Platinum-spiked hair. Food Network star. Inventor of "Donkey Sauce." These are all ways to describe Guy Fieri, but if you think that's all there is to know about the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives star, you don't know Guido. (That's his nickname among friends, FYI.)
The chef is every bit the guy you see on TV, but what's most surprising about him is what his life is like when cameras aren't rolling—and what makes him the guy who's not afraid to "get down to some Enya" and keeps anxiety at bay with a little advice from salesman Zig Ziglar.
Here's what even the most diehard fans don't know.
His name wasn't always 'Fieri.'
Fieri—pronounced "FEE-eddy," with the "eri" trilled Italian-style, for anyone wondering why the 'r' sounds more like a 't' or 'd'—was born Guy Ferry. He changed it back to the original way his family spelled the name, Fieri, in 1995 when he married his wife, Lori. Another fun fact? His middle name is Ramsay. Yup, just like Gordon.
A 'terrible cook' cemented his career path.
Fieri always enjoyed cooking—in middle school he ran his own pretzel cart—but it wasn't until high school, when he spent a year studying abroad in France, that he realized he needed to be in the food industry. He'd been staying at a boarding house, and though he admits the woman who ran it was a "terrible cook," every dish he had was outrageous.
"I wrote home to my parents, saying 'I had steak and potatoes yesterday, and it was like I'd never had them in my life,'" Fieri says. "My parents were really good cooks, and we ate really well, but I'd never had anything like the food there. I knew exactly then what I wanted to do."
While attending the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and majoring in hotel administration, he worked as a busboy and flambé captain, taking on whatever jobs he could to gain more experience in the restaurant world.
"I am rarely speechless, but I was speechless then."
He earned his chops at Barbecue Boot Camp.
At 12, Fieri got a Little Chief smoker and started making his own beef jerky and smoked cheese, and started dabbling in barbecue, dreaming of eventually competing at the American Royal, which the chef deems "the Super Bowl of barbecue." To prepare himself, he enrolled at a two-day barbecue camp taught by former winner Lola Rice.
"It was held in a parking lot on the South side of Houston, and there were about 70 people there," he explains. When he first rolled up in the convertible he rented from the airport, the California native felt like a fish out of water.
"I drove up and there were a bunch of good ol' boys in overalls, and I asked, 'hey, is this the barbecue camp?' They looked at me and just said, 'Boy, you lost?'" he laughs. "I was wearing red Dickies shorts, skateboard shoes and a tank top. I could've worn a Godzilla costume and gotten a better reception."
He's won the Super Bowl of BBQ.
He wound up winning their respect after he cooked a huge vat of pasta for everyone there, after learning the camp didn't have dinner plans for its students and crew. There, he met a truck driver, a pharmacist, a computer tech and an architect/engineer—four people who didn't seem to have much in common, other than an appreciation for smoked meat—who wound up forming the Motley 'Que, a barbecue crew that'd cook and compete together, eventually winning the American Royal six years ago.
The award didn't come with a knuckle-sized ring or a trip to Disney World, but it did help him get inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame.
He never intended to have his signature platinum locks.
Fieri rocked long hair for years, much to the chagrin of his hairdresser. "She'd always complain that I needed to get contemporary, so one day I said, 'Fine. Do whatever you want,' so she cuts my hair, and when we get done, I asked, 'When are you going to wash the shampoo out?' She said, 'What shampoo? That's your new hair color!'" he explains. "I am rarely speechless, but I was speechless then."
It was Friday night and he had to go straight to work at his restaurant, so he pulled on a baseball cap, tugging it down to cover his newly bleached hair. It didn't help.
"The restaurant got so quiet you could've heard a mouse sing opera," he laughs. His son, Hunter, was about 4 years old at the time, and he had just one reaction: "What happened to you, Daddy?"
Though it was a shocking change at first, he embraced it, choosing not to be defined by his hairstyle—though, ultimately, it wound up becoming as synonymous with the celeb as his catchphrases, like "riding the bus to Flavortown!" The moment he won Food Network Star, someone patted him on the back and told him, "Guess you'll be keeping that look for a while," he says.
He's dabbled with brown, black and even purple hair, but fans know his white-blond look best.
His sister's battle with cancer shaped his outlook on life.
