HI I’M GUY FIERI AND WELCOME TO ANOTHER EPISODE OF DINERS, DRIVE-INS AND DIVES.
With these immortal words, Guy Fieri begins a new episode of what aficionados of the show lovingly refer to as Triple-D (to you – Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives). He’s a cult figure of sorts here in the UK, though often ridiculed for his loudly expressive presenting style, monstrous haircut, and tendency to aim for the lowest common denominator when it comes to cuisine. But I believe Guy gets a bad rap and intend to argue that Guy deserves more respect. Not only is he a fine chef in his own right, his show democratises cuisine for the masses. For this reason, as well as the comparably low quality of the alternatives, a case can be made that Guy Fieri is the greatest celebrity chef of all time.
My argument for this is simple. We’ll start with an overview of who Guy is and his rise to fame. We’ll then examine a typical episode of his flagship show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and see how it’s not just educational about food but also entertaining in a unique and progressive way. We’ll then conclude with a comparison of Guy as a public figure, taking a moment to reflect on the very concept of a “celebrity chef” and comparing DDD to other cookery shows such as The Great British Bake Off and Masterchef.
But first, a little background about why I’m so interesting in this at all.
I: How I Met Guy
I first encountered Guy Fieri in the same way that most people reading this will have. In the UK, Freeview lets you watch a number of channels beyond the traditional 5 terrestrial ones. Most of these are unwatchable trash, but one stood out to me above all others – Food Network. On this channel, endless episodes are shown of shows where people either make, eat or talk about food. You’ve got cake shows for instance (Ace of Cakes, Last Cake Standing, Have Cake Will Travel, Amazing Wedding Cakes) which are endlessly absorbing in their own right.
But two shows really stood out to me above the others: Man V. Food and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I’d like to give Man V. Food an honourable mention in this essay, because it really is very good. MVF premiered in 2008 and DDD in 2007, so it can’t be said that Richman laid the foundations for Fieri or anything like that; but I do believe that he played an important auxiliary role in Fieri’s rise to power.
If you compare and contrast MVF and DDD you’ll notice some striking similarities. Richman will travel to a couple of places in each show and try out the food there. It’ll be things like burgers and pizzas, with the emphasis being on some kind of challenge element. I.e. hottest pizza, biggest steak, most oysters, and so on. Richman caps the episodes off with an attempt at the challenge itself, which he’ll then win or lose. In DDD, Fieri also travels around to what are essentially fast-food places, but without the emphasis on challenge. As Fieri himself states, what they’re looking for in DDD is dedication.
And this is the key difference. Richman’s Man V. Food show is essentially just a spectacle. You watch him struggle to eat a huge burger and either enjoy his success or feel bad when he fails. But it’s simply a performance. He’s more of an actor than a chef in this regard. And it’s worth mentioning that in later series Richman doesn’t even do the challenges himself – he began crowdsourcing them out to local food heroes as of Man V. Food Nation in 2011. Fieri has never made any such compromise.
Back on topic, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives quickly became my all time favourite show. Not just on the Food Network, but all on television in general. Go ahead and watch an episode – I guarantee you’ll be hooked (for reasons we’ll explain in greater detail in part III). However, it was the character of Guy himself that fascinated me most of all. But who is this bleached-hair food-loving man-troll? Let’s take a few steps back and size him up.
II: Fieri Begins
Guy Fieri’s real name is actually Guy Ferry. I was personally disappointed when I found that out, but it turns out that he reverted to Fieri when he got married in 1995 as a way to honour his Italian immigrant grandfather. This demonstrates that Guy is a culturally aware figure, not wanting to hide his personal life but actually bring it out into the open. This honesty is also a trait that he brings into his attitude towards cooking, as we’ll go on to see.
Fieri’s early history involves successfully opening a few restaurants with his business partner Steve Gruber. But it wasn’t until Fieri entered a US show entitled Food Network Star that his career began to skyrocket. Check out this clip for an edit of Guy’s appearances within the finals of the second season. Notice that even at this early stage Guy is already sporting his trademark spiked blonde hair – proving that his personal branding has remained consistent since his earliest days. Guy of course won the show and as such was granted a six-episode run by Food Network for a cooking show Guy’s Big Bite.
Food Network doesn’t show Guy’s Big Bite here in the UK, which is a shame. I believe UK audiences would benefit greatly from Guy’s primetime cooking show, which is now in its thirteenth season in the US. The show also contains one of my personal all time-favourite Fieri moments – Guy meets Matthew McConaughey. And in a way, Guy Fieri is very much the Matthew McConaughey of cooking. For a long time nobody cared about him or took him seriously, but right now he’s at the top of his game and leading the way forward for others in his field.
