There's no hiding Guy Fieri. Even halfway tucked into a supply closet, on a secluded terrace of the Loews Hotel in Miami, "Fieriacs" can spot his signature platinum spikes.
We're only 16 minutes into this interview, and our hideout has been compromised. Two 4-foot-tall ninja 'tweens, clad in board shorts and chlorine-splattered T-shirts, have scaled the back stairway, evaded security, and tip-toed right up to Fieri's side.
"Would you take a picture with us, please?" one asks.
Fieri's brow furrows. He looks them up and down. "You know what, you rolled out the 'please' right off the bat," he says, breaking into a wide grin. Fieri grabs the cell phone and starts posing for selfies, instructing our 10- and 11-year-old intruders to ham it up — tongues out, rock signs flashing.
He laughs as the kids race downstairs, back to the pool where their parents are waiting.
"Always take the initiative! Be those guys who are in the moment, ready to go after what they want," he shouts after them. "My wife always tells me, 'Stop trying to teach every kid you meet,' but I can't help it."
That's the thing about Fieri. Yes, he's a TV show host; yes, he's a great cook and a Barbecue Hall of Fame inductee; and yes, that's his face on an unauthorized, high-cut swimsuit. But all it takes is 15 minutes with the chef to see he's so much more: philanthropist, philosopher ... and a f*cking badass.
He Wears His Heart On His Tattoo Sleeve.
Ask the Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives star — who was in Miami hosting Burger Bash at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival — what his favorite word is, and he doesn't say any of the Fierisms he spent a decade coining as the host of the show. Crackalack. Righteous. Funkalicious.
"If we all took a little more time to get to know people, I think it would change the whole temperament of the world."
"Namaste," he says. "I have it tattooed on my arm," as he lifts it to reveal the word encircling the image of a redheaded woman, styled like Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. "My little sister died of cancer eight years and three days ago. It was terrible. It was the worst thing. I got this tattoo with her name on it because this keeps her with me every day. Then I can talk about her. People ask me, 'What's that tattoo?' 'Oh, that's my sister, Morgan.'
"She'd always say that — namaste – and I never understood it until her passing. ... Namaste means 'the god in me sees the god in you.' There's different ways people say it, but the way I recognize it is acknowledging the power in somebody."
The word has become a guiding philosophy in his life. "If people would just let each other be instead of trying to control them, just imagine," he explains. "Those little boys had power, so you celebrate that power with them! That empowers them!"
Fieri turns quiet, almost pensive, a sharp contrast to the full-blast charisma of on-screen persona — and the dubstep remix of Ed Sheeran's "Shape Of You" blasting from the pool we're overlooking.
"I'm always listening, I'm always trying to absorb. My dad taught me that," he says. "If we all took a little more time to get to know people, I think it would change the whole temperament of the world."
Suddenly, that Fieri grin is back as Gesi, our photographer, directs us to another location. "You know, I typically don't let people with better hair than me take my picture," he laughs.
He Is Everywhere.
Even though his New York restaurant closed this December — and Fieri swears he's slowing down — the man is as inescapable as that Sheeran song. He runs 63 restaurants (including ones on Carnival cruise ships and one opening later this month in Dubai, Guy Fieri's Jebel Ali Kitchen + Bar). He's executive-produced six shows over the past year and has starred in seven different TV series. He also owns a vineyard named after his sons, Hunt & Ryde. Ask him how many trips he's taken, and he just shakes his head.
It's enough to make anyone's head spin, which is why he's instituted three keys before deciding to take on anything else (Burger Bash included).
"My whole world revolves around my family," he says. "That's what sets the tempo for everything I do." When he's into a project, he immediately pulls up his wife and sons' schedules. Can they take part in it? Does it conflict with something big they're doing?
And this seems to be legit. His son, Hunter, has been by his side all weekend long at this event, assisting him during on-stage presentations, flipping patties at Burger Bash, taking in the South Beach action.
But he's also always looking for the added bonus: How can he use that opportunity to make an impact? You might be tempted to call BS on that last one, but he's quick to back it up: Diners, Drive-Ins, And Dives provides a huge boost to Mom and Pop shops' businesses. (Two restaurants, Twisted Root and Southern Soul Barbecue, said sales jumped 200 percent after their episodes aired.) He uses Guy's Grocery Games as a way to invite veterans and Make-A-Wish families to show tapings — the latter an organization close to his heart, since his sister was a recipient growing up. Even here at Burger Bash, he and Hunter ran a burger stand with Best Buddies International, an organization for adults with mental disabilities.
"I've been given all these opportunities," he says with sincerity. "Why not share it with someone? If I didn't, I'd feel like I squandered it."
He Wants To Be The Change.
That feeling's been weighing on him heavily lately, particularly in light of the natural disasters and mass shootings that have rocked the country this past year. When his general manager's brother was shot during the Las Vegas shooting, he couldn't sit idly. An Army Ranger saved the man's life, using his thumb to plug the bullet wound. He planned to invite the ranger to dinner at his restaurant at The Linq, which is owned by Caesars Entertainment — then had a bigger idea.
"I called the president of Caesars that day," Fieri says. "We're going to do an event to thank all the first responders. He says okay, and I said, 'No, I'm serious. I want it to be huge. I want a band and a party. I want to tell all these people how much we appreciated them.' Every week, I would call him. 'Get it approved yet? Get it approved yet?'"
He rallied Caesars' other celebrity chefs — Giada De Laurentiis, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay — and they put on a dinner for 3,000.
"I'm not kidding you, it took so much not to tear up when I walked on stage to introduce those first responders," Fieri explains. "They were all there — EMTs, sheriffs, police, fire, doctors, medical staff. They got to have the biggest, kickass party, and it was f*cking unbelievable."
Part of Fieri's activism stems from how he was raised, but it was chef José Andrés — who served 3.5 million meals to people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma devastated the country — who inspired him to make it his top priority these days.
"He did what they said you couldn't do. You can't go to Puerto Rico and feed people. It's a disaster," Fieri says. "He said, 'F*ck that I can't go there. I'm f*cking going there. There's not enough food, there's no electricity. You want to tell that to people who are starving?' That attitude makes me even more head-trippy."
At the time, he sent a check to help fund Andrés' efforts. "They needed money," he said. "This isn't getting done off of well wishes." With the check, he sent a note. "I wrote him, 'Don't misunderstand this — there's a spark that came from you. You did something.'"
Later that year, when wildfires destroyed 6,500 houses in his hometown of Santa Rosa, California, he dropped everything. His team brought over his cooking trailer and started making pulled pork for evacuees and volunteers, though not everyone appreciated the chef for running a smoker during a wildfire.
"How would you like me to make food for 5,000 today?" Fieri asks. "I can smoke pork butts and feed a lot of people. You want me to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?"
What struck him the most, though, were the people who'd lost everything and still insisted on helping him cook. "Oh my god, are you kidding me? You want to help, in the middle of all that you're going through?" he says, getting emotional.
He's Cooking Up Something Really. Effing. Big.
Those fires — and Andrés' work in Puerto Rico — inspired him to partner with Operation BBQ Relief and start working on a prototype: a 48-foot trailer that houses a full commercial kitchen (a flat top, six burners, smoker, ice machine, mixers, you name it). It'll be stocked with recipes, too. In times of need, he'll draw on his connections over the years to send the truck to local chefs, so they have a full kitchen to use to prepare meals for people in need. He already has two 26-foot cooking trailers, but this one's the big Kahuna.
"I'm always going to be cooking, doing restaurants, helping my kids in their careers, with their sports, with their school, but this opportunity is bigger picture," Fieri says. "We can deploy quickly, because we don't have that red tape. We don't need to get requisition forms or this or that. We can just do it."
"I wrote [José Andrés], 'don't misunderstand this — there's a spark that came from you. You did something.'"
It's something Fieri's laser-focused on, even if his family jokes that in conversations, he can think "like a squirrel." His mind's always pinging from one thought to the next, making it hard for him to avoid tangents. But it's made him good at assembling a team — known as Knuckle Sandwich — that can help him tