By Julia Moskin, New York Times: AS the first chords of “Sweet Home Alabama” thrummed through the Circus
Maximus at Caesars Atlantic City on July 31, the 1,600 people in the
sold-out crowd were already on their feet. They howled for the star.
When he emerged from the wings in flip-flops, mirrored sunglasses and a
red chef’s coat with skull-shaped buttons, they howled louder.
It wasn’t until Guy Fieri had autographed a yellow bell pepper with a
Sharpie marker and tossed it to a fan, sprayed the people in the
orchestra seats with a bottle of water and vigorously denounced the
induction stove he was about to use onstage (“Give me flame or give me
death!”) that his fans settled down. It didn’t last.
“There are three people you need in life: an accountant, a fishmonger
and a bail bondsman,” he began, and again the crowd erupted.
Their Guy — rebel, clown, frat boy, chef — had arrived.
Since 2006, when he won a Food Network reality show that earned him
his first series, Mr. Fieri, 42, has brought a new element of rowdy,
mass-market culture to American food television. He was raised among
California hippies, spent his junior year of high school in France, and
says he hasn’t eaten fast food in 15 years. But this platinum-haired,
heavily tattooed chef-dude has proved that he has a -like ability to reach Americans who feel left behind by the nation’s cultural (or, in his case, culinary) elite.
“You feel like he has that same background just like you do, never
pretentious, nothing fancy,” observed Ami Wilson, who went to the
Atlantic City event with her husband, Matthew, a police officer in
central New Jersey.
Kathleen McCormick, who brought her two teenage sons to see Mr. Fieri
from their beach house nearby on the Jersey Shore, said, “He’s the only
one who never talks down to anybody.” (She said that other cooking shows
were “too preachy” for them.)
Susie Fogelson, the head of marketing for the Food Network, explained
his appeal. “I haven’t seen anyone connect to this range of people since
Emeril,” she said in an interview, referring to the star chef who put
the network on the map. With his bowling shirts and burgers, Mr. Fieri
look like .
And while some chefs and critics dismiss his “act,” Mr. Fieri is
sincere and smart enough to hold an audience’s attention, in person and
“He really resonates with men,” Ms. Fogelson said, adding that Mr.
Fieri’s prime-time shows attract more male viewers than any others on
The fact that it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon, that there were
numerous children and oxygen-toting seniors in the seats, and that he
wasn’t about to do anything more radical than sear a duck breast didn’t
do anything to diminish the energy Mr. Fieri brought to the stage. The
charisma that recently inspired a middle-aged mom to throw her
lavender-colored bra onstage during a cooking demonstration was on full
And although his props and costumes evoke a hard-core rebelliousness,
his persona is friendly and jovial, serving up a solid helping of
American family values with a garnish of patriotism.
He has visited warships in the Persian Gulf and cooked in the Navy mess
that serves the White House; he owns 10 sports cars (all American-made
except the Lamborghini); and last year was grand marshal of a
race, a ceremonial honor that has also been bestowed on , and the radio host Todd Clem, known as Bubba the Love Sponge.
Lots of chefs have tattoos, but Mr. Fieri is the first to put tattoo
art on his own line of aprons and potholders. He has 19 tattoos,
including one dedicated to
, a longtime idol and powerful fashion influence.
Mr. Fieri is the rare reality-show winner who has translated a
small-screen victory into a national fan base, and the rare chef who has
transcended the food-TV genre. As the host of
new “Minute to Win It,” he presides over a prime-time game show in
which people, for the chance to win a million dollars, compete at feats
that require not strength, courage or knowledge, but the ability to
perform stunts with household goods, like unwinding a roll of toilet
paper really, really fast.
The Food Network has betted heavily on him, giving him prime-time slots,
and making him the face of the network’s new collaboration with the
a series about tailgating that will be shown this fall. “We found a
high correlation between viewers of football and of ‘Diners,’ ” Ms.
Fogelson said, referring to “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” Mr. Fieri’s
most popular show.
He says that his chef-rock star-sports fan persona reflects his real
passions: food, family, music, fast cars, sports and generally having an
excellent time. Now, he worries about turning that persona into a
person, with a lasting following and a real culinary agenda.
“Look, the fame rocket is only on the upward trajectory for a limited
time,” he said in an interview a few days after the show, riding in the
back of a car between television shoots in the Philadelphia suburbs. “I
have to do what I can for the program while it lasts.”
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