Recently earning his fifth Emmy nomination as an executive producer on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Guy Fieri is now 32 seasons into his reality series, and takes little credit for the success the series has seen. Nominated for Outstanding Structured Reality Program five times in the last five years, the series has clearly been a boon to the Food Network, whereas to the restaurateur and reality host, “Triple D” is both a passion project and an unlikely form of community activism.
Premiering in 2007, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives leans into the road trip format, with Fieri traveling across the United States, in order to spotlight a series of mom-and-pop joints. For Fieri—whose “servings have been so bountiful” over the last decade—journeying on with the series feels like a “big responsibility,” as someone who embraced every bit of news coverage that came his way, before he earned his status as a celebrity chef, with intimate knowledge of the struggles endured by those in the independent restaurant industry.
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Showcasing an endless variety of restaurants, the hardworking Fieri hopes to give more and more restaurateurs a chance to see business boom. “We put blood, sweat, and tears into making these shows happen, and finding the best places. We’ll go into a town and shoot six locations, in the course of the week. But before we do that, we spend two to three months evaluating the city, and looking at the food scene,” Fieri explains. “‘What did we do last time we were here? What’s going on in the scene right now? Where are they at with this? Where are they at with that? What is emerging? What is revitalized? What is old school? What’s new school? What are people talking about?’”
Dedicating much of his time these days, in between shoots, to philanthropic pursuits, the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives host also finds that the food culture in America today is as interesting as it’s ever been. “We’re in the middle of the food revolution. People have such a better-educated palate now, and I think Food Network plays a major part [in] that,” Fieri reflects. “We’ve brought people to understand food, and now they’re making better choices. But we have to, because we really got off the path for a while there, with processed crap. And we’ve still got way too much sugar.”
Receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in May of this year, Fieri spoke with Deadline about that experience, shooting in New Orleans, and the culinary revolution transpiring stateside.
What was discussed, in mapping out your latest Emmy-nominated season of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives?
You know what? I’ll tell you something. I’m a chef, not a TV guy. Well, I guess I’ve got a quick say in that after I got my star [on the Hollywood Walk of Fame]…I would love to give you some really keen insight [as to] the uniqueness and philosophies of shooting stuff. But you know what we are? We’re a band of crazy people. We’re a band of characters that put this show on, and we’re out there really so proud of what it does.
[The mom-and-pop restaurant business] is, I think, one of the toughest businesses in the world, especially in today’s climate, and we give [restaurateurs] a chance to be highlighted, recognized, spotlighted, put on a pedestal. Whatever terminology, what it does for them, in most situations, is life-changing. It’s life-changing financially, it’s life-changing image-wise; it’s a life-changing experience. It’s all these things. What’s so beautiful about it is, we have a blast doing it, and the outcome is awesome—and then on top of it, you get nominated for an Emmy.
We’ve been doing it for 12 years now; we’ve done over 1200 locations, and had it been any other type of show—had it not had this aura, this energy, what it does for people…It makes people happy when they watch it. It’s the craziest thing, dude. I mean, somebody [should] look for a formula, because I want to build another one. It’s kind of like no one wrote down the recipe on this, and it just happens to be what it is. A lot of people have tried to do it, a lot of networks have tried to do it, a lot of other hosts have tried to do it, and so forth—and I can’t say it’s me, man. I’m a part of it, but it is an energy in itself.
Having already covered so much terrain with the show, how do you tend to land on locations or themes you want to explore?
I remember the first couple of years we did it, I said, “You know what? This will go on for a couple more years, and then we’ll probably run out of locations.” [laughs] Yeah, right. I’ll be doing this thing in a walker, dude. I don’t know when it’s going to stop. I’m trying to get my son, Hunter…I told him, “Grow that goatee out, would you? We need you to start covering some shows.” [Exciting restaurants] are everywhere, dude. They’re everywhere. But here’s the thing I want to say to you: Where do you live in LA?
Over on the west side.
Okay, so Venice is a perfect example. How many places [are there] by Venice Beach? Hole-in-the-wall little joints that you’ve driven by—falafel joints, Indian food joints, ramen noodle joints, Udon noodle joints, pho joints. You drive by, right? And then all of a sudden your buddy says to you one day, “Hey, you know right there at the corner of Venice and such-and-such? Have you ever gone in and tried that sandwich place?” “No, I’ve driven by it a million times.” “You’ve got to go check it out.” Then, you go in there and you find that you have this epiphany, and you’re like, “Oh my God! How have I driven by this for the last 10 years?”
So, that’s what I do. We go find these funky joints, and we highlight them. We show them to people, and I’ll tell you what, man. Not everybody likes the same politics, not everybody likes the same sports; not everybody likes the same anything. But we all love food, baby. It is the common denominator [with] all people, food, and I get the job of just saying, “Slow down a second. Look over here, look at this joint,” and it changes the people’s lives that go to it, changes the people’s lives that own it. And I get to be the ambassador of that? I’m the ambassador of Flavortown? It’s the coolest thing going.
Recently, you returned to New Orleans for another in-depth portrait of the city’s culinary landscape. What was that like?
It used to be that it was Chicago, New York, New Orleans, da-da-da-da-da, that were the epicenters of great [cuisine]. These bigger cities had the attraction of all these people—and they do still reign supreme, don’t get me wrong. New Orleans is New Orleans; there’s nothing like it in the world. But I’ve got to tell you that the 50 little towns within 200 miles of New Orleans have also had this explosion of food, and that’s going on all over the country.
Lately, you’ve also featured a number of restaurants from your hometown of Santa Rosa, California—spots like Zoftig Eatery. Is it exciting to be able to bring business to your own area?
It’s awesome. The chef from Zoftig is such a neat guy. I’d been eating his food while I do my show Guy’s Grocery Games; my buddy would order food from it and I’m like, “Gosh, this is so good.” He goes, “You’ve got to see this place.” I’m like, “Listen man, I live in Santa Rosa. I’ve seen everything.” But he goes, “You’ve got to go see this place.”
So finally, the show [taping] was over, and I went down there to see it, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this place is outrageous.” The food’s dynamite, and I love to see such great quality, organic, farm-to-table fast food.
For me to highlight my brothers and sisters, especially in my hometown, it’s awesome. But do I pay the price? Oh my…There’s a place called Taqueria Molcajetes, and you know what? It was already busy. I took some friends there, and I’m standing in line and everybody’s laughing. They’re like, “Hey, thanks a lot buddy. It’s already hard enough to get in here, and now we’ve got to deal with [new crowds].” And I said, “Look at me. I’m standing here. I’m paying the price.”
As you mentioned, you got your star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this year. What did that mean to you?
The star was and is the crown jewel. So what can I say?
Thank you to my team, all my people that I’ve worked with on all the different shows, and thanks to the fans. Thanks to the mom-and-pop Triple D joints. Thanks to all the chefs, my brothers and sisters in the business.
What I said when I received my star is, “I really hope you guys all listen to me, real quick. This is our star. Because collectively as a group of friends and advisors, and coaches and angels, and whatever other capacity you’ve played in my life, helped me get to this point.” That was really the truth of it. I wouldn’t be here without all of the people that have made an impact. My dad just beat pancreatic cancer, so the fact that my dad was able to be there, my sons were able to be there, my oldest son spoke, my buddy Matt McConaughey spoke…To take a snapshot of time and say, “Here’s a kid that had a pretzel cart and went to France at the age of 16, and all he wanted to do is own his own restaurant,” and have it turn now into this opportunity, is awesome.