Cazenovia’s own Anne Burrell may rock the bleach-blonde ’do with more hair gel but Guy Fieri brings the attitude. And brought it he did on Aug. 29 at the State Fair’s Chevy Court. His 2 p.m. appearance was a bit rock’n’roll, a bit comedy routine, a bit culinary tips and a whole lot of Guy Fieri.
Sporting a black-and-white chef’s jacket and black board shorts, Fieri was sort of dressed for the kitchen, but the black-and-white flip-flops should never have gone near a hot stove. Admitting to some attention deficit disorder, Fieri’s storytelling hopped from Thanksgiving turkey, to 6-year-old son Ryder’s obsession with pizza, from cooking with locally sourced products to a subject near to his heart: cooking with your children.
“I’m a chef, I’m a TV host, but most importantly, I’m a dad,” he said to enthusiastic applause. “I’m interested in helping you cook with your kids. Get together with your children and teach them how to cook. Don’t make a separate meal for you and your spouse, and then another one for your kids. They want to be like you: Let them eat what you eat.”
Still, Fieri, who began his culinary career selling pretzels out of a cart at fairs in his native Northern California, was there to cook, and he prepared two items, as well as a berry-flavored cocktail, all with a fair-like theme. First up was popcorn popped in bacon grease infused with jalapenos before he made a New York cheddar-stuffed bologna dipped in tempura batter and deep fried. “Do you call it bolo-na or baloney?” he asked the assembled New Yorkers. “Baloney? Awwwww!”
Although he’s quite the joker, the likable Fieri (pronounced “Fee-Eddy”) seems sincere in his efforts to gather the family in the kitchen to prepare and eat meals. He developed the Cooking With Kids Foundation, at cwkfoundation.org, with the aim of teaching at least 1 million children how cooking and food can change their lives. And while he graduated from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas with a degree in hospitality management, he’s definitely old-school when it comes to his career as a chef.
“Where have you worked?” he responded when an audience member asked Fieri to suggest culinary schools. “That’s what an employer will want to know. You could have earned all As in cake baking, but a head chef will want to know where you have worked.”
Fieri, 44, doesn’t shy from working himself. He won the second season of The Next Food Network Star, a title he’s lived up to, with his wildly popular shows, Guy’s Big Bite and Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.
Part of Fieri’s appeal is his ability to make the chefs on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives feel like their eggs benedict is the best he’s ever tasted. He oozes sincerity without pandering, he’s incredibly self-confident without coming off as arrogant and he’s a pretty funny guy. Whether the stories he tells are real or made up, the throng at Chevy Court didn’t care: They were thrilled to be in his presence, especially the two “twins,” as Fieri called them, in the crowd, dressed similarly and sporting spiky, bleach-blonde hair.
Much like Adam Richman, who was at the State Fair in 2010, Fieri also used his week in Syracuse to visit restaurants to feature on his popular Food Network program. While in the Salt City, he recorded segments at Byblos, Kitty Hoynes, Eva’s Sweet Treats, Pastabilities, Empire Brewing Company and—the only true dive of the bunch—Funk N’ Waffles. It was suspect, too, when Fieri mentioned the South Crouse Avenue hot spot, and a good portion of the audience cheered. Really? The average Fair-goer has been to Funk N’ Waffles? We think not.
Regardless, Fieri said to look for upcoming episodes of Diners to catch a look at six of Syracuse’s best-known restaurants. He couldn’t predict when they would appear, nor how the program’s editors would group them. “Kitty’s might appear in a show with other Irish restaurants,” he informed the crowd. “It’s up to the editors how they want to work the Syracuse restaurants into the upcoming season.”
And even though he feeds his family (pun intended) with all the cooking shows, and cookbooks, and personal experiences, Fieri remained consistent in his message about the importance of teaching children how to cook and preparing for them the most wholesome food you can. “Any time it’s processed,” he said of the food, “it’s filled with chemicals. And those little machines, those little bodies, need real food or they won’t grow up to be as big as we are.”