Editors Note: Below is a sample article from our Flavor magazine. If you like what you see, stop by The Press office at 1000 W. Washington Ave. in Pleasantville, beginning Monday Dec. 10, to pick up a free Flavor goody bag with previous issues (including the one with Guy Fieri) and other fun stuff.
It began with a childlike desire to be normal — like other families.
Guy Fieri, then Guy Ferry, grew up eating his mom’s homemade foods, things like earthy, whole wheat breads and all-natural granola. His parents were hippies — “not dope-smoking hippies, just hippies” — who moved little Guy and his late sister Morgan from Ohio to Southern California to Humboldt County in Northern California before their son was 9.
One evening when little Guy smelled the aroma of fried bread crumbs emanating from the kitchen, he thrilled at the prospect of chicken parmesan for dinner. His excitement, however, was short-lived. Mom was cooking eggplant parm.
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“And I said — and this is where it all started — ‘can’t we just have chicken like the normal families?’” Fieri said in a recent interview at his Bally’s Atlantic City namesake steakhouse, Guy Fieri’s Chophouse.
His mom, Penelope, challenged the young boy, as most mothers do, with the old standby, “If you don’t like the way we cook, then you cook.”
Unlike most kids, though, Fieri took her up on the challenge.
The very next day, the overly confident youngster headed to the neighborhood butcher’s to order steak and purchase pasta for a side dish.
“I actually cooked it in the sauce,” said Fieri, now 50, of his youthful, Chef Boyardee-style of cooking pasta.
At the dinner table, dad Jim — a 6-foot-2-inch handlebar-mustached, manly man who hits 6 feet 4 inches in his cowboy boots — took the first bite of young Guy’s steak, set down his knife and fork, drew a long breath and said to his no-longer-confident son, “This might be the best steak I ever had in my life.”
“It still gives me goosebumps now,” said Fieri as he recalled the incident and indicated goosebumps on his arm.
A Food Network star is born
If Guy Fieri didn’t become the famed chef and Food Network star that he is today, life would have certainly have taken a different, even riskier, road.
“I wanted to be a daredevil. I love Evel Knievel. He’s one of my favorites. I have an Evel Knievel tattoo on my right arm,” he said as he proudly pointed to the tattoo. “But I wanted to be a lot of things. I wanted to do rodeo when I was a kid — we did a lot with horses with my parents,” Fieri said, adding that his parents owned a Western rodeo store in Northern California.
But on that night when his homemade dinner of steak and pasta received such glowing reviews from his father, a thought started to percolate in the young boy’s mind.
“It came into my head … ‘Let me get this straight. I cook, I get to decide what we eat. I cook, I get to make my parents happy. I cook, and I don’t have to do the dishes? How do I parlay this into something even better?” he laughed.
So enthralled with cooking was Fieri that he would “fake sick” so he could stay home from school to surprise his parents with a home-cooked meal after work. By sixth grade, he opened up a business called “The Awesome Pretzel,” where he made and sold New York-style soft pretzels to friends and neighbors. And when he returned home after spending time in France as an exchange student at age 16, where “food is the center of their culture,” it was “game over” for Fieri. A future Food Network star was born.
A BBQ god
Of course when you think Guy Fieri, you often think of barbecue. A member of the Barbecue Hall of Fame — he also has Guy’s Bar-B-Que Joint at Bally’s — he stressed that good technique and good equipment are key to good barbecue. He loves barbecuing wings, which is something he believes many cooks don’t do well at all. Add a real simple rub, he advised, and go easy with the sauce. “Don’t saturate. You don’t want your wings floating, just coated.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Fieri isn’t a big hot sauce fan.
“I don’t enjoy anything where you lose the feeling of your tongue,” he said, “But if it’s your thing, do it to a temperature you approve of. But … it should not be one flavor, it shouldn’t be a ‘cumin wing.’ It all has to be even in a chicken wing, everything in balance.”
Whether barbecuing, sautéing or boiling, Fieri warned that cooking is not “an armchair quarterback sport.”
“I know people like their ‘set it and forget it.’ But the truth is, you can’t go off and check your email. You have to stay in it to win it.”
Guy Fieri’s Chophouse was specifically built for Bally’s.
“It was my old-school vision. From the way we did the booths with high leather backs to the old photos to the windows to the black steel to the subway tile …,” he said with pride as he looked around the attractive restaurant. “I think when you’re going to Atlantic City and you want a steakhouse, it’s gotta feel like a steakhouse. You need a steak knife, you gotta have a big platter, you gotta see and hear the kitchen … it’s all part of the whole experience. When I was a kid and you went to a special dinner, you went to a place like this.”
