Growing up in small-town Oregon, the men I idolized were working class, straightforward, and generous. They craved simple lives, mostly, and devoted themselves wholly to a few hobbies and one job. A few of them were truck drivers, some were loggers, others were construction workers, contractors, teachers, and coaches. Many of them worked with their hands, using their bodies to put something they had personally made, fought for, or created out into the world.
These men knew exactly what kind of clothes they liked to wear, too — big, splashy button downs, red flannel, camo shorts — some of them had frosted tips or massive beards their wives detested, but they never tried to be anything they weren’t. On weekends, they’d gather together out in the woods, shoot a deer, field-dress it, and bring us the venison jerky, or frozen cuts wrapped in butcher paper. They followed the local teams, offered up their trucks when we needed help moving, and showed up at caroling parties the week before Christmas. When the littlest kids wanted to ride on their backs, they were always ready and willing.
To sit and talk with Guy Fieri, who also hails from a small town surrounded by towering pines, feels like talking to one of these men from back home. Yes, the man is a much loved and sometimes hated (or hated on) public figure but he might as well be one of the guys who helped raise my friends and me, who made our communities stronger. Viewed through this lens, and taking into account his support of fire victims in Northern California, harping on him because you think wraparound shades are dumb feels kind of petty.
While presiding as pit master over a bevy of grills at the Stagecoach Festival earlier this year, Fieri carried himself like a dad at a cookout (one wearing a camo chef’s smock, no less). My first glimpse of him at the festival was directing his son to take the journalist in front of me to try some long-simmering, meaty delicacy on the other side of the tent. “Make him an ostrich burrito and get him set up,” he told Hunter Fieri, 21, who flashed a grin and trotted back toward the massive row of grills lining the back of the tent. Guy smiled to himself, sat back down at his picnic table, then noticed me.
“You next?” he asked, gesturing for me to sit.
In the twenty or so minutes that I spoke with Guy, I discovered that he’s still that hometown bro. Every bit as earnest and upbeat as you’d hope for someone who somehow lucked into doing what they love all day, every day, and making a fortune in the process. Sitting inside his personally curated Smokehouse Tent — full of barbecuers and burnt ends experts from around the nation — I picked Guy’s brain about everything from food to gay marriage.
What was it about Stagecoach that drew you to get involved with the festival?
If they would’ve told me that I could come to Stagecoach and park cars, I would’ve come park cars. Okay? It’s unbelievable. I mean if you’re interested in any aspect of country-bluegrass, old country, new country, country rock, whatever it is, it’s here. It’s so much different.
You’ve got such a diversity of music and such a diversity of experiences. I mean… there’s an ice cream shop. There’s a tent full of barbecue. There’s a Ferris wheel. It’s a great family experience and a great outdoor experience. And they said ‘Hey, you want to come and curate a barbecue experience for people?’ I’m like ‘Come on, you want to ask me twice?’
Tell me a little bit about some of the barbecue vendors that you’ve selected and what made them stand out in your mind.
You know, barbecue’s not barbecue. Barbecue is… it’s like saying country music is country music. Everybody’s got a style, everybody’s got a way. We’ve got our guys from Philly’s Baby Blues BBQ over here. They’re doing chicken wings on an open grill with hardwood. You got Bludso‘s, he’s from Los Angeles, doing old school barbecue in their style on white bread. You’ve got Operation BBQ Relief, that’s a hodgepodge of barbecue chefs from across the country that all come together to support one another when a disaster happens.
So we’ve got just a great mix of barbecue and people and food that is around barbecue. Barbecue is not the meat and the beans. It’s the experience. Come on down for some barbecue. That’s what this is.
What is your favorite cut of meat or style of grilling? Or today, what is your favorite?
I’d say one of my all-time favorites is burnt ends. I prefer pork, pork is my go-to. Pork with a vinegar Carolina-style sauce, that’s my real go-to. But for some reason, I got a hankering for burnt ends right now.
