The era of the macho-chef may be waning, but is his heir apparent any better?
The exemplar of the phenomenon is Food Network star Guy Fieri. Describing a recent stadium appearance, the Times recounts, "It wasn't until Guy Fieri had autographed a yellow bell pepper with a Sharpie marker and tossed it to a fan, sprayed the people in the orchestra seats with a bottle of water and vigorously denounced the induction stove he was about to use onstage ("Give me flame or give me death!") that his fans settled down. It didn't last."
Whereas tough-guy chefs like Ramsey, Bourdain and co. were in control - intimidating, even - Fieri's all about inclusivity. Indeed, says Julia Moskin, "he has a Sarah Palin-like ability to reach Americans who feel left behind by the nation's cultural (or, in his case, culinary) elite." This does seem borne out by quotes like "You feel like he has that same background just like you do, never pretentious, nothing fancy," and "He's the only one who never talks down to anybody." And men like him as much as do women.
I have no beef with Fieri; having watched a Bio biography of him, I was impressed by his work ethic, his commitment to family, and the fact that he seems to be a genuinely nice guy. Anyone who gets people cooking is, generally speaking, good for the nation. But it does seem too bad that the network's breakout star should be one whose most popular dish at Tex Wasabi's was the "Jackass Roll": pulled pork, avocado and French fries. Fieri, by his own admission, creates food that people like to eat - and that's rarely, in America, what's best for them. His shows, by his own design or the network's, often fall into the "stunt eating" category - polishing off enormous or vile house specialties on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and while that's entertaining TV, it's a little worrisome when these are the most popular programs. Can't "personality" go with health? Apparently not - as Fieri says, he learned to cook in the first place because his folks were macrobiotic tofu-eaters. And so the dichotomy, in the popular imagination, continues.
Guy Fieri, Chef-Dude, Is In The House [NY Times]