While attending his rural California high school, he washed dishes and sold "awesome pretzels" out of his food cart to finance a study abroad trip to France, where, in the romantic vein of Julia Child or Eat Pray Love
, he became enchanted with the art of cooking. He got a college degree in hotel management—an expert in hospitality—and so loved his Italian
heritage that, upon getting married, he changed his name from Guy Ferry to the original family name: Guy Fieri. You know the rest of the story. And now (barely a month after he inspired a bar crawl
) Guy's American Kitchen
, the Times Square
restaurant that bears his name (it's licensed; he doesn't run it), is closing, and we are worse off for it. Good riddance, many people will say, then they'll go back to decrying how our city is "vanishing."
With an empire founded on crab fat caramel wings, sweet potato tacos and pork belly kimchi, Fieri forces us to confront our drunk food in broad daylight. He gives symbolic voice to our basest culinary instincts (and literally, as the spokesperson for TGI Friday's). Whatever Food Network show in which he stars, he hosts our guilty pleasures, our closeted gluttony, our secret curiosity over whether or not such-and-such dish could be improved by being deep-fried or dipped in ranch dressing or both. With a savvy learned during his Las Vegas college years, he is the walking, talking, frosted-tip embodiment of the Venn diagram between accommodation and aggravation, somehow pulling off a schtick of family-friendly skankiness.
For his fuck-you frankness, Fieri was roundly punished by the foodie gods, chief among them Pete Wells, who became a household name in 2012 by penning a notoriously savage zero-star review
of the Times Square restaurant as a kind of anniversary gift to himself after his first year as restaurant critic at The New York Times. The review is a gimmicky string of 39 withering questions—"How did nachos, one of the hardest dishes in the American canon to mess up, turn out so deeply unlovable?"—followed by a single insincere "Thanks." It was such a viral, mainstream diss that even Saturday Night Live
took a shot. Later, perhaps as atonement for his snobbery, Wells cheerily reviewed Señor Frog's, another Times Square carnival of a restaurant (that also closed).
Among gastronomy's Frasier Cranes, Fieri is its Roseanne Barr, a heretic who dares to desecrate a fromage panini by calling it a grilled cheese sandwich. His most popular television show is about diners, and diners don't get Michelin stars
. Nobody ever won a James Beard Award for their nachos. He is a misfit among paragons of sophistication like Mario Batali
and Ken Friedman
Do you know what else doesn't have any of those premier industry accolades? Junior's. Katz's. Mamoun's. Nathan's. Sylvia's. Tom's. Fieri is America's biggest little guy. The least he deserves is our respect, if not our patronage.
A daring scout group of the Time Out Test Eater Squad had a large lunch at Guy's today: the Guy-talian nachos, chicken tenders, Vegas fries in the signature sidewinder cut (somehow they tasted chalky), chicken wings, a bacon mac 'n' cheese burger with donkey sauce (garlic mayo), and a Hawai'ian-inspired chicken dish with "mango confetti" and a skewered lime wedge sticking out of it like the Iwo Jima memorial. One of us also had a butterscotch truffle martini that made a good run at pioneering type-3 diabetes. A waitress took about 10 minutes to get to us before taking our order, then about two minutes to deliver four reheated appetizers (all the beef was gray). She never asked how we'd like our burger. "This is not what food should be," said one eater. "This is not how food tastes." It was all so sketchy, the food equivalent of a Tinder photo that has an orange timestamp in the corner. Where was this food from? How old was it exactly? Was it even real?
And yet! The place was packed: from the boyfriend and girlfriend at the bar in matching red-and-black plaid flannels to the blonde boy wiping sauce from his chin with his Green Bay Packers T-shirt to the dad pacing between the tables, his baby in one hand and a beer in another. Sure, maybe they're mostly tourists, but the city's residents have pretty basic AF tastes
, too. Guy's is a great reminder that cosmopolitanism without lowbrow culture is just snobbery.
The first time I went to the Fieri restaurant in Times Square was after a Broadway show on a Monday
night when I forgot Sardi's
was closed. My friend Will and I decided to go next door and ended up challenging each other to order the most obscene cocktail (the Lady Liberty cosmo stole the show). Will was really proud of telling our bartender, a young man named Claudio, that our forecast for the night was "partly Claudio with a chance of meatballs." We both laughed so much at that. Stupid food frees you to be stupid for a spell.
"We ordered the Vegas fries and they were probably not potatoes. They were smiley and hot and turned my stomach into a volcano," Will recalled last night when I broke the news to him. He was quick to add: "We were happy that we went to Guy's, and now it's a fond memory."
A month later, Will returned—on a date with a woman we'll call Emma to protect her anonymity. "Emma's mac 'n' cheese burger made her feel happy, confused and close to death," he recalled. "We were underwhelmed by the amount of American flags—we only saw 19—but we saw a plate signed by Honey Boo Boo on display and we thought that it should count for 10, so the total tally came to 29."