Food Network star Guy Fieri is bringing Flavortown to #ThisTown this weekend for the Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show at the Washington Convention Center. He’ll join fellow food celebs Bobby Flay and Todd English and a bunch of local chefs with cooking demonstrations and book signings. (Tickets are available here.) In advance of his visit, Y&H talked to Fieri about the possibility of a D.C. restaurant, what makes a real dive bar, his love of truffles and kale, and, ya know, his hair.
Have you spent much time in D.C. before?
Yeah. You know, my aunt Patty used to live in and around D.C. in Ellicott City. And as a kid, I remember going to games in Baltimore and [Pigskins] and going to Washington and so forth… It was so amazing because as a kid, you only saw it in textbooks, and I would tell people, ‘No, I’ve been to that… You’ve got to see how big that statue of Lincoln is!'” Back then, there was no Internet. You only saw things in the encyclopedia or you had that constitution poster in your 6th grade classroom. And I’d been to all that stuff. So, it’s always been a very special place to me, and I just opened up a restaurant in Baltimore, so I feel like I’ve got a little bit of a homecoming happening.
Do you have any favorite restaurants in D.C.? Or any places you plan to check out while you’re in town?
We just got done shooting in Baltimore. Ironically enough, that’s been a place we’ve done a few times. Unfortunately, I’m not smart enough—no, I’m not savvy enough—to always know which one’s a D.C. and which one’s a Baltimore [restaurant], and do you call it D.C., do you call it Baltimore… Sip & Bite over in Baltimore, we’ve been to—love that. We’ve been through G&A Restaurant [also in Baltimore]… Tune Inn restaurant, another great place. Oohh’s & Aahh’s. But I think one of my favorites—not that I want to say anybody’s a favorite over the other—Comet Ping Pong. [Ed note: all these restaurants were featured in the D.C. episode of his Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.]
Yeah, that’s a good one.
OK, so I’ll tell you a story about Comet Ping Pong…So I’m standing there with this guy, and we’re cooking, and he’s got a pizza oven that he bought the parts in Italy…and he constructed the pizza oven himself. He sits there and he says, ‘OK, I’m going to make you a clam pizza.’ And my mouth is watering right now as I’m telling you this…It was one of the greatest pizzas. It’s up in the top pizzas I’ve ever had. We got done and I walked outside of Comet Ping Pong, I called my buddy that does all my restaurant supplies and I said, ‘Hey, you find me a wood-fired oven and not one of these gas-assisted ones. I want a real-deal, out-of-Italy wood-fired oven.’ And I think it was probably three months later I installed my first wood-fired oven in my house. And now I have three wood-fired ovens.
You have three wood-fired ovens at your house?
Well, I have one at my house, one at my ranch, one on the trailer that I use for charity events…
You just opened a restaurant in Baltimore. Any plans to open a restaurant here in D.C.?
We just got Baltimore done. I think let that stand for a bit…I’ve got a bunch of buddies in that area with restaurants, and it’s a competitive market. This is not something that you phone in. You’ve got to really have good people on the ground to get it done. So, who knows. If you had told me two years ago that we’d be doing a program in Baltimore, I would tell you that you’re crazy. But now here we are in Baltimore, Atlantic City, New York, so we’re starting to make a little bit of a presence on the east coast.
But D.C. is not on your immediate radar?
Not immediate…Like I said, a lot of great concepts, a lot of great chefs out there. José Andrés. You guys are stacked. You’ve got enough.
When you see the Guy Fieri on TV, how much of that is you vs. a character that you play?
That’s 100 percent me. I’m not an actor. Lord knows, I’d be acting if I were an actor. What you see is what you get. I did not know that TV was going to be in my future. I am a chef and a restaurant owner and, more importantly, a dad. And when that whole unique situation came up with Food Network, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ll give it a shot. Why not?’ When it first happened, there was a little bit of prompting like this is how you do it, this is how you play this part. And I’m like, ‘I’m not playing any part. I’m going to do what I naturally do.’ And they said, ‘Well, you know, you can’t wear those shorts.’ And I said, ‘Who said I can’t wear shorts?’…It just naturally evolved that it just was going to be the way I was going to be…What you see is what you get, girl.
You’re a surprisingly polarizing personality. People either love you or hate you. Any thoughts on why the extremes?
I really don’t think about it, and I really don’t care. I think people like what they like, and some people love Coke and some people love Pepsi and some people hate the two. You know what? I’m not that kind of person. I don’t have those issues. I’m a big Chevy guy. It doesn’t mean I don’t like the other car manufacturers. I don’t know. Everybody’s got their own thing that makes them tick, and if it’s me negatively then amen to them. I don’t have an answer to that one.
