Don’t ask Guy Fieri how to be a celebrity chef.
“You know, brother, if I had the answer to that I’d be running seminars,” said Fieri, the host of the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and one of the most recognized food personalities in the country.
Like many of his generation of culinary celebrities, Fieri started out as a chef and successful restaurateur in his own right. Becoming a TV star wasn’t part of the plan.
Growing up in northern California with what Fieri calls “business minded parents,” he said he got a good college education at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and found good people to mentor him.
He opened his first restaurant in 1996, at the age of 28, called Johnny Garlic’s, in Santa Rosa, Calif.
“All I wanted to do was own a restaurant,” Fieri said. “I just wanted to serve people and make them happy and be successful.
“And then I had two [restaurants], and then I had three, and then four. So that kind of grew on its own.”
Then his friends started to push him to send a video to what at the time was a new show, the Food Network’s “Next Food Network Star.”
“They said, ‘You gotta go on this show. You’d be awesome.’ Yeah, whatever, “ Fieri said. “I don’t watch a lot of television. I watch a lot of sports, but that’s about it.”
Still, with enough nudging from his friends; Fieri sent a video to the Food Network for the show’s second season, and they called him.
“I thought, ‘There’s no way in hell this is going to go anywhere’,” Fieri said. “But I thought it would be a good experience. I’m always telling my kids you gotta take chances, do things, think outside the box. You gotta live.
“And so I went and did it, and surprised as anybody, I ended up winning it.”
After a couple of other TV shows, he ended up doing Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, which became a huge hit.
That fame has helped Fieri expand his operations, teaming up with Carnival Cruise Lines, Planet Hollywood and others, his company, Knuckle Sandwich, has more than 50 locations across the country.
Be your own media
But of course, you don’t have to be on TV to get your message out, Fieri said. Social media has opened up possibilities for operators to get the attention they deserve.
“What I think is so awesome now is that there are so many opportunities for mom-and-pop restaurants to be recognized by so many great publications — so much media and so much opportunity for media,” he said, noting that Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist when he was getting started — not even Myspace, let along Snapchat, Instagram Pinterest and all the rest.
“There was nothing like that going on,” he said. “You had to do advertising the old-fashioned way. You had to mortgage your home to do it. And now folks have the opportunity to really get some exposure. I think the opportunity to become a culinary rock star, in a big format or little format, is so much more available now than it’s ever been, and I applaud it.”
How to make your video
Getting videos of yourself in action is crucial to be on television, and it doesn’t hurt no matter where you’re trying to get exposure. But Fieri said it’s important to be yourself.
Emeril Lagasse, one of the earliest celebrity chefs in the Food Network era, is widely known to be a soft-spoken guy — quite different from the “Bam!” shouting, notch kicking up chef he played on TV.
Fieri took a different approach.
“I was just being me,” he said. And in retrospect, he said that’s what worked for him as well as for many others.
“I’ve watched a lot of tapes and a lot of people, and I produce shows now, and I’m always looking for great talent that’s out there — people who are interested in food and in doing food television. And the best thing I can say is, just cut to the chase and just be yourself. Just let them see who you are, because that’s what people want.”
“This isn’t acting,” he added. “People come up to me all the time and go, ‘Man, you’re just like you are on TV,” and I go, ‘Yeah, because I’m not an actor.’ I’m not playing a chef that’s visiting restaurants and so forth. I’m just a dude that does what he does.
“So don’t be who you’re not. Just be who you are and let that shine through.”
He added that television and restaurants have one thing in common.
“The only thing that will prepare you for the TV business is the restaurant business: It’s long hours and a lot of work.
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary