who was once ridiculed by white-tablecloth elites, has just signed a historic deal for a TV chef, ushering him into a revered elder statesman position in the food world, raising millions for jobs displaced by COVID-19: “I was furious.”

Guy Fieri’s 1968 Camaro is conspicuously missing from the set of antique wheels abutting his Sonoma Valley winery ranch in Windsor, California.

The cherry-red convertible from the star chef and car collector’s culinary travelogue Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is en route from points east, where development resumed this past winter, but the platinum blond is enjoying a few days at home in between shoots. Fieri, like most people, is taking small steps back to normalcy, despite the fact that his pre-pandemic status quo included providing Food Network with a mind-boggling 80 hours of original programming per year. Fieri was one of the first to film remotely in 2020, airing only a week after the country was put on lockdown, so he was back on the road as soon as he was allowed.

“Here’s my research for Hawaii; we’re getting ready to go shoot there next,” says Fieri, sliding a spiral-bound agenda of eateries across the table that separates us. Some businesses anointed by his Midas touch have seen sales climb fivefold after Fieri scarfs their creations on TV, a stat that carries new significance for the host given the calamitous effect of the downturn on the restaurant business. “Then I’m trying to finally put Puerto Rico together,” he adds, grabbing another binder. “They need some love.”

This March afternoon at Fieri’s home isn’t unlike catching up with a busy friend who just happens to have an Emmy statuette and a few bottles of the tequila brand he owns with Sammy Hagar on the kitchen island. One of three wine country properties Fieri keeps in his native Northern California, this has been where he, Lori, his wife of 26 years, and sons Hunter and Ryder have spent most of the past year with their three dogs. The smallest, a Chihuahua named Smokey, is Fieri’s favorite — as the handmade “Enter slowly please; small dog” sign at the end of his long driveway suggests.

In his almost muted hospitality, Fieri, a volcano of enthusiasm on tape, subverts expectations. Instead of a nacho, a battered chicken thigh, or a jalapeno popper, the guy who is associated with on-camera calorie consumption pulls a double shot of espresso for me. He nods to the coffee machine and says, “I got really good at this over the last year.”

Fieri honed this talent while also collecting more than $25 million for food staff displaced by COVID-19 closures over the last year. He’s now focusing the majority of his attention and, thanks to a groundbreaking new television contract, his artistic output on reviving the industry that once mocked his unrefined style and bacon-bedecked menus. It’s difficult not to take Fieri seriously these days. The goateed gastronomist’s sense of mission may be the thing that eventually eclipses his brash image as he prepares to beat the drum for restaurant relief even louder — and as those hardest hit by America’s selective recession start to fade out of the news cycle —

“Nothing can replace what this kind of recognition, appearing on TV, can do for these people and their businesses … for their lives,” he says, taking a sip of coffee. “I need to keep doing this because it just needs to be done.”

Guy Fieri
Image Source: Hollywoodreporter

Fieri was not scared or nervous 13 months ago, when the pandemic began and the country’s collective anxiety skyrocketed. He was much too enraged. He explains, “I don’t get mad or lose my shit.” “However, I was enraged.”

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Restaurants were closed from coast to coast, and most — the styles of mom-and-pop joints featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives — had a 10-day runway before the money dried up, according to Fieri. It was mid-March 2020, and Fieri was on his elliptical machine — he gets a lot of his ideas when exercising — when he asked his business manager for contact information for CEOs of major companies. He wrote personal emails to powerful people including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, asking for donations for an emergency relief fund that would eventually give over 43,000 $500 grants to out-of-work line cooks, servers, and other restaurant workers.

Fieri opines on the crisis with undiminished zeal today, dressed in a crisp black button-down. “I’m not into shaming people and saying who didn’t donate; that’s not my style,” Fieri says, citing large donations from PepsiCo, Uber Eats, and Procter & Gamble before pausing. He adds, “Jeff, by the way, didn’t help us.”

“There is no better salesman than Guy,” says Food Network president Courtney White, whose most bankable talent has fronted 14 series on her network. “There’s a power to his enthusiasm. It gets people to rally around his vision, whether it’s a pitch for a show or in raising all that money.”

