A Guy's Guy: Food Network's Fieri is Awesome, Dude
There may be no other Food Network personality worthy of not just one but, count 'em, two Screen Bites reviews than Guy Fieri. Already the raucous center of a previous appreciation of his kitchen-bound program, Guy's Big Bite, which single-handedly proved that Fieri possessed more cooking chops than his gelled haystack of hair, strategic tats and three-bong-hits-on-laundry-day vernacular would let on.
Food Network You go, Guy.
So after establishing that this dude can cook, it's all but forgotten that what initially launched him into the cooking stratosphere is Fieri's irresistibly amiable personality. He's the most affable "guy" to ever brighten a Food Network set since, well, since Rachael Ray E.V.O.O.'d (that's extra virgin olive oil for all you Food Network tyros) her way into the country's communal kitchen.
And as a remedy to taking for granted Fieri's meteoric rise to TV chef rock stardom, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Fieri's main platform for his post-modern brand of kitchen populism (have spatula, will travel), deserves a serious look.
For proof of just how infectious a personality Fieri possesses, and just how tongue-in-groove is the fit between him and Diners, just examine closely the premise for a recent episode: Nothing more than all three of his diners visited repeated their name, in their name. In other words, Fieri is so foolproof, that he can build an entire 30-minute segment around his dropping in on Tap Tap Haitian Restaurant in Miami Beach, Niko Niko's in Houston, and Pok Pok in Portland, Oregon.
The itinerary for this particular "triple-D" episode had Fieri racking up the frequent flier miles between Miami to Houston to Portland. There isn't another Food Network star who clocks as many miles, all in the service of ferreting out the diviest places that still serve food, some of whose preparation should earn them at least one Michelin star.
In such the cynical, know-it-all age, it is difficult to break through with a self-propelled personality that feels totally genuine and not molded from artificial personality preservatives. That same gregarious, one-of-da-guys personality that Fieri rode to victory in the first Next Food Network Star reality contests remains to this day. Just add a nicer watch and better brand of Wayfarers.
Fieri always gets triple-D off to a kinetic start by being filmed Steve McQueen (ca. Bullitt) style, motoring down the highway in a Scotch bonnet hot convertible sports car. It's always from behind the wheel that Fieri announces where on the map he's roaming next.
In a rebroadcast of an early episode, but representative of every aspect of triple-D's aesthetic, Fieri's stops in Miami, Houston and Portland, are all edited in the same frenzied way. They are filled with Fieri's hobnobbing with the restaurant's most quotable patrons ("It's a cross between a hush puppy and fried squash," quips one), along with the eateries' most eccentric, fun-loving staff.
The editor of this show should probably win some sort of award for combining the nervous jump-cuts constantly demanded by any show's slightly ADD-afflicted viewers and the infinitely easier pacing of the show's chef-preparation sequences.
It is back in the kitchen, far removed from the hubbub of the diner's main room, that Fieri has a real chance to bond with the creators of the diner dishes he's heard are total money. So that means at Miami's Tap Tap, Fieri highlights a Haitian classic built around pork shoulder, which Fieri dubs the "Kobe" of the pig. Fieri can dwell on the sometimes dozens of items, from vinegar to sour orange rinds, scallions to Scotch bonnets, garlic and onion, all used for just a broth or a marinade.
It is also back in the kitchen where the zaniest aspects of Fieri's personality can blossom. He can't get enough of thrusting his goat-eed puss right into the camera as he lets loose with some wacky expression that he probably picked up from a pick-up volleyball game on Venice Beach.
Of the honey balls he samples at Houston's Niko Niko's, Fieri takes a verbal hit off of some hallucinogenic and comes up with this bit of metaphoric whimsy: "Those are culinary buoys in the shipyard of flavor town." Far out, maaaaan.
There are secrets to be uncovered back in these sweaty, cramped, diner kitchens, believes Fieri. For instance, at Portland's Pok Pok, the pork collar is one of the Thai larder's most favored cuts of meat, yet it is a bit of a rarity in Western kitchens. And Fieri grudgingly accepts that a mortar and pestle grinds up everything, including cilantro root, in a much more compatible way with how real Thai cooks work.
And it is from the safe haven of the kitchen that Fieri can let all aspects of raspy-voiced, freak-flag fly.
"Oh no," says Fieri rolling his eyes with sarcastic pleasure. "A lime-Scotch bonnet sauce doesn't scare me." Fieri is so confident in his one-liners that even if they are duds -- like "too legit to fish" -- someone in the audience will still chortle. Even if it's just a Fieri family member.
Back in the kitchen, Fieri can become ecstatic over the discovery of a special marinade machine used at Houston's Niko Niko's, or, at Pok Pok, a straight-from-Thailand coconut milk press apparently only used for one dish.
But Fieri is unmatched when it comes to his one or two line exclamations of gastronomic pleasure as he samples the diner's latest creation.
Slurping up some watercress puree in Miami, Fieri moans with soft-core pornish delight: "In the 21st century, that's in my top-five, ever."
The ultimate Fieri triple-D compliment is when he feigns as if he can't possibly eat another bite. "You're gonna have to take that away from me," he instructs the head chef at Houston's Niko Niko's. But of course, he really wants to inhale the entire plate.
As he grabs a little bit of sticky rice with which to eat yet another great morsel in the kitchen of Portland's Pok Pok, Fieri can't help himself: "This is ridiculously good." And then he elaborates, breaking down the dish into its spicy, salty, crunchy and sweet components.
What makes Fieri consistently entertaining viewing on triple-D is that he so cares about these culinary underdogs, these gastronomic overachievers dressed up in greasy-spoon duds. Fieri is determined to be their champion, to shower them with "awesome dude" encomiums, and fist-bump them into fame.
(Any new episodes of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives will likely air on Food Network at 8 p.m. Mondays. )