Currently, the Food Network remains focussed on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. We’ll now take a deeper look to see what about this show makes it so culturally significant and what that tells us about Fieri’s career.
Recently, Buzzfeed wrote a surprising good article in which they outlined “what happens in every single “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Ghost Court also did a stellar job of that here. I don’t want to go over the same ground as those guys, but it’s worth just sketching out the basics again – just for reference:
- Guy Fieri shouts at you whilst driving his big red car.
- Guy Fieri visits two restaurants locally renowned for their dishes.
- Guy Fieri watches as the head chef prepares the dish. Quick flash cuts to customers talking about how amazing it is.
- Said dish is invariably some kind of burger that contains more salt than could possibly be necessary.
- Guy Fieri eats the dish and is complimentary about it.
- Show ends.
Obviously there is more to it than that, but that is the basic skeleton. It looks simple, and it really is – and that’s the charm. Every episode is exactly the same, just with different restaurants and dishes slotted into the gap. There’s never any attempt to mix up the formula too much, nothing wacky. And this keeps the focus on the things that matter: the food, the restaurant, and Guy. Nothing gets compromised.
The show has plenty else going for it as well as its simplicity. Just look at how it opens, with Guy in his car. It’s extremely welcoming and friendly – you’re invited to come along with Guy for the ride, literally! It assumes no knowledge of cooking or anything, there’s nothing elitist about it whatsoever, just a love of the food and flavours themselves. I mentioned before that I believe Guy Fieri has helped “democratise’ food, and this is the point I’m demonstrating here. The format itself is incredibly simple, but in being so it’s instantly accessible to everyone.
Even the food on display backs this up. Often the show is criticised for just being a showcase for horrible fast-food joints. And to an extent this is true, Guy tends to visit places that deal in cooked red meat primarily – and rarely does he get excited about a vegetarian option. But again, this is Guy deliberately choosing to highlight dishes that we can all relate to. It’s not like he couldn’t do otherwise either; the “Flavour Town Feature” on the Johnny Garlics’ website (Guy’s restaurant chain) right now is Crispy Parmesan Zucchini Planks. But Guy’s well aware that few people are interested in fried courgette. Guy’s honesty shines through again here. He’s saying “look, this is what people actually eat – let’s focus on that!” And Guy’s concern to cater for the audiences tastes (puns not intended) should not go unappreciated.
The way the show is shot and edited is also worthy of a mention. There’s a cut roughly every seconds, if not more often, and this means your attention never wanes. In fact, it’s not possible for your attention to wane because your brain is constantly taking in new information. It’s arguable how much influence Guy Fieri actually has over the post-production process of DDD, but I think it’s fair to say it has his trademark on it. Nobody wants to sit and watch someone knead out some dough for the full length of time it would take to do so and Fieri doesn’t waste his viewer’s time by showing that kind of thing off. Cookery on DDD is reduced to usually throwing a selection of herbs and spices into a bowl, rubbing it into some meat, cooking it and eating it. It’s simple, and it’s tasty. That’s all that matters to us, so Guy makes it all that matters in his show.
And a final point to make in this section is the way that Guy presents it: wholly positively. Throughout he moves the narrative forward with an unrelenting momentum. Everything builds up to him tasting the famous dish for himself, and then being uniformly positive about it. Some commentators have pointed out that Fieri is disingenuous in this regard, for it’s highly statistically unlikely that every dish that Fieri tastes would be as delicious as he claims it to be, but if you watch carefully that’s not at all what he does. Instead of being one of those food critics who focusses solely on the negatives of a dish, he’ll bring to the forefront what good can be said about it. So instead of saying “you really overdid the tomato in this one” he’ll say something more like “mmm, you can really taste the tomato!”
To the trained ear, it’s obvious what he’s saying. But he pays the chef, and us the audience, the courtesy of always acting impressed. And this is extremely important. For cooking, especially at the level expected of a chef, can be a high-pressure affair. If you get it wrong, the consequences are immediate and dire – and it’s so easy to get it wrong. This puts a lot of people off cooking in the first place, the fear of it all going wrong. And most cookery shows reinforce this fear by structures of judging and scoring. Fieri totally dissolves this conceit and demonstrates that there’s something good in every dish. Once again, he’s making it accessible to everyone, by turning it into something non-confrontational. He just wants you to start cooking, and after watching him action you want to cook too.
So in this way, DDD beautifully combines entertainment and education. We love the show and get hooked on watching it. Yet at the same time we’re learning about cooking, and specifically exposing ourselves to unique flavour combinations uncovered by Guy. This is what makes DDD one of the best shows on television. It’s good wholesome viewing that truly inspires you, without ever compromising itself in terms of honesty or resorting to gimmicks to keep you interested.
