We’re an American band.
We’re an American band.
We’re comin’ to your town,
We’ll help you party it down,
We’re an American band
– Grand Funk Railroad
The lights fade to black and the crowd begins to cheer, some waving iPhones with the virtual Zippo flame app in the air as music pumps through the speakers. Rock legends including the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead have played the San Jose Civic auditorium, and from the unfettered enthusiasm you’d think they were all here tonight. The cheering reaches a fevered pitch as the lights rise and the object of their adoration takes center stage. But it’s not Mick Jagger, it’s a guy with spiky bleached blonde hair wearing a red and black chef’s coat adorned with flames and a toque-toting skull – it’s Food Network star Guy Fieri.
Excited to be near his hometown of Santa Rosa, Fieri proudly introduces members of his family seated in the 1,500-plus audience and then launches into a story about a fried turkey disaster in his backyard. He is warm, funny and engaging. The audience laughs and claps and is totally captivated. Afterward, he asks the onstage D.J. to throw down some beats as he gets situated behind the stove, the focal point of the impressive set for his traveling road show. For over an hour Fieri cooks, tells stories, invites audience members to become part of the act, and is clearly having the time of his life.
Fieri first appeared on America’s radar as a contestant on the reality series The Next Food Network Star, where network executives and one of their most famous protégés, Throwdown king and Iron Chef Bobby Flay, eliminate hopefuls each week until one cook is left. From the first episode, Fieri (who owns two Santa Rosa restaurants, Tex Wasabi’s and Johnny Garlic’s) was the obvious frontrunner. He was a bit rough around the edges, but a talented chef brimming with charisma. Fieri smoked the competition and won the prize – a contract with the Food Network and his own show, Guy’s Big Bite. The show was a hit, but Fieri’s personality seemed too big to contain in a 30-minute cooking demo (even if he does have a tomato red fridge tricked out to look like a race car). Fieri still hosts Guy’s Big Bite, but it was his hosting duties on another Food Network show, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (or “Triple D” as Fieri calls it) that shot him to rock-star-chef status. Driving across the country in a red 1967 Chevy Camaro Super Sport convertible checking out great food at humble joints fit his quick-witted, Guy-next-door style as perfectly as the sunglasses dangling from the back of his head.
The Guy Fieri Road Show, a revolutionary rock ’n’ roll extravaganza where the front man slings a spatula instead of a guitar, hit 21 cities in 30 days and drew sellout crowds. It’s unlikely any chef other than Fieri, with his trademark spiky bleached hair, tattoos, chunky silver jewelry, and huge stage presence, could pull it off (the idea of Thomas Keller whipping up signature dishes in front of a gargantuan margarita machine is fairly ridiculous), and Fieri and the Food Network are laughing all the way to the bank.
At each stop, Fieri pulls in local talent to open the show. For the San Jose appearance, San Francisco’s Ryan Scott, who also drew the national spotlight on the BRAVO TV series Top Chef, got the call, much to the delight of the giggling, screaming women in the audience. Along with being tall, dark and GQ handsome, Scott is a talented, classically trained chef who has cooked for large audiences before, including on NBC’s Today Show. He is in his element here, effortlessly bantering his way through a recipe with his sous chef for the evening – his mom. After Scott, Australian bartender Hayden “Woody” Wood, a gifted flair artist, continues to warm up the fans with his dazzling mixology act.
Four hours before the show, Fieri is onstage with his crew – made up of childhood friends and hometown buddies, whom he says help keep him grounded – inspecting the lights, sound checking, and instructing some local culinary students on their roles as chef assistants that evening. He’s been doing interviews and prepping since 6 a.m., but on a scale of 1 to 10 his energy level remains an 11.
A few minutes later in the greenroom, Fieri takes the opportunity to relax just a bit; he is self-deprecating and down-to-earth, teasing Scott about his model good looks as they joke back and forth. He is no different in person than he is on Triple D in the kitchen of an old gas station in Albuquerque, stuffing a giant jalapeno burger in his mouth and telling the delighted cook that it’s “off the chain.” With Guy Fieri, what you see is definitely what you get.