He gives much credit for the steak house’s success to his partnership with Caesars Entertainment, with whom he also has restaurants outside of Philadelphia and Las Vegas, among other locales. The partnership, he stated, is “well designed” in terms of organization, maintenance and staying true to Fieri’s way of cooking, as well as his attitude and energy.
“It’s like me writing the song and then giving it to the orchestra and hoping that they play it the right way,” he said. “Fortunately, through the different concepts that we’ve done as a team, it’s really worked out well.”
Fieri fell in love with Atlantic City about a dozen years ago. He affectionately calls it “little Vegas by the sea.”
“It felt like the good, old-school casinos of the movies.”
Naturally the specialty at the Chophouse is steak and Fieri isn’t shy about saying that this is where he and his staff really prevail.
“I think a lot of people have had more bad steaks than good steaks. And not just because of quality of the meat, but the preparation method. This is where … we do such a good job,” he stated.
His staff at the Chophouse cooks on a wood grill. He calls that “a game changer.” The ingredients, he admitted, are very much the same at the Chophouse as any other steakhouse.
“The difference is how you treat it, how you cook it and how you serve it. Having a great ambiance, having great servers, having a fun environment is great. But a really good steak (must be): seasoned properly, cooked hot and fast, allowed to rest and seasoned properly,” he repeated. “We just don’t season enough.”
There are two ways of cooking in Fieri’s world. The aforementioned hot and fast, and low and slow. When cooks hover in the middle range, that’s when, fittingly, mediocrity creeps in, according to Fieri.
Steaks aside, Fieri’s Chophouse menu also includes some signature items, all with Fieri’s flair. Like the pork belly sliders which are put on a low-and-slow graze for 36 hours, completely changing the flavor profile from the more popular bacon iteration and ending up almost literally melting in your mouth.
California dude that he is, Fieri also has sashimi tuna tacos on the menu.
“I made this dish with (rock star and fellow restaurateur) Sammy Hagar,” he said without any air of showing off. “I love sashimi but usually after two or three bites it’s that same, soft, delicious texture. But I want a little bit of crunch, a little bit extra.” So his version contains seaweed salad and jicama, along with mango, chilies, wasabi crema and sweet soy.
His “Triple T” fries — an obvious nod to his uber-popular Food Network show “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives,” or “Triple D” — have three variations of truffles: truffle salt, truffle oil and truffle pate. He enthusiastically described them as, “Truffle-licious.”
Fieri doesn’t cook with a lot of sugar, but he often uses acid, which he claims is highly underutilized. And he enjoys working with condiments, as long as they are “not pre-prepared — they have a lot of fake in them.”
Much of Fieri’s cooking is heavily influenced by Asian techniques and recipes. In fact, he put soy sauce on that very first steak he cooked for his parents when he was still a boy.
Having spent so much time in France during his formative years, there is also a French influence to what he does in the kitchen, although not from an American point of view.
“(There’s a) French influence, (but not) from the perspective that the United States has with heavy cream and heavy sauces and so forth … Because that’s not really the French influence that I had,” he said. “I use a lot of herbs, a lot of fresh ingredients and in my world, from my perspective, that’s all real French.”
Sustainability and the Garden State
It wasn’t until Fieri took a helicopter ride from New York City to Atlantic City that he truly realized what New Jersey was all about.
“I saw the whole state (from the air) and it was nothing but gardens and farms. And I’m like, ‘Oh! The Garden State! I get it now.’ I never knew what it meant.”
He will use Jersey farmers as much as possible at the Chophouse. But with a responsibility to consistency, it proves challenging to rely on them year round.
“Chef Giancarlo (Generosi, a mainstay at the Chophouse), will use local farms and farmers whenever it’s possible,” Fieri assured. “But New Jersey goes through a big cycle, a big season. It’s much different from California.”
Another part of his business that differs from East to West are sustainability practices.
“Sustainability is the mantra in California. We compost everything,” he said while sipping iced coffee from a paper straw. “I have two huge gardens, I donate the vegetables. I believe if you have the space to have a garden, have a garden.”
Realizing the even bigger picture, he added, “Look, we are not going to solve it (global warming) by stopping with plastic bottles. We’ll solve it by changing the mindset. Bigger, better, faster has gotten us ... where? We have to be mindful when putting things into our bodies and how we’re treating our planet.”
Processing less and less
Fieri is proud of what Food Network has accomplished, namely educating audiences on where food comes from. Because of this, he went on to state that people today are more aware of what they are and aren’t eating, as well as how they are eating.
And he believes that quick-service eateries and processed foods may be on their way out as everyone in the food industry today is seemingly upping their game to give these better-educated consumers what they crave.
“It’s awesome … the food revolution is alive and well. We are on the freight train to Flavortown.”