Moving on from the show itself then, I’d like to finish with a few remarks about Guy as a figure, and also how what he’s doing compares to everything else currently on offer.
IV: Guy Fieri v. The World
So we’ve seen so far that Guy Fieri’s show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives holds a special place on our television screens by delivering great content in a uniquely enjoyable package. But it would be nothing without Guy himself, and everything we’ve said about the show should be seen as being a reflection of how we ought to value him as a figure in the world of cuisine.
Because it’s quickly becoming a crowded marketplace – in the UK especially. Here we have Great British Bake Off and Masterchef being shown every year on the BBC. And there’s also Sunday Brunch and Saturday Morning Kitchen beaming into our living rooms every weekend. Not to mention years of celebrity chef TV shows stretching back decades: Nigel Slater, Delia Smith, Gary Rhodes, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Heston Blumenthal, and so on. The aim of all of these has been the same: to make cookery popular.
And they’ve had relative success. Jamie Oliver, for example, managed to revolutionise school meals in the UK, and introduce a whole generation to cooking simply by taking a more casual approach to methodology and measurements (“chuck in a dollop of this!”). But how do we measure the success of a celebrity chef, or cookery show? There’s obviously a measure of sheer entertainment value to take into account – but more importantly we need to think about the success they’ve had in bringing cookery to the masses.
In both aspects it is clear that Guy Fieri is a success. From the entertainment standpoint the case is open and shut – we have already demonstrated that Triple-D is a wildly entertaining show. I personally prefer it to anything else on television and happily watch it for hours on end. I can’t say the same for Bake Off or Masterchef – which must speak volumes. But thinking about the primary criteria – bringing cookery to the masses – the case isn’t immediately obviously won. But it still can be.
I believe that via DDD, Guy Fieri has succeeded in brining cookery to the people more successfully than anything else on television. But I make this point extremely carefully. I’m not arguing that every single person who watches it will immediately be inspired to go out and start a burger joint, but rather simply that it does the best job of making cooking accessible. And most importantly of all, it makes it fun.
To flesh out this point a little more, just compare DDD to any other cooking show. The Great British Bake Off is a great one to pick. It’s extremely popular amongst a certain crowd, and as a baking fan myself it’s often fun to watch how someone is going to tackle a certain flatbread or similar challenge. But it’s in no way as consistently engaging as DDD. We mentioned before how DDD is edited in a way that means you never lose interest with what’s happening on the screen; well, the same unfortunately cannot be said for Bake Off. Watching someone watch an oven door, fretting about whether their bread will rise or collapse, just isn’t compelling to watch. In the five minutes we spend hearing about the history of so-and-so’s baked alaska recipe, Guy Fieri has already introduced, cooked, and tasted a whole meal at a restaurant. It’s a greater volume of content, delivered in a more digestible (no pun intended) format. Even if we’re not consciously aware of it, DDD is making up pliable to the idea of making food ourselves – far more than GBBO ever does.
GBBO also features an off-putting competitive element. The imposing figures of skeleton-lookalike Mary Berry and the suntanned Shrek Paul Hollywood are there only to criticise. The same is true, and worse yet, on Masterchef. All that is great about cooking is brought down by this format, where what has been produced isn’t celebrated for what it is but held up for inspection and criticism. Any flaws become amplified to above and beyond an appropriate extent. A perfectly nice bread loaf on GBBO, for instance, that just happens to have a big of a “soggy bottom” (which will happen if you’re rushing it for a TV show, of course) will have all of its positives overshadowed by the one downer.
This is where Guy Fieri stands out from the crowd. As we have shown already, he only ever focuses on the good in food – almost to the point of deliberate naivety – and in doing so makes cookery a non-threatening experience that we should all want to become involved in.
We have seen then that Guy Fieri is a very different kind of figure to those currently occupying the mainstream in TV cookery. The tendency in most shows nowadays is to go for competition or gimmickry over a genuine appreciation for the act of cooking a tasty meal. Guy Fieri strips that all away and produces shows that appear simplistic, and indeed are simplistic, but in doing so reveal cookery for what it really is. The same honesty that he brings with him via his flamboyant public persona (he really does look and dress like that, that’s genuinely who he is) is carried forward into his attitude towards cookery.
The result is the truest on-screen representation possible of passion and dedication to cookery. And because the format itself is so engaging, we can’t help but love it. Guy unquestionably succeeds in bringing cookery to the masses – the only barrier being that not a lot of people have ever taken the taken the time to actually watch the Food Network channel – let alone Triple-D itself. If they did, I think they’d be pleasantly surprised.
Guy Fieri isn’t just a great celebrity chef. He’s the greatest celebrity chef of all time.