Fieri persuaded White to make Restaurant Hustle 2020: All on the Line, the Discovery-owned network’s first feature-length documentary, when he was soliciting donations from Fortune 500 corporations. The documentary, co-directed by Fieri, follows four chefs as they struggle to remain afloat during the pandemic’s peak. It debuted in December, and a sequel is planned for this summer. Fieri has redirected all of the prize money from the most recent season of Food Network’s chef competition show Tournament of Champions — his first project back in a studio since filming at-home versions of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Guy’s Grocery Games — to struggling restaurateurs.

In Sonoma County, where he’s fed frontline workers and displaced neighbors affected by area wildfires, his philanthropy has long been established. However, this new crisis is taking place on a much larger scale, and Fieri, who turned 53 in January, is assuming the kind of elder statesman position once reserved for white-tablecloth ambassadors like José Andrés and Tom Colicchio.

When you add up the long list of show credits and millions of dollars in donations, it’s difficult to reconcile the Fieri of 2021 — emerging folk hero — with the Fieri who first appeared on American television in April 2006, freshly crowned winner of a burgeoning reality competition (The Next Food Network Star). In the first year, he went from becoming an unknown restaurateur to earning less than $1,000 per episode on his first cooking show (Guy’s Big Bite) to opening Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, which launched his career.

Guy Fieri
Image Source: Hollywoodreporter

“We built a five-year plan for him, and he blew through it in, like, three,” says longtime agent Jason Hodes, partner at WME, whose colleagues used to tell him to “hug the rocket” as Fieri accumulated series and licensing deals. “He’s a true household name, just one that people can’t seem to pronounce correctly.”

Despite opening most every show with a familiar “Hi, I’m Guy Fieri,” swapping out the “r” in his last name for an Italian flourish that sounds more like “Fiedi,” his preferred pronunciation eludes most of his huge audience. An average 73 million viewers, per Food Network, watch at least one piece of Fieri programming quarterly. And while he hasn’t worked full-time in a kitchen for two decades, he’s involved with more than 85 restaurants globally and recently partnered with Planet Hollywood CEO Robert Earl on an ambitious delivery-only concept, Flavortown Kitchen. If you live in a major U.S. city, chances are you can have a Fieri-sanctioned Bacon Mac N Cheese Burger delivered in the same time it takes to watch an episode of Guy’s Ranch Kitchen.

Fieri has been employed in the food industry since he was ten years old, starting as a dishwasher in the hamlet of Ferndale on the coast of Northern California. He moved to Southern California after earning a degree in hospitality management from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and worked as a district manager for Louise’s Trattoria. By 1996, Fieri had married and relocated to Santa Rosa, where he opened his first restaurant, Johnny Garlic’s. Two more followed, as did Tex Wasabi’s, a barbecue-sushi fusion restaurant. This is when the wild and indulgent taste profile that has become synonymous with Fieri began to evolve.

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On the set of the Food Network competition show Rachael vs. Guy, chef Alex Guarnaschelli, the restaurateur behind Manhattan’s Butter, became friends with Fieri. She, like many others in his orbit, can’t quite put her finger on what it is about Fieri that keeps people watching and eating. Before changing direction, she compares him to an altruistic Jay Gatsby and a unicorn. Guarnaschelli says, “A lot of people suck the air out of the place.” “Guy is the polar opposite of that. Guy acts as a human air conditioner for positive emotions. Being around him makes you feel more self-assured.”

Fieri’s 24-year-old son, Hunter, has an easier explanation for his success. “That dude just has more energy than anybody I’ve ever met,” says Hunter, his father’s de facto co-star since the start of the pandemic. “It is amazing and scary at the same time.”

Through that mix of likability and restlessness, Fieri has reached a rare summit. Ignoring Oprah Winfrey, he’s the closest thing to a flagship human currently on TV. He’ll anchor at least four primetime shows on Food Network this year, with at least three others — some starring vehicles, others just productions of his Knuckle Sandwich shingle — in development. In January, he became the face of digital platform Discovery+, home to his entire library. And despite overtures from one broadcast network and several aggressive streamers, Fieri recently signed a new deal to stay put at Food Network through at least 2024.

