The Mayor of Flavortown is entering what you might call a reinvention phase. While filming the latest season of his hit show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives — known by true guyhards as Triple D — Guy Fieri is busy launching another Food Network show that could bring us the next great celebrity chef. He's also been working with Carnival Cruise Line to reinvent how and what we eat onboard — including facilitating the development of the first seaworthy barbecue restaurant. And he is helping out his home county in Sonoma during the devastating wildfires that are ravaging northern California.
Fieri sat down with us at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas, after hosting an event to launch a new series of restaurants called Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse/Brewhouse. He is an American Royal National Barbecue Hall of Fame member, and so insisted that even though it's aboard a ship, the barbecue had to be hall of fame-worthy — not reheated and rehashed. Ahead, Guy talks us through one very busy week in his life.
Refinery29: What was your first thought when Carnival asked you to make barbecue on a ship?
Guy Fieri: "It's impossible [laughs]. [Carnival execs] were sitting on my patio... having a discussion about food and what I thought of restaurants on Carnival and where I think they could improve. There's a little wok place I like, Mongolian Wok, but I had to wait in line a million years — it's pretty popular. I said I'd like them to put a barbecue restaurant on the boat. They asked why barbecue, and I told them because barbecue is pretty quick, once it's cooked. They said it's a great idea and asked me to do one for them. I told them, 'Can't do it, because I would have to barbecue.'"
It's a whole different ball of wax to do barbecue on a cruise ship than it is to a burger joint. What were the logistical challenges you had to work through to maintain the quality of the food?
"I wouldn't let them make it on the shore and bring it onto the ship. That won't work. So they asked what it would take and when I told them hardwood [to cook with], they said they couldn't do that because their equipment is all electric. I said the kind of barbecue that I wanted would be cooked in the Ole Hickory. [The people at Carnival] called me back in six months and said my buddy at Ole Hickory was going to make a smoker that would be maritime approved. A year later, they called and said they had it done. And there we are: Carnival Cruise Line and the Guy Fieri Pig & Anchor Smokehouse/Brewhouse are making real deal barbecue and brewing beer on a ship.
"I think that cruise lines in the past have had a little bit of a bad rap of the food not being the first priority. That was the first thing I said about Carnival, then I went to the kitchens and I cruised around. I didn't see every single thing that was there, but the food that I enjoyed and the chefs that I met in the process were very worthy."
You are living in Sonoma, where the wildfires are out of control. I understand you're helping to feed some of the evacuees there, is that right?
"I've already deployed people, I have a bunch of my buddies on the ground already who are gathering up the products. We'll be in the Veterans Memorial Building [in Sonoma]. In that area there's about 1,500 people who are camping, living, and sleeping. We're going to start feeding them. I changed my plans. I told my friends that my hometown is having a crisis. I started my restaurants there. So we're going back and we're going to make a big impact; it's going to be awesome. I've got a lot of people coming together and a lot of great chefs are going to come and help. We're going to make people happy. We're going to give them a little moment. I think food is always — we call it comfort food because it makes you feel good.
"In these times that we're facing as a country, it's so trying. But that's the example I set for my sons: You stand up; you face it; and you go after it. You don't back down from it."
Tell me about your new project with the Food Network.
"It's called Guy's Big Project. I got an opportunity early on, when I got in at the Food Network, to have people mentor me and give me advice. Rachael Ray was one; she gave me great advice. All kinds of people helped and supported me as I grew my career. That's what I wanted to do [in the show]. I mentor eight contestants to see if I can help them get their show on the air. It's a nation-wide project, it starts November 5. The goal is, at the end, to have one of the prospects actually land a six-episode show on the Food Network. It shows a different side of me, that people haven't seen, along with a different side of what it takes to make it in food television. Everyone knows me as Guy, the Food Network version of Guy on Triple D. But on this show, I have to give people hard advice. It's a little bit different, but it was worth it."
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.