"In Defense of Guy Fieri"
When is the last time you thought about Guy Fieri? When is the last time you were completely and unequivocally wrong about someone based on how they look or how they carry themselves on a television show? He catches a lot of shit because of his persona, that he can be turned into an easy meme, or poke fun at because his appeal isn’t Michelin starred, it’s mom and pop. In reality, Guy Fieri is a reflection of the true America. If there was a hero that 2020 needed, it’s the Mayor of Flavortown.
You didn’t know it because you were too busy dogging this American icon because of his "fork in the electric socket" colored hair, and the gaudy flame shirts. It’s ok. This is your teachable moment.
Here’s the real deal Holyfield: Guy Fieri is not a walking chili-cheese dog commercial, nor is he the king of lowbrow entertainment you’ve built him up to be.
The restaurant industry, his backbone is reeling. What does Fieri, a comfortable millionaire do? Instead of hiding out in some castle, he teamed up with Portland Oregon-area law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, and started the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund. Within days, the fund raised over $15 million dollars with more cash pouring in.
Bobby Flay is worth upwards of $30 million. He started a GoFundMe of raising $100,000, which he was willing to match. Not exactly being a big spender for the industry. Over in the land of the Knuckle Sandwich, Fieri stepped up to help people not only in Portland but nationally, "Forever, as long as we can remember, the restaurant industry has served us," said Fieri. "And now as the public, it's a chance for us to serve them."
The fund is helping countless restaurant workers with both significant donations and little ones, unlike the horseshit "small business loans," the United States government doled out. Turns out only mammoth-sized businesses got them and surprise-surprise, the little guy was left holding the bag. (Ruth Chris scored a 20M loan, despite turning $40M in profits last year, while legendary skateboarder Salman Agha's neighborhood pizza joint didn't get a dime.) Who stepped up? The very same human who says shit like, “Peace, love, and taco grease!”
I'll admit it. I thought Guy Fieri was a douche. But then I learned about the caliber of man, this singular Mount Rushmore of being selfless badass.
For years, I never gave Diners, Drive-in's, and Dives a shot. I'm a self-involved asshole. I was a Bourdain disciple more interested in Myanmar rather than Sue Falls. I saw their brands of television as starkly different, like comparing 60 Minutes to Hee-Haw. Then I got hip to who Fieri is.
Fieri came along in an era of the rising "superstar chef" when new culinary names were coming onto the scene, Mario Battali, Giada De Laurentiis, Morimoto and all of the Iron Chef's both here and in Japan. (Batali is also an Iron Chef.) When thrown in the mix with guys like Bourdain and to a degree, Andrew Zimmern, Guy Fieri just seemed… hokey. Ironically, this was his most significant move, he wasn't trying to be anything other than himself. His focus wasn't on hipness, but helping people tell their stories through food.
Yeah, "Donkey Sauce" is a goofy fucking name, if that's his only forgivable sin, we should all be so much better. And for the record, if you want proof of how self-aware Guy Fieri is, look at his Instagram.
This isn’t his first rodeo
When Diners, Drive-Ins, And Dives tapes an episode, the production crew comes in and checks the spot out and shoots the footage, what they also do is prepare the restaurant. Thanks to Fieri’s legion, business will jump 200%. (I saw it firsthand with local Austin spots Slab and One Taco.
Lines were out the door within 24 hours.) The show will change an owner's life with one episode. He's giving small businesses a shot at national coverage on a show that lives in reruns and has a passionate fanbase. Literal roadside shacks have gone from hometown heroes, to icons thanks to a tasty bacon burger or killer chili-cheese burrito.
He believes in all of us
Fieri's sister Morgan died young of cancer. Fieri carries her death around like a weight. He's got "Namaste" tattooed on his arm with a red-haired woman in tribute to her. Fieri described what that image was, but ultimately the word meant to him, "Namaste," he says. "I have it tattooed on my arm. I got this tattoo with her name on it because this keeps her with me every day. Then I can talk about her. People ask me, 'What's that tattoo?' 'Oh, that's my sister, Morgan. She'd always say that — namaste – and I never understood it until her passing. ... Namaste means 'the god in me sees the god in you.' There's different ways people say it, but the way I recognize it is acknowledging the power in somebody."
You want some more icing for that "I'm an asshole-flavored" cake? Grab a diabetes tester, kids. He also officiated a massive gay wedding for over a hundred couples down in Florida as soon as it became legal.
Guy's Grocery Games caters to Make-A-Wish families, along with veterans. When Fieri was at Burger Bash, an event down in Florida a few years back, he ran a burger stand with Best Buddies International, an organization for adults with mental disabilities.
Remember the horrific, completely random Las Vegas shooting perpetrated by another nuts white guy? Fieri took it personally.
The general manager of his Caesar’s restaurant The Linq’s brother was shot. His life was saved by an Army Ranger who plugged the wound with his thumb. Instead of an all-expenses-paid thank you dinner for the Ranger, Fieri personally called the president of Caesars Entertainment. He gets the guy to throw a massive 3,000-person blowout with food, music, and drinks for the cops, firefighters, EMTs, doctors, nurses - all first responders who dealt with the horror show and its aftermath.
When wildfires ate up a massive chunk of his hometown of Santa Rosa, California, to the tune of almost 7,000 houses – Fieri didn't ask for permission, he didn't make a statement on Twitter, he didn't drag out his television crew. Instead, he grabbed his cooking trailer and got his team together. They did what they do best: they cooked. They fed 5,000 evacuees and volunteers with pulled pork sandwiches. Then, when the wildfires struck again, during the Carr wildfires, the seventh biggest in state history, guess who was back out there with his smoker?
"I'm not promoting anything. I'm just here cooking. This is feeding people. People need help, and I'm here to help. That's it," Fieri said while making 1,200 lunches in a single day.
What does Fieri do for an encore? He hooks up with chef Jose Andrés' and partners with Operation BBQ Relief. They build a 48-foot trailer that houses a commercial kitchen with a flat top, six burners, smoker, ice machine, all the shit. So whenever disaster strikes, they can help within hours.
If there’s anything we can learn from Guy Fieri is that good works can come from honest places. He’s never running defense, he doesn’t try to get people to think he’s cool, he simply is.
Robert Dean is a journalist living down in Austin, Texas. His work has been featured in Forbes, Consequence of Sound, Austin American-Statesman, Mic, Fatherly, Daily Grindhouse, and Farce the Music, to name a few. He's also been on CNN and NPR.