At four years old, Fieri's sister was diagnosed with cancer. Though he was just 8 years old at the time, the way his community and even total strangers supported his family left a lasting impact on him—particularly when local football players stopped by the hospital to visit.
"Nothing takes away the pain of being there, but it eclipsed it a little bit, when you get to divert your attention to something else," Fieri explains. "As a parent, you don't want to think of your child being sick, and those moments when your kid is happy, when he or she's smiling, mean so much."
His sister beat childhood cancer, though at 38, she was diagnosed with metastic melanoma, and died one year later. Her battle has made Fieri want to do everything he can to help other families affected by cancer, inviting Make-A-Wish Foundation families to all of his Food Network show tapings. He insists on bringing the entire family—not just the child battling cancer—so they don't feel singled out.
"I know what the family is going through, to some degree," he says. "I know that heartache and I see that, and if there's anything I can do to help enlighten or empower those kids, I want to do it."
His work with Make-A-Wish earned him the Chris Greicius Award, named after the 7-year-old battling leukemia who inspired the creation of the foundation. "It's the greatest award I've ever received," Fieri says. "It's hanging right in my dining room at my ranch."
He convinced a cruise ship to carry a BBQ smoker.
Two years after successfully launching Guy's Burger Joint on Carnival Cruise Line, the company approached him about opening a second restaurant on another one of its ships. Fieri loved the idea of doing barbecue, but he wanted it done right, meaning meat slow cooked right on board the ship. Six months later, they came back to him, saying it could be done, but he wasn't easily convinced.
"This has to be legit barbecue. You need a real smoker, like an Ole Hickory,' I told them, and we walked to my backyard so I could show them my smoker," he says.
Once the Carnival team figured out the logistics of getting a traditional wood smoker massive enough to potentially feed thousands on its Magic ship, they got to work designing the Pig & Anchor BBQ Eatery, which opened this March.
The soundtrack to his life is pretty eclectic.
At the Fieri household, Pandora plays throughout the day, though the cook tends to change stations intermittently to suit his mood. Here's how the day breaks down:
- Morning: '80s Cardio — "It has lots of old-school rockers, like Def Leppard, Sammy Hagar and Scorpions, which reminds me of high school and college."
- Early Afternoon: Reggae — "It's easygoing, hanging-out-by-the-pool music that's good for reflection time."
- Late Afternoon: Old School Country — "Growing up, my parents had a country western clothing store in Northern California, so I grew up with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty."
- Dinnertime: Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. — "Relaxed, melodic, cool jams stuff."
- Late Night: Anything Goes — "If we're going into fifth or sixth gear that evening, I don't count anything out."
Anything truly means anything—including "Only Time" singer Enya. "I love Enya," Fieri says. "I can get down to some Enya, which surprises people, but I have an easygoing side and a high-energy side."
He's a sucker for 'Poor Man's Prosciutto & Melon.'
Growing up, Fieri would thinly slice a Granny Smith apple and wrap it in salami, a snack he calls "Poor Man's Prosciutto and Melon."
"I've been eating it—not kidding you—since I was about 7 years old, long before I'd ever had prosciutto, and to this day, nobody gets a bigger kick out of it than me," he says.
Zig Ziglar's advice helps him conquer stage fright.
Fieri's such a fan of salesman and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar that he went to one of his presentations at the Anaheim Convention Center, waiting in line at a book signing just for the chance to meet him. Once he got to the head of the line, he had just one question for the motivational expert: Is there ever a time I'll get on stage and not be nervous?
"The day you're not nervous is the day you're not going to do well," Ziglar told him.
"He explained that when you're nervous, you try harder and you really make an effort," Fieri explains. "If you act like it's no big deal, it will come off that way. It's something I always keep in mind to this day."
He's been immortalized as a Renaissance Baby.
If you've ever thought Fieri's face had a cherubic glow to it, you're not alone, apparently. The Guy's Big Bite star has such an impact on pop culture—extending well beyond the realm of food alone—that Buzzfeed BFF designed an entire series of images that incorporated the star into iconic works of art.
Watching this makes him nervous.
Considering Fieri's laid-back, California-guy demeanor, it can be difficult to imagine anything giving him butterflies in his stomach, but Fieri insists that's not true.
"Watching my kids compete in basketball gets me," says the father of two boys, Hunter and Ryder. "You're sitting there with so much emotion: How is my son feeling? How's the team doing? As much as people think I'm all tattoos and rock and roll, I have sensitivity and emotion."
He also gets nerves when he's pitching a big project, like his "Cruisin' in Cuba" special. "I sold Food Network on this idea, and it had a lot of moving parts," Fieri says. "I don't want to let people down, or waste people's money."
His 'conditioning' trick helps him deal with life's downs.
Fieri wants to pass down all kinds of practical skills to his kids, from cooking to changing a tire, but the biggest things he wants to teach them is how to communicate effectively—including having the courage to speak up when you don't understand something—and cope with life's pitfalls, a technique he calls "conditioning."
"You go through goods, bads and uglies in life," Fieri acknowledges. "Once something's happened, you can't do anything about it, but you can prepare yourself for the future and handle it."
He strategically hid his first tattoo.
Just after college, he and his brother-in-law got matching tattoos: A tribal design with an Italian horn in the middle of it. While his brother-in-law got it on his bicep, Fieri chose the back of his right leg.
"I couldn't get it on my arm because it'd show through my corporate, long-sleeved white shirt I had to wear back then," he says. "It was '80-something, and people were still like, 'Tattoos? Oh my gosh!'"
His favorite food doesn't involve 'Donkey Sauce.'
It's hard for Fieri to choose a favorite dish from one of his restaurants—"that's like choosing a favorite child," he argues—but if he had to, it'd be his collard greens, which he makes with smoked turkey instead of ham hocks. (Pssst...if you're dying to try it, you can score a side at Pig & Anchor.)
Yup, his top choice is actually a side. "Most people don't realize how vegetable-centric I am," he says. "I build my plate around them."
He doesn't like eggs.
Although he's told reporters in the past that he eas eggs every "once in a while" Guy isn't the biggest fan of the breakfast food. If you've ever watched Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives you'll know this already; chefs often change their recipes when he visits their establishment not to include eggs.
He's had a mature palate ever since he was a kid.
As a kid, Guy was inspired to eat more complex foods by his father, like sushi.
He has raised peacocks in the past.
Guy told Vulture in late 2020 that he owns peacocks to keep the "rattlesnake population down" at his California ranch. He also raises goats on that property.
He spent six years in France as a teen.
The Mayor of Flavortown spent six years in Chantilly, France as an exchange student which is where he grew his appreciation for fine cuisine.
He once got in a serious horse-riding accident.
The cook was thrown off of a horse when he was 10 years old which resulted in some serious injuries tore a ligament connected to his liver and bruised his heart. At the time of the accident, his parents were traveling and had to sign a court order so Guy could get emergency surgery.
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Guy was the third chef to get a star on the Walk of Fame in 2019, joining Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck and Matthew McConaughey gave a speech for the cook at the ceremony.
He's an accomplished winemaker.
A winemaker is actually the reason Guy went made his way to France as a teen and fell in love with the culinary industry. Now Fieri actually owns a five-acre Pinot Noir vineyard in the Russian River Valley where his very own wine grapes are made. Hunt + Ryde Winery is named after his sons Hunter and Ryder.
He started the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, Guy knew he had to do something when he heard of the extended closures of local mom-and-pop restaurants, the sort of establishments he often profiles on Triple D. He wrote personal emails to CEOs of large corporations for donations to give $500 grants to restaurant employees that were out of work.
He's released six cookbooks.
Guy's six cookbooks take inspiration from his experience traveling the country for Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives and include recipes for grilling, road trips, comfort food, and family gatherings.
He officiated 101 same-sex marriages.
In January 2015 when the ban on same-sex marriage was lifted in Florida he planned a celebration and invited 101 same-sex couples to join him for the free event in Miami to officiate a huge wedding. The event was in honor of his late sister.
He directed a documentary about the state of the restaurant industry during the pandemic.
In addition to his restaurant relief efforts, Guy starred in and helped direct a documentary about the impact COVID-19 has had on the restaurant industry. Restaurant Hustle 2020: All on the Line premiered on December 27, 2020.
Candace Braun Davison writes, edits, and produces lifestyle content that ranges from celebrity features to roll-up-your-sleeves DIYs, all while relentlessly pursuing the noblest of causes: the quest for the world's best chocolate chip cookie.
Alexis Morillo is the Associate Editor at Delish.com where she covers breaking food news and viral food trends.