Switching gears to your show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. People here love to debate what is a real dive bar. What are your qualifications for what makes a tried and true dive?
I think it has to first be declared by the owners and the community. I remember one of the first places that we went to in Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, the guys said, ‘We’re a dump aspiring to be a dive.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, how funny to poke fun at yourself.’ So I think first and foremost, people have got to look at themselves that way. It doesn’t mean it’s unsanitary. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t serve good food or good drink or have good people. We’re not talking about a slum bar where you’re getting beers out of a vending machine—although that’s not a bad idea in some places. But the reality of it is a dive is what people make it. It’s a place that’s not pretentious. It’s a place where everybody’s themselves. It’s a place where everybody knows each other…But the key for us at triple D [Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives] is that it’s got to have real food. You can’t just look grungy; you’ve got to make good music. You can’t just wear a flannel shirt; you’ve got to be able to jam like Nirvana. You can’t just look the part; you’ve got to be the part.
Your shows and your restaurants are very much for the everyman. Are you also a fine dining guy at all? Do you also enjoy tasting menus and truffles?
Next Wednesday, I go to Italy to go on my first truffle hunt. I’m out of my mind excited to go, I can’t even tell you. As a matter of fact, I have some truffles sitting in my fridge that we’re having today. We’re having abalone and truffles. I’m leaving for two weeks and so my wife loves truffles. My parents love truffles and abalone. Some people would call it gourmet, but we’re going to have just a nice little feast of tastings of all this great food…
What about your fridge…You have Guy’s Grocery Games. What are the things you absolutely have to get when you go to the grocery store, your staples?
I am the worst at the grocery store. It turns into three carts. It turns into, ‘Oh did you see the truffle cheese? We’ve got to get the truffle cheese! Oh! Look at this shrimp!’…I’m big on organics, I’m big on vegetables, which is another funny thing that people don’t expect. They think that I’m all meat and potatoes. I’m a big vegetable fan. I’m a kale junkie. I love all my veggies. And I wasn’t that way. My parents were vegetarian when I was a kid, and I wasn’t participating in vegetarianism. That was not going to work for me. But now, I make more of my meals vegetable-centric than I do protein-centric. We don’t eat enough veggies. We’ve got to eat more raw.
Oh really? Are you going to go vegan, Paleo?
I lost my little sister to cancer three and a half years ago, and she was vegetarian. And so while she was going through cancer treatment, I was cooking for her and so I really had to learn a lot about working with raw and working with vegetables and all of these simple but phenomenal possibilities—especially working with whole grains. Farro and quinoa, I’ve got bags of them—if you name it I’ve got it—in my pantry…When [people] watch triple D, are they looking to me to really bring them vegetarian paella? But I kind of slide it in every once and a while. You’ll see a couple shows coming up where I do a tofu burger. I’m trying to get it in there where people can see some of these alternatives that are going on in the food world.
When I told people I’d be interviewing you, the No. 1 thing they wanted to know about was your hair. What is your hair styling routine like?
That’s the No. 1 thing? It’s not really that exciting. I tell ya, people want to think that I spend a bunch of time on it and there’s a whole thing. Nope. I just kind of get up, sometimes it will be in a faux-hawk if I slept on both sides of my head… and sometimes it will be flat. There’s no regimen.
No fancy products?
No fancy wax. I think it takes fives seconds to get it ready. Just I put the wax in my hair and I rub my hands in it, and there you go! And that’s why it’s so funny to me that of all the great things I get to do and all the things I’m involved with, I get people who walk up and say, ‘Wait, how do you do your hair?’
So people do ask you that question all the time?
Yeah. I’m going to change it up in the next few years. I’m going to do dreadlocks.
I don’t know if I can believe you.
[Laughs] Yeah, we should have a poll: What will it be? But you know what? It’s so funny, because that’s what people think about and ask questions about…And then they get disappointed like ‘Aw, I thought you were going to tell us you had to get a flat iron or something and you have to do all these things.’ No! I don’t have any time for that. I’ve got kids and restaurants and projects. I’ve got to get it going.
No, I think they’ve got that all tied up. I don’t think that they need any products from me. Not that I even know what products there are. I’ve been using the same hair wax for as long as I can remember. I’m not a gel guy, I’m not a perfume guy, not really into any of that.
Photo courtesy Metropolitan Cooking & Entertainment Show