I’m primarily a music journalist, and I love country music. And I think that your approach to food and country music kind of share the same sensibility of celebrating lowbrow culture in a way venerates it for exactly what it is. Can you talk a little bit about how…
Wow, great way of explaining that.
[Laughs] Thanks. Can you talk a little bit about how those go together in your mind?
If you listen to most country songs, it has to do with family, it has to do with appreciation, it has to do with love, it has to do with life. It has to do with all those things. That’s what I believe food is. Food is the common denominator of all people. You may not like country. You may not like rock. You may not like football. You may not like ballet. But everybody likes food. And I think that barbecue is such a great medium for people because it’s not super sophisticated or complex, although it is.
It’s just like thinking that country music isn’t complex. These are real musicians that are playing real music, that are really professionally trained and developed and years of time. There are so many parallels that go on with it. What seems simple but is really more in-depth than you’d imagine. Same thing with barbecue. What it takes to become a pit-master, how long it takes to really understand, to look at the meat and know where it’s at.
And they start to know each other.
Like guys jamming who talk through music. And they start to like, ‘Oh, you like to go fast. Oh, you like to go slow. Oh, you want to take it there. Oh, you’re gonna stop here.’ We chefs and barbecue people do the same thing. We all get together and start cooking. ‘What do you cook with? What do you cook with? What temp do you run at? What do you do? How do you rub? What do you do?’ It goes back and forth.
There’s no — I don’t think there’s any right way to do it or any wrong way to do it. It’s just everybody’s perspective.
Who are you most excited to see perform? Do have any friends performing here?
Let’s see. I think… I saw Tanya Tucker yesterday.
Oh my gosh. What a show. I mean she got after it. Let’s see, here. Was looking forward to seeing Kenny Rogers. Brothers Osborne.
I love those guys, their new record is absolutely fantastic.
Come on, they are crushing it. Crushing. I love to see Florida Georgia Line, totally, Garth, Dwight Yoakam. And Jake Owen. Jake’s a good buddy of mine. Did you see that when he got out of the concert? He jumped in the audience! I was standing right there. I was in the pit, and I’m watching, and I was standing right there, and I was like, you crazy motherf*cker. I know a lot of these folks, and I gotta be honest with you, they’re all just what you see is what you get. I don’t think you can be — some music acts, people don’t have to be who the people are, but this? This is pretty much, you gotta be ‘of this,’ or you’re gonna get called out.
I totally agree. So you are arguably the most successful star of the Food Network age, what advice do you have for other creatives in any field — food, music, etc. — for reaching their fullest potential?
Don’t be blind to the environment that you’re in, but be you. There’s nothing worse than getting somewhere not being yourself. And there’s nothing worse than being yourself and not having a chance to get somewhere. This is the most profound thing I’ve ever said. I gotta hold onto that one. Because I think that too many people lose track of what they’re all about and try to become something that they think people want them to be. Well then, that only gets you so far.
So it’s being who you are, and being aware of what you’re in, and trying to keep those streams as much as you can working in the same direction. That’s what’s served me. And it doesn’t mean I always win, and doesn’t mean that I don’t lose, and it doesn’t mean that it always feels great, it doesn’t mean that it feels bad. It’s just, I think that’s the best way to do it. And keeping your mind open. You have to be willing to work outside of your comfort zone if you’re gonna have an opportunity to understand what the world’s really about. In all facets, from music to fashion to lifestyle to whatever it may be, you gotta stay open-minded.
As such a big star, occasionally you’ll be bombarded with negativity. But one of the things that I admire most about you is how you always stay so positive. How do you deal with that negativity when it does come and remain focused and positive?
You really gotta take it from the source, and you gotta take it with the context, and that’s it. It’s the source, the context, and the awareness. If I do something wrong — every dish I make is not perfect. Every restaurant I open is not perfect. I’m as human as anybody is. And what you have to be willing to do is you have to be willing to adapt to your environment and change the things, or better the things that aren’t going as well. If you’re not willing to do that, then I don’t know what you’re gonna do is successful. You always have to be willing to.
