Guy Fieri was already a successful California restaurateur when several of his close friends encouraged him to audition for the second season of the Food Network reality show, The Next Food Network Star. Fieri’s two restaurants, Johnny Garlic’s, a “pasta grill,” and Tex Wasabi’s, which combines “Southern BBQ and California Style Sushi,” were keeping him plenty busy. With the deadline for submissions fast approaching, Fieri and some buddies put together a cheeky audition tape and sent it in.
Food Network executives were blown away by his video, and took a gamble that audiences would find Fieri’s bold, fresh, fun approach to cooking as watchable as they did. The gamble paid off. America voted, and after being named the winner of The Next Food Network Star in April 2006, “busy” has become an understatement.
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Now, in addition to his five restaurants (there are two Johnny Garlic’s locations and three Tex Wasabi’s locations, all in California), Fieri is now the host of three Food Network shows: Guy’s Big Bite, Guy Off the Hook, and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. A proud California Community College alumnus, Fieri found a few minutes to share his story with Affinity. Have you always been interested in food and cooking?
Yes, I have been interested in cooking since I was a kid. My parents used to feed my family a macrobiotic diet, and after I complained enough, my mom said I could cook my own dinner, which I did when I was 10. Tell us about your California Community College experience.
I went to both College of the Redwoods and American River College. I went to Redwoods because it was local, near my hometown, and helped me finish high school. American River didn’t have a big culinary program when I was there. I hear they have a super culinary program now. I’m happy to hear they are expanding. Both Redwoods and American River were great schools and helped prepare me for my time at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Why did you decide to go into the restaurant business?
When I was in high school, I studied abroad as an exchange student in Chantilly, France. It’s there that I studied and learned about the restaurant biz and realized it was more than just cooking. I knew right away I wanted to make a career out of my love for food. What did you think of your chances when you auditioned for The Next Food Network Star?
I entered The Next Food Network Star to have a good time. It’s not that I didn’t believe in myself, but I never thought I would win. I went in to have fun and figured I would make the best of it. How has winning had an impact on your life?
It’s been incredible. Being recognized all over the place is wild, and being considered a “celeb chef” is definitely something I never thought would happen. I have to say, the most rewarding impact this has had on my life has to do with the fans. Having such loyal fans is awesome, and having an opportunity to influence adults and kids is incredible. What is one of the most memorable things you’ve eaten while filming Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives?
There are so many, but one that definitely stands out is the pit beef sandwich from Chap’s Pit Beef in Baltimore. Who would you choose to battle on Food Network’s Iron Chef?
Ha! I wouldn’t try to predict that in a million years. All of the Iron Chefs are incredibly talented. I’ll just say I’d have to be super prepared if I faced any of ‘em.
What is the one ingredient you can’t cook without?
I can’t cook without salt, but my favorite ingredient is garlic. It goes with every kind and ethnicity of food. I even named my restaurant, Johnny Garlic’s, after it! What would you be doing if you weren’t opening restaurants and hosting food shows?
No matter what, I would be doing something with food. I would be a chef somewhere, most likely in a warm climate, maybe Mexico or the Bahamas. However, first and foremost, I’d make sure I was a great dad—that’s my biggest job.