According to University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh linguists, if one cent had been deposited in the US Treasury every time an American described as awesome something he or she sort of liked or simply approved of over the past 15 years, Obamacare wouldn’t have been necessary; we’d be able to assign a dedicated personal physician to every man, woman, and child in the country, and build her a well equipped clinic. And our principal benefactor would be the TV personality, restaurateur, paragon of dudeliness, and all-around irritant Guy Fieri.
It’s instructive that, having gotten his start as a schoolboy, selling (what else?) Awesome Pretzels, and then gone to France to learn cooking, Fieri’s first job after college wasn’t actually cooking, but developing Restaurant Concepts for Stouffer’s, the frozen prepared foods folks. Later, he and a partner opened the worst restaurant in Santa Rosa, California, Johnny Garlic. He won the second edition of Who Will Be the Next Food Network Star? and, unlike most of its winners, actually became the next Food Network star, hosting a succession of programs for them, and shilling for the TGI Friday chain — which, unlike Appleby’s, hasn’t been shown to be owned by a demonic cult, but give it time. He is best known as the star of Drive-Ins, Diners, and Dives, in which, to the accompaniment of rockabilly music that sounds as though developed by Stouffer’s — it’s that cheesy!— he drives around in an awesome retro muscle car sampling and learning to make the awesomest signature dishes of mostly out-of-the-way restaurants lacking both pretension and any sense of responsibility about the obesity epidemic; I’ve been watching the program for years — 90 seconds at a time, because I find Fieri’s dudeliness grating — and don’t think I’ve ever seen prepared a dish that would contains fewer than 5000 calories per serving.
In the fall of 2013, he unwittingly made a major contribution to American letters when he opened Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square, Pete Wells’s review of which — a series of rhetorical questions — in the New York Times has been widely anointed the scathingest scathing review of this century. “Did panic grip your soul as you stared into the whirling hypno wheel of the menu?” Wells snarked. “When you saw the burger described as ‘Guy’s Pat LaFrieda custom blend, all-natural Creekstone Farm Black Angus beef patty, LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion + pickle), SMC (super-melty-cheese) and a slathering of Donkey Sauce [mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire and garlic —"so good you'd be an ass not to like it!"] on garlic-buttered brioche,’ did your mind touch the void for a minute? Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are?”
American knuckle-draggers take care of their own, and a great many — very few of whom turned out actually to have eaten in the restaurant — rushed to Guy’s defense, some of them irate at the idea of a newspaper publishing restaurant reviews, by virtue of their not being, uh, news. Our hero himself accused Wells of xenophobia (Fieri’s from northern California, not Staten Island, though his de-anglicized surname, originally Ferry, might suggest otherwise) and whined about the unfairness of reviewing a restaurant that had been open only a couple of months (but which, presumably, was nonetheless charging open-for-years prices).
Bloodied but unbowed, Fieri opened the first location of Guy Fieri on Campus, at New Jersey’s Monclair State University, at which “everything [is] coated in a nauseating amount of the trademark Fieri donkey sauce,” and the chicken tacos are filled with “chunks of chicken so hard and dry they were practically choking hazards.” I was reminded of my lunch at Johnny Garlic’s!
Last year, Guy and Ariel Ramirez, who oversees Fieri’s trademark spiky bleached blond hair, got into a very loud fight, involving punching and the hurling of hurtful epithets, at San Francisco International Airport after apparently getting into the cooking sherry in a big way en route from wherever they’d come from. “It was just dudes being dudes,” someone assured the press, though many dudes would probably regard it as rather dudelier to mix it up with non-hairdressers, not in their employ, who are not weeping, as poor Ariel was.
I, for one, am not comfortable sharing the roads with persons who, at leisure in Manhattan, where glorious ethnic food abounds, and glorious old-fashioned American food too, would dine voluntarily at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar.