The mayor of Flavortown chatted with Food & Wine about cooking in quarantine, the future of the restaurant industry, and the line between a dip and a casserole.

By Margaret Eby
August 31, 2020
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Courtesy of Heluva Good

With the country’s diners, drive-ins, and dives either shuttered or operating under serious constraints during the pandemic, you’d think that Guy Fieri might have slowed down a little. Instead, he seems to have doubled down on his cooking. “We wake up in the morning in this house, and the first thing that's talked about is what are we making for dinner?” Fieri said in a phone interview with Food & Wine. "We started to learn what a lot of folks know in parts of the country that can't get fresh vegetables all the time,” he said. “So [it’s been] learning to adapt and overcome. It turns into not just cooking what's fresh, but what's available, and starting to build your menu from that.”

One of Fieri’s new challenges has revolved around a partnership with Heluva Good! Dip, which is running a sweepstakes competition. Home chefs submit their most creative dishes made with the company's dips for a chance to have a one-on-one Zoom session with Fieri to coach them through their cooking. That meant Fieri had to figure out his own strategy to incorporate the dips into his cooking. On a recent camping trip with his family, he did some experimenting. “OK, can we use it as a marinade? Can we use it as a thickener? Can we use it as a flavor? What are all the different profiles that we can use this?" Fieri said. “The French onion soup chicken that we made really became a perfect storm.”

Dips hold a particularly fond place in my heart, particularly during the heat of the summer when eating something cold and vegetable-infused with a chip makes for an ideal meal. But I’ve long pondered a question about the essential nature of dips. What’s the line between a dip and a casserole? 

“OK, now you're asking the age-old question. This one requires a good snifter of cognac and a cigar,” Fieri said. “I think when you go to a casserole, you're more fortified. You've got a veggie, a protein, center-of-plate type of experience. I would also say a dip is a little bit more explosive in two or three bites, and a casserole would be a little bit more pleasing throughout an entire experience because a casserole might have a few more components to it. Because with the casserole, you're going to have 15 bites of that center-of-plate item versus two bites on a pita chip, you know what I'm saying?”

Aside from experimenting with dips and trying to figure out how to run Guy’s Grocery Games via delivery service, Fieri has also teamed up with the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation to form the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, an organization that has been providing $500 grants to unemployed restaurant workers.

“It's difficult for everybody, and 'difficult' is an understatement,” Fieri said. “But considering my brothers and sisters in the business, my biggest concern is that so many people rely on restaurants. It’s not just the restaurant owners, not just the guests, but the team members and all of their families. And if you think of the ripple effect, and you think about how many people work inside of the restaurant industry, I mean, you can't even calculate it.”

But Fieri is ultimately optimistic. “When you get lemons, you make limoncello. We're going to have losses without question, but we're also going to have a phoenix rising,” he said. “And I believe that people are going to learn new things about the industry. We're going to learn about delivery. We're going to learn about to-go. The restaurant industry is incredibly diverse and adaptable.”

Another thing Fieri has been keeping busy with, like many of us, is social media. I’m on record as being a big fan of Fieri’s instagram account—it’s silly and fun and full of light-hearted Fieri memes, a really refreshing break from the usual array of carefully curated food photos. Turns out, it's his sons, Hunter and Ryder, who help keep Fieri current. “The memes are meant to be fun. You got to enjoy yourself. You got to laugh at yourself,” Fieri said. “I love the artistry. I love the creativity and the enthusiasm. Yeah, I think people do mean shit with it. I don't really have a concern with any of that. Mine's all usually in a real good lighthearted fun way.”

“I think that if I could have ever cornered the market on flamed shirts, that I probably would be living a different life right now,” Fieri said.”I'd be living on a big yacht somewhere.” But you know, even without that trademark, Fieri is still doing OK.