“We’ve been offered and enticed, and, yes, there’s probably a way to do this in some different levels, but I’m treated pretty well,” notes Fieri, who says his allegiances lie with a handful of programming executives, not any parent company. “I got a chance of a lifetime, and I think I played it good.”

Through that mix of likability and restlessness, Fieri has reached a rare summit. Ignoring Oprah Winfrey, he’s the closest thing to a flagship human currently on TV. He’ll anchor at least four primetime shows on Food Network this year, with at least three others — some starring vehicles, others just productions of his Knuckle Sandwich shingle — in development. In January, he became the face of digital platform Discovery+, home to his entire library. And despite overtures from one broadcast network and several aggressive streamers, Fieri recently signed a new deal to stay put at Food Network through at least 2024.

“We’ve been offered and enticed, and, yes, there’s probably a way to do this in some different levels, but I’m treated pretty well,” notes Fieri, who says his allegiances lie with a handful of programming executives, not any parent company. “I got a chance of a lifetime, and I think I played it good.”

Fieri’s commute is one of his most shrewd moves. Knuckle Sandwich was creating Guy’s Grocery Games, a frenetic cook-off set in a supermarket soundstage called Flavortown Market, eight years ago, around the time he was being courted for a possible Supermarket Sweep reboot off-network. Allison Page, a former Food Network executive, was interested, but she wanted Fieri to host. Fieri reluctantly agreed to film just 12 episodes in Los Angeles. When the first season was a success, Fieri decided to continue on the condition that production be moved closer to his house.As a result, Food Network funded the construction of a fully functional grocery store/set in a 15,500-square-foot Santa Rosa warehouse. Every item in Flavortown Market is real and edible, thanks to Fieri’s design, which helps him to donate $350,000 in unused food to the Redwood Gospel Mission every year. In April, most of the 150-person crew returned after a year away, and the show, which is now Fieri’s most successful, will soon reach 275 episodes.

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As for his three-year deal, which sources paint in the high eight figures, it’s said to be the biggest talent deal of its kind for Discovery Inc. (The company declined to comment on any deal points.) Still, it’s hard to place a price tag when the fate of a brand like Food Network seems so inexorably tied to the man it put in front of the camera, with zero expectations, 15 years ago. “I just can’t imagine Food Network without Guy,” says White. “I can’t even bring myself to try to imagine it.”

Everybody I speak with about Fieri has a story of witnessing the scope of his popularity in public. People apparently are not shy around someone whose conspicuous mug is available on TV nearly every day. And as the man himself prepares for a slew of weeks on the road with Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, in a reopening world, Fieri will gladly indulge their attention once again. He does, however, have a request.

“Don’t call me ‘that food critic,’ ” says Fieri, bristling. “I highlight. I recognize. I do not critique. If I don’t like the food, you won’t see it on my shows. Who wants to watch something called It Sucks: Don’t Come to This Fucking Place?”

Criticism is understandably a touchy subject for Fieri. Objections to his swagger and flamboyant food ethos are perhaps best distilled in the infamous 2012 New York Times ravaging of his since-shuttered Times Square bistro, Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar. The pan, which went viral with low blow after low blow, probably wouldn’t be written today — and not just because the newspaper reconsidered its approach to reviews once restaurants started closing en masse. Perception of Fieri has changed, and schadenfreude no longer is in fashion.

“Zero-star review or not, Guy’s making an undeniable contribution to the restaurant industry in a way that is so desperately needed,” says Guarnaschelli. “I think people now look at him as a restaurant person and not just the guy who’s always on TV who happens to have some restaurants.”

Evidence for that shift can be seen in the lineup of recent visitors to the Fieri portfolio. Such culinary elites as Marcus Samuelsson, Nancy Silverton and Michael Voltaggio are game to pal around with the anointed “Mayor of Flavortown” on his multiple series as he continues to remind audiences — and anyone who’ll listen to him — that there’s still no clear path back to normal for the hobbled restaurant community. It’s a message that he hopes is louder than his frosted tips.

“You can easily be misinterpreted when you have platinum blond hair and tattoos,” says Fieri, making eyes at Smokey the Chihuahua. “But I’m not for everybody. I don’t know if anybody is.”

Source: Hollywoodreporter

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