Ask Guy Fieri what he’s been up to in the last few years and you better have plenty of time for the answer. The career of this energetic host of three popular Food Network television shows and owner of five restaurants has skyrocketed since winning the 2006 “Next Food Network Star” competition.
Selling soft pretzels out of a three-wheeled bicycle cart at age 10 is where his foodservice career began. Fieri earned a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and worked through the various food-preparation ranks before bursting onto the national cooking scene. He’s easily identified by his signature spiky blond hair and sunglasses casually perched on the back of his neck.
The chef often talks about his love for pork and its versatility in each of his three Food Network television shows — Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, where he travels America searching for unique eateries and recipes; Guy’s Big Bite, which is a hands-on cooking instruction show; and Guy Off The Hook, his live cooking show.
He describes himself as the “designated hitter in full-contact food.” Fieri’s passion for pork has inspired him to create countless original pork recipes, including his Cuban pork chops with mojo and spicy cherry ribs.
This past year, Fieri teamed up with the National Pork Board to promote The Other White Meat Tour and to judge the “Bring it t-ON-g” Pork Grilling Contest.
Fieri and his wife, Lori, have two kids, who he describes as a handful. Hunter is 12 and sometimes assists his dad on the TV show, and Ryder is 3. Perpetually young at heart and in attitude, the 40-year-old chef says he feels like 28. When he’s lucky enough to have some spare time, he enjoys restoring classic race cars and dirt bikes, and riding his monster golf cart.
You’ve said that pork is your favorite meat. Why?
Pork is a favorite of mine because it’s so versatile. It will take on any flavor, any ethnicity and adapt to any cooking style. If you want to cook low and slow, it’s your baby. If you want to cook hot and fast, it’s on point. If you want to fry it, it’s right there. If you want to season other dishes, it’s available.
You can fry it, grill it, roast it or bake it. I love it down to the pickled pig skin. You can’t give me a part that I don’t dig. The fat-for-flavor aspect of pork is unbeatable. I keep my bacon fat in the fridge to cook with. I think they should sell bacon fat right next to the margarine at the supermarket.
How did you get involved with the National Pork Board?
I guess I got lucky. I truly believe in the product and I believe in NPB’s attitude. It’s a real pleasure for me to work with those folks. When I was asked to become involved with NPB, it was awesome. Few people know this, but I raised pigs for awhile when I was a kid.
I’m just so pro-pork and have been for a long time. Instead of calling pork “The Other White Meat,” I think we should call it The White Meat.
What do you see as pork’s biggest competition?
Misunderstanding, lack of awareness and lack of knowledge. I’ve made pork dishes for people and they ask “is this veal?”
At my Tex Wasabi’s restaurant, we go through so much pork, I can’t even explain it to you.
What has led to your television programs’ success?
I like to cook the types of things all of us really want. I do things that food fanatics love. People sometimes get hung up in the foo-foo aspect of cooking and I avoid that. If you’re not too reserved and you’re willing to knock out a great recipe, then I’m the designated hitter in full-contact food.
What can the industry do to get pork on more menus?
The key is continued education of both chefs and consumers. Getting involved with cooking schools and having more culinary competitions and events also are important. Let people see pork’s versatility. For the cost, for the effort and for the utility, pork has it all; and I’m not just saying that. I’d stand on top of the roof and say it.
I’m interested in pork cuts that have a little higher fat content and more distinctive flavors. I’m excited about the potential of cooking with various breeds of pork. The next facet or the next spin is to take the artesianal or heirloom pork and get that out in the forefront. If we can make it known how awesome pork can be — I would love to see that.
Also, we have free-range chicken; why can’t we see free-range pork?
What concerns consumers about pork?
Consumers’ biggest concern about pork is “how do I cook a pork chop so it doesn’t dry out?” I try to teach people simple culinary techniques — quit messing with it. Sear it on both sides and finish it in the oven.
Once they try a pork chop cooked correctly they say “that’s the best thing I’ve ever had.”
On which areas should the pork industry concentrate?
The pork tenderloin doesn’t get nearly enough play, and it can still be mishandled by consumers.
The industry also could dress up ham and the ham sandwich more — like turkey did with maple cured, honey smoked and so forth. Anyone can say what they want, but you can’t have a holiday without a ham.
Bacon, sausage and ham are traditional breakfast meats. What can the industry do to broaden their use?
People tend to think of sausage or bacon as the negative part of a healthy breakfast. No one asks about the high-fat hash browns. For everyone and everything, moderation is the key.
The greatest thing that the pork industry has going is the NPB’s investment and efforts in education programs. Its education campaign should be a year-round event — it should never stop. There’s so much potential for pork, and I try to do my part in getting the message out. I’m one of the dudes that carry the torch; I feel like I’m part of the campaign.
What influences diners’ decisions?
They order safe — 90 percent of the time they will order by repetition. Sometimes, people become creatures of habit. They stick to one particular dish that they like. If I can convince someone to try a pork chop prepared properly, they love it.
What’s your perspective on the animal-rights movement and its impact on food choices?
To some people it might have an impact. I think there are well-made statements on both sides of the issue. It gets to be a little more political than what I care to get involved with.
I don’t make decisions on what to offer on my menus based on the animal-rights issue.
Where do you get inspiration for new recipes?
It just doesn’t stop. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and make a note or send myself an e-mail about a new idea to try. Sometimes I try an item and play with it, trying it different ways.
I’m in this food thing as deep as you can get. I do get too busy though and wish I had more time for cooking.
Being around wonderful food, how do you avoid over-eating?
While I love food, I’m not a real big eater. I like multiple facets in foods with different complexities, consistencies and flavors. I like a little of this and a little of that. I like eating tapas style.
Two dishes that I am tempted to over-eat, however, are really good spaghetti with really good tomato sauce, and grits and ham.
What message do you have for pork executives?
To all of them — producers, NPB and even the 4-H kids raising pigs — we are blessed with the opportunity to have such a wonderful product to work with. I’m very happy that they are not taking the back seat and they continue to push forward to improve and promote the product. I will continue to believe in it. I’m proud of them for being forward-thinking and taking control of their destiny.
I want to see artesianal pork; I want to see free-range; I want to see Berkshire and more breeds of pork. I want to start cracking open those opportunities.
I’m looking forward to cooking this next year with some of the various breeds of pork and taking that to the next level.
I know we have lean pork and that’s great, but I want a pork product with a little more fat.