It’s been 15 years since Guy Fieri’s very first appearance on the Food Network (please, for the love of God, watch his audition tape). In that span of time, the blond-tipped people’s champ has gone from relative unknown to mega-stardom. Along the way, he’s dealt with shade from the culinary cool kids, seen the teen who stole his Lambo treated like a goddamn folk hero, and been torched by food critics acting in bad faith.
But over the past half-decade, the world has had something of a Fieri-ssance. His charity efforts have spoken far louder than even the harshest donkey sauce burns, reminding the mainstream that the celebrity chef is a restaurant industry icon, its “last unproblematic” star, and maybe even Santa Claus. Meanwhile, Fieiri’s commitment to “Triple-D food” — typified by big flavors, executed with expertise — has profoundly affected the look and feel of modern American dining. When you see high-end chefs falling over themselves to make a fried chicken sandwich that can compete with Popeye’s, you’d better recognize that the dude in the wraparound Oakleys deserves some credit.
Through it all, the Mayor of Flavortown has remained 100% himself — a tactic that’s worked wonders against the slings and arrows of the celebrity-driven media machine. Whether he’s launching a ghost kitchen or aiding firemen, he’s always just Guy being Guy. And even in our long, lonely quarantine, he’s kept active, raising over $20 million for the restaurant workers who were hit hardest by COVID-19.
Twenty. Million. Dollars. That number says far more about the man behind the shades than even his wild trashcan nachos do.
As the king of chill in an industry that famously adores comfy footwear, it’s no tremendous surprise that Fieri’s other big pandemic project was developing a collaboration with a flip-flop brand. Even without ever really seeing his feet on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, “Guy Fieri likes flip-flops” feels like a no-brainer. To mark the announcement of this link-up, we chatted with the legend himself about his personal style ethos, his status as a beloved cultural character, and, of course, his feelings on the fried chicken sandwich craze.
Before we get into anything else, I want to ask: What’s your personal style ethos? What kind of statement, if any, are you trying to make when it comes to your personal wardrobe?
I wish I had some great answer to give you, but I don’t really have a personal style. Mine’s more about how comfortable and how usable it is. Being a chef and doing all the things that I do, having it work is more important than if it looks cool. I guess that’s kind of the first and foremost. I mean, a lot of the stuff we have to wear in kitchens isn’t usually the most fashionably oriented. But I like to have stuff that I can count on. I like dependability and I like what I wear to be cool.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m going to just go wear anything and then look stupid. There was a pair of shoes someone got me the other day for a shoot. And I’m wearing them and they looked… Oh my gosh, it was for the Tournament of Champions and they looked cool. Oh my God, they looked great and everybody complimented them. Then about two minutes before we started that episode, I’m like, “Get these things off me. Go get me some better shoes!” Because I’m not going to stand there for 10 hours in something that looks cool but doesn’t work.
I don’t know if that’s really the answer you’re looking for. I’m a little bit of… what you see is what you get.
You mentioned looking “cool.” The idea of cool shifts a lot, as you know. What does that word mean to you?
I don’t know what cool is. It’s got to be functional, it’s got to somewhat sit inside of the trends of what has been established. I don’t know that wearing logging boots to a volleyball game is cool. I think you just got to sit within — somewhat — the spectrum of what people are wearing, and using, and doing.
Like my kids, OOFOS [the brand that makes Fieri’s flip-flops] sent a great care package to the family, because we’re all getting ready to go to Hawaii this week. And what do my kids order? Slides. They ordered the slides. I’m wearing the flip-flops and they’re wearing the slides. And they’re trying to give me a whole education on the slippers. And I’m like, “No, flip-flops. That’s what you wear when you go to the beach.” “Nah, slides.”
So between the generations, there’s definitely some question.
Okay, you mentioned OOFOS. How did the deal come about and, more importantly, how have you not endorsed a flip-flop before?
Well, I’m going to tell you, and you’re not going to believe it. But I had a brand of flip-flops I wore all the time, loved them. They were great, couldn’t have said enough about them, and never talked to that brand about a deal or any of that kind of stuff. So I’m in Hawaii getting ready to go on a fishing boat and I had forgotten my flip-flops. And so we stopped in a tiny little surf store and I have two of my Hawaiian buddies with me, Reno and Nikoha, and I said, “Hey, I need to get some flip-flops. What are the best? I got to have arch support. They have to be a good flip-flop. I can’t just have something that is only protecting the bottom of my feet.” And my buddy Nikoha says, “You got to try these.” And I said, “Well, those look a little too comfortable and a little too loungey for me. I think I’m going to need something that’s a little bit –”
He goes, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, you try them on, brotha.” Of course, he’s got to follow it up with a “brotha.”
I put them on… I love them. They’re super — great arch support, really comfortable, durable, the whole thing. Fast forward about four months later, and I’m walking down the hill at our cabin, going to the lake. And as anybody will tell you, flip-flops and water aren’t always the best combo.
And so my OOFOS are a little wet and I slide and I rip the toe tongue, or whatever you call that thing, I rip it out. I didn’t want to throw it away because I got a good one, but I’m not going to wear just one. So I get back after my time at the cabin, and I go to my assistant, I said, “Do me a favor, take these flip-flops, and contact this company, and tell them what happened.” And she does, and that’s it, I don’t hear another thing about it.
About two weeks later, there’s a new pair of OOFOS sitting there. And I said, “Did you buy me a new pair?” She says, “No, they sent them.” I said, “What? Why didn’t they just send one?” I was so taken by that. I was so like, “Wait a second, in today’s world, nobody sends you anything. Nobody ever listens.” And they really pride themselves on customer service.
So fast forward to the whole thing, I said to one of my agents… We were talking about different shoe endorsement ideas. And I said, “Man, there’s this flip-flop company that I want you to call.” I wasn’t pronouncing it right for the longest time. They made a call, everybody had a little chit-chat, and it’s just a cool little organic relationship that we were able to form.
We haven’t started my Guy Fieri-style of the platinum flip-flops yet, but these guys are pretty open-minded. I think you’ll see something coming one of these days soon.
You’re at a really interesting place in culture right now. The rest of the world has finally caught up to your brand and style. I think about your earlier career, how you were kind of the subject of food snob criticism. But that type of food you love — that greasy American vibe — you elevated it. And now even high-end chefs want to make the best chicken sandwich. Your food rules the internet.
Did you see that coming? How did you feel about that kind of return to favor in certain circles?
Well, I’ll tell you, of course, you like to see whenever the tides change and things go in that positive direction. I go to the beat of my own drum and wasn’t doing anything different to be different, and wasn’t doing anything outside of what I wanted to do because it was to garner attention or awareness, other than “that’s what I wanted to do.” Being raised the way I was raised, and with the parents that I had, and what they taught me, I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin and do what I want to do. So the fact that now the world is mellowing out a little bit about food criticism, and food appreciation, and so forth… and granted, this pandemic has really kind of just grounded everybody more, thank goodness.
All I can say is, we have so many other things in this world to be worried about and to focus on than to be criticizing people, unless they’re really doing something to hurt you, or hurt them, or hurt the world. But you know what? It’s awesome, I still love doing what I’m doing as much as when I started doing it on day one. It’s the same thing: it’s fun. What I do helps people. I get to shine the light on mom-and-pop joints all around the world. I used to say, “the country,” but we have done stuff outside of the country. So now we say, “the world” — sounds really cool. But that’s a great opportunity to have, to be able to produce positive and produce opportunity, versus not.
You did a lot for restaurants during COVID. And now as we’re starting to open up a little bit, what does the restaurant industry need to do to move forward? What should we, as consumers, be doing? What kind of assistance do restaurants need? How do we help build our restaurant space back up after this huge loss that they’ve suffered?
Well, awareness is always the most important. We can’t do anything if we’re not aware, so being aware, as you just stated, thank you. We are still in a very dire situation. Restaurants have forever been operating on shoestring budgets, and don’t have a lot of reserve capital, and on, and on, and on. So realizing that’s the state of affairs. How can you help as a consumer? Eat out more often, get more delivery, get more to-go, buy gift certificates, tip big, all these things.
You know, people say, “Gosh, I hope I don’t lose my favorite restaurant.” Well, maybe you only eat there once a week or twice a week. Go eat three times a week. We have a lot of people with a lot of needs. And the restaurant industry is so much more connected to our livelihoods and our communities than we can ever imagine. So many people work inside of restaurants that you may not even know that, or work their second job, or are single parents, or college students. So we need to give them all the support we can.
And what can restaurants do? Do what we’ve always done, continue to adapt, and overcome. There are all these regulations, and stipulations, and expectations, and all this bunch of –tions. And I’ll tell you what, restaurants are learning to do delivery if they never did it or to-go if they never did it or they’re learning to make prepackage if they never did it. That’s what we do in the business, we adapt and we overcome.
I think that we’re going to continue to grow. And I’m happy to see that the delivery services are available and helping the industry. And I’ll just say, we have no precedent to work from. This is an unprecedented time for everybody. But in the restaurant business, we’ve never seen this. So I think it’s just going to be learning curves, it’s going to be a tough learning curve this next year. But as you’ve already seen with restaurants figuring out how to build little temporary shelters in the middle of a parking lot and make people happy, it’ll work.
Just to end things out here, my editor would kill me if I didn’t ask you something related to chicken sandwiches because they’re having a neverending moment. Is there any chicken sandwich out there that impresses you? How do we, at home, unlock the secret to making a delicious chicken sandwich?
Well, I have a chicken sandwich concept called, “Chicken Guy!” And we are very hardcore about our chicken. I have been to probably more chicken restaurants than anybody, having traveled and hit over 1,500 locations, or 1,500 restaurants in the United States. So I’ll say this to you, great chicken sandwiches start with great chicken — not frozen, make sure it’s antibiotic-free. The better the chicken’s raised, the better the chicken is going to be. A brine is always really critical. A good brine to a chicken is different than a marinade. A great batter or a great breading, that’s not more breading than chicken, is always really important.
And then, as we say at Chicken Guy!, “sauce is the boss.” We offer 22 different sauces in our concept, more than anybody. And we’re just talking fresh-made, hand-battered, or hand-dredged, scratch-made sauces. What you see is — again, a common theme for me — what you see is what you get. If you’re going to sell chicken, it’s got to be honest, it’s got to be real, it’s got to have great flavor, it’s got to be cooked properly, it’s got to be treated properly, and it’s got to be backed up with dynamite sauce.