Let’s all move to Flavortown, where no one is mean and everything is going to be OK. (For now?!)
Posted on May 11, 2020, at 5:58 p.m. ET
I know that, for many of us, our weekend was spent dissecting the online dustup between two internet girls who are likely both too cool to come to my birthday Zoom, Alison Roman and Chrissy Teigen. In all fairness, it was a completely delicious argument between a couple of food personalities where the winner doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is that Roman, a cookbook author and recipe developer for the New York Times (as well as a former BuzzFeed employee), put her foot deep, deep down her own throat and pissed off Teigen, who — it turned out, in a legitimately shocking twist — was also supposed to executive produce Roman’s forthcoming show. It’s a perfect feud, and almost everyone I know has chosen a side — even people like me, who don’t really cook and also don’t really care.
The drama has forced me to think about all the milkshake-ducking that’s happened in the past several years around famous food folk. Paula Deen’s been out here using the n-word. There are plenty of restauranteurs accused of sexual harassment and misconduct, who then apologize ineffectively through…a pizza dough cinnamon roll recipe. Personally, I am still struggling through the allegations that Giada spits out the food she makes.
But you know who hasn’t milkshake-ducked yet, against all odds, despite the public’s constant determination to find someone to scream at online? A Hot Wheels car come to life, specifically the one my brother never let me play with because it had flames on it, which meant it was the fastest. The Mayor of Flavortown: Guy Fieri.
Listen, I don’t need you to read three paragraphs into this and email me about how he was rude to you once when he signed a Lean Cuisine and hucked it at your head. I’m sure there’s something wrong with Guy Fieri, deep down, as there is with all people who seek out public attention or adoration for a particular skill they have, like cooking or eating at a lot of diners or looking like a perennially surprised Brigitte Nielsen. (Or, in my case, writing, which I’m only fine at. My personal flaw? There are too many to count, but the most pressing one is likely that I turn the heat on when the windows are still open.)
But in a world where everyone’s struggling through the quicksand of reality, Fieri is a king among slugs. During the height of #MeToo, he escaped unscathed. There are remarkably few stories about him being a dick in public; in fact, the majority of public opinion is just that he’s the nicest guy. And now, the latest news coming in piping hot from Flavortown, just like one of his recipes, such as I’ve Got the Need, the Need for Fried Cheese! (Jesus Christ, buddy, I’m trying to help you here), is that Fieri is doing a lot more for out-of-work restaurant employees than most people. Since the coronavirus outbreak, he’s raised more than $20 million for a relief fund for restaurant workers. You know who didn’t do that?? Any of your extremely chill, fashionable faves, probably wearing $350 chunky mustard mules, including every single one of the people on Instagram currently trying to convince me to make bread.
A Fieri recipe can fuel you if you need to outrun a bear, or put you into the deadest slumber of your life in case you have to sleep off your own chronic depression.
In less than two months, Fieri’s fund has already given away 40,000 grants, in part by reaching out to massive conglomerates like Pepsi and Uber Eats to chip in. Hell of a guy, even if he keeps…doing that to his hair and face.
You know who’s on Animal Crossing? Guy is. You know who has enough self-awareness to know that he looks like Ursula from The Little Mermaid? Guy does. Who changed his name from “Ferry” to the significantly more complicated “Fieri,” and then also makes some of the least-pretentious food known to humankind? That’s right, it’s the creator of the Red Apple Hooch Bowla.
The idea that any of you would rather spend eight hours making shallot jam for a shallot pasta that is, by any measure, fine, as opposed to spending half an hour making queso fundido and just going ham on it with some chips, proves to me that you are lying to no one but yourselves. If you won’t listen to me, then listen to this Shane Torres set about Fieri, a spirited defense of the hero we need. “He goes around the country to small businesses and gives them free advertising on a national platform on a weekly basis,” Torres said, “but because his hair looks like he was electrocuted while drinking Mountain Dew, people act like we need to saw his head off and put it on the internet.”
Besides, just because one of his Manhattan restaurants got ravaged by the New York Times in a review in 2012 — a review that I read every fiscal quarter, just to keep my hemoglobin levels up — doesn’t mean his food isn’t exactly what food should be. It’s big, it’s flavorful, it’s easy to make, and it’s dumb as hell. Is any other chef making food so perfectly attuned to this current moment?
The idea, initially, was that this is a perfect time for someone like Alison Roman; people are looking for food that’s simple and hearty and wholesome to feed the belly and feed the soul. Whole roasted chickens and big-ass lasagnas and pies, god, you’re all making so many pies. But what a crisis actually requires is garbage. We’re all in fight-or-flight mode, which requires us to lean into our primal instincts. A Fieri recipe can fuel you if you need to outrun a bear, or put you into the deadest slumber of your life in case you have to sleep off your own chronic depression. The Stew did not make me feel better, but I imagine something called the Waka Waka Salad, which has ramen noodles, wonton skins, and a full cup of canola oil in it, might have a fighting chance.
Beyond the fact that his food includes no fewer than three blocks of cheese per serving, AS IT SHOULD, Fieri seems like a deeply non-awful human being. In 2015, he performed the weddings of 101 same-sex couples in Florida in honor of his late sister. In 2017, during that year’s California wildfires, Fieri and his team fed thousands of evacuees every day. He did it again in 2018 after the Carr fire. He has never, to my knowledge, said anything unkind about Marie Kondo.
It’s also, frankly, a pleasure to read or follow a recipe by someone with absolutely no pretension. There is nothing beautiful about Fieri food. There’s no status that comes with making it. People don’t share photos of Fieri recipes on Instagram after they make them. There’s no glee about using turmeric incorrectly. Many New York Times recipes are accessible, delicious, and comforting, but some of them can tumble into smugness and preciousness — like, for example, the way Roman dishes in particular go from being just something you had for dinner to becoming The Stew or The Cookies, as if there can only be one.
Fieri is for the people. His food is unfussy because it’s apolitical — a Fieri dish tells the world nothing about who made it or who enjoys it, other than the fact that it is purely good, made for adults but easily enjoyed by children, which is what everything should be right now in particular.
I do realize by even writing this, I’m effectively inviting some kind of compromising information on Fieri to be released, something that proves the opposite of what’s been proven thus far. Everyone has a past — even, perhaps, the Mayor of Flavortown. But for now, I don’t want to know, and I don’t need to know. The world is collapsing around us. Even on my best days, I feel weakened by how poorly people can treat each other, about the lack of empathy we’re showing one another, how fearful I am of every new day.
But for now, we have Guy Fieri. And I’m happy to ride the Guy High through this mess, straight into a vat of Donkey Sauce. Leave me alone. It’s dark in here. I’ve earned this. ●