Of the Food Network’s crop of defiantly low-brow offerings, the unlikely figure of Guy Fieri is fast becoming a compulsory fixture of the week’s viewing. While Diners, Drive Ins and Dives threatens to woo us away from the depleting charms of our regular culinary overlords, this was hardly the outcome I’d have anticipated on a first encounter with this work of formulaic genius.
I viewed my first episode – I suspect like many – with a horrified fascination. Was the bloke for real? On first impressions, Guy comes over like the last person you’d want to get stuck behind at a rock festival. Probably a festival in about 2001. One can easily picture an overexcited Fieri spraying beer around during a Blink 182 set, ‘rocking’, as he does, the bleachy-spiked look of an exceedingly well-fed Billy Idol after a Bowling For Soup makeover. ‘You see me, hun-ga-ree’, Guy mock-raps, in a Cypress Hill manner during the show’s credits, stirring up ugly memories of that time in the nineties when isolated snippets of hip-hop-isms crept into your speech. We’ll draw a veil over that, thank you.
Immediate prejudices were further confirmed on hearing of Fieri’s operating handle, that of ‘Culinary Rock Star.' Ouch. The sense of déjà vu implicit there should be enough to set the alarm bells clanging with UK audiences – no names, no pack drill, but we’ve had one of those thanks, and he was plenty. Stay your hand though. Guy might buddy up with Kid Rock for a special episode, but I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t give Toploader the time of day.
Still, Guy ought to be excruciating. If he were a lesser talent, I’d be quaking with rage at that goatee-bearded chilli-dicing hipster persona of his. A syntactic trouble spot somewhere between Normski and a Teenage Turtle, Fieri peppers his continent’s kitchens with a repertoire of catchphrases that even Tim Westwood might baulk at. Somehow, the big klutz pulls this off.
Part of the appeal of ‘The Triple D’ (I know, blame Guy for that one) is the show’s rejection of bourgeois prissiness. Guy’s not here to sear scallops. As the show’s name implies, this is blue collar munching, no hang-ups about calories or quantity, and with Guy’s preference towards ‘the hunch’ – an inelegant but practical approach to fitting voluminous victuals into one’s jaws – table manners are not a consideration. Likewise, vegetarianism’s spectre seldom rears its head. A typical DDD scenario sees Guy high fiving his way into the backroom of some neighbourhood ‘joint’, bonding chummily with the resident hashslinger as military quantities of minced beef, jalapenos and Monterey Jack get slung together in what looks like a cement mixer. Quite often they’ll chuck in some heavy cream and a bag of sugar for good measure. In one episode, Guy helps out by stirring the mix with a canoe paddle. Like I say, nobody mentions calories; we’re unabashed about our appetites in Guy-world.
Fieri’s a meaty enough bloke, but considering what he’s getting his teeth into each time, there must be some sort of compensatory regime going on off-screen. Sure enough, it transpires that Guy has a treadmill back home. That and an aircraft hangar packed with bowling shirts. But Fieri has charm to burn as well as calories; while he’s undeniably a hungry lad, he stops mercifully short of the frat-boy machismo of the likes of Adam Richman. Clowning flirtatiously with Latino matriarchs in New Mexico chilli joints, Fieri will goofily pull that schoolboyish ‘What’s that over there?’ trick, in order to slip down a premature sample of some beefy delicacy. He hasn’t come to sniff out your hygiene lapses or to pull some drill-sergeant family counselling number, as Gordon Ramsey seems increasingly prone. He’s there to throw you some knuckles, to piledrive into your ‘feelgood classics’, and to shower your establishment with dude-ish superlatives. And when, at a recipe’s completion, sensory touch-down is accomplished, Guy positively glows at the lens as he mmm-mmms in calorific satiety. Add to this a Greek chorus of hungry regulars, chipping in unnecessarily, but reassuringly, with their reviews. ‘Rilly guuerd’ is the general consensus. ‘It’s comfort food’ another will add; ‘It melts in your mouth’, ‘it’s just like mom makes it’, and unfailingly, ‘ahhh-surm’. Occasionally a daring punter will attempt a cheeky Fieri-ism, and fall flat on their face as guy rolls his eyes at the lens.
‘Flavourtown USA’ being the show’s avowed destination, the window opens on a near-mythical America where, to pinch a line from Chuck Berry, hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day. The variety and constant wonder of down-home US cooking unfolds, shining a light on the enigmas of grits, chicken-fried steak, hush puppies or soft shell crab; such mysteries to the UK viewer, as is the Americans’ inexplicable pronunciation of herbs. BAY-zil? Hate to think what they say when the cumin is called for.
Probably wisely, DDD is screened over here at a time at which most of us are either at work, or will have already eaten, thus averting any foolish ideas about dashing out for 30 kilos of chuck steak and a sandbag of tortilla corn. But I’m happy enough to soak up the calories through my eyeballs and bask in the feel-good glow of prime-ground comfort viewing, while idly contemplating just how good this stuff would taste on a carb-craving morning-after. One of these places does a Cheeseburger soup; imagine that on a fragile Sunday lunchtime. I’m not sure we have the equivalent level of eatery over here to merit a UK transposition, but I’d be happy to be proved wrong there.
As for our host, the peroxide bowling ball of hash-house bonhomie that is Guy Fieri, he carries the day with his daft, yet unaffected, charm, and an enthusiasm for his subject that’s genuine and snobbery-free. He’s the best buddy whose music collection – and wardrobe – might make you wince, but you’ll always keep a date with. So now I’ve drooled away my scepticism, I have to concede: Ahhh-surm job, Guy.