Somebody walks up to me and says to me right here, ‘Hey, listen. I just got this burrito, and I think this is dried out and it doesn’t have a lot of flavor and it’s really kind of a crap,’ granted, I gave it away. But if they came and said that to me, I would say, ‘Shit. Okay, well hang on a second. Let me check this. You’re right, the goddamn meat is dry. Throw it away. Let me make you another burrito the right way.’ And so forth. But to not say anything, and to take the burrito, and you walk down the street, and then tomorrow write on their blog how terrible everything was?
What happened to the world of people having conversations and dealing with conflict? Kids today don’t go and have it out at the bike rack anymore. They’re mean to each other back and forth. So that kind of stuff. I’m just not into negative energy. I’m not into people with negative energy. I believe that there are negative things that need to be addressed, but I think the way you address them is you address them as adults, upfront and handle business. And to sit there and write things with an alias or whatever, I don’t even have time for it. I don’t even listen to it. It doesn’t even come under my radar. I think there just needs to be more and more support and interaction and human people contact. I think it would solve a lot of problems.
I know you’re into cars. Tell me about that. What draws you to the kind of car that you want to collect and restore and be passionate about?
Believe it or not, when I was a kid — I’ve been a car fan since I was a little, little kid. And my parents were car fans. I mean, not because we didn’t have cars, but they never got the big charge out of a car that I did. And for as young as I can remember, I had my list of all the things I wanted. Wanted a big truck. Corvette. I wanted a Chevelle. I wanted a Camaro. Anyway, it’s funny. When I opened my first restaurant, I was standing outside of my first restaurant with a good friend of mine, college buddy. And I said, ‘I did it.’ I opened my first when I was like twenty-five or twenty-six years old.
And he says, ‘Guy, you know why you’re gonna be successful?’ I said, ‘Why?’ He says, ‘Because you’ll work as hard as you have to just to support your habits.’
And cars being one of them?
And cars being one of them. I’m like, ‘No shit man. You couldn’t nail that on the head any better if you tried.’ Funny, huh?
I love that.
Let me tell you something. How old are you?
I just turned thirty.
Okay. You don’t look thirty. Anyway, let me tell you something. You know why you’re doing a great interview?
Because you are so fucking involved in the interview. Let me tell you something. That is the difference. I’ve been interviewed thousands of times. The difference between a good interview and a great interview is when the person that you’re talking to — granted, you’re recording it — but the person that you’re talking to is like there. I’m telling you the story. That’s a real laugh you gave me. I’m telling you the story, I’m getting deep on something that’s a real emotion that you. That kind of stuff. Being a good interviewer is not the question, it’s the entire body of the question.
But I actually want to talk to you! Like to me, talking to you is like the highlight of this entire festival.
That’s very kind.
I’m glad that that shows because I do feel it.
No, you give it. You give it.
Thank you so much. One final thing I wanted to ask you about. When I was researching your history I found the story of you officiating so many same-sex marriages, and really supporting the queer community in that way. I thought that was so cool, and I didn’t know that about you! I’m wondering, now we’re not under an administration that’s as welcoming to the queer community, and for your fans in that community, do you have any encouragement for them while living under this administration?
I was doing it because some people that I really appreciate asked me and it was something very special for some people — like lifetime special. I did those same-sex marriages — which I even feel funny saying that because it’s highlighting that it’s something different, because there’s not anything different! And I think it’s beautiful. I got some negativity about it, which I really don’t care. Because the fact of the matter is I wasn’t doing it as a political thing, but if that’s an example for people, so be it. I’m not a very political person, but I think the last thing that we really need to be worrying about is who is choosing to marry who.
I sat there and listened and met all these couples. And they told me where they met, and how long they’ve been waiting to get married, and having this feeling of not being able to be free in a country that boasts about being free — still, it gives me goosebumps even talking about it. I stood there and I made it through the whole thing. There’s a little bit more depth for me, personally — my late sister Morgan was gay, and she taught me so much about understanding because she was a lot different than I was. And I thought “Wow, what an example of how my sister would want me to take the blessed opportunity that I have.” Because I’m in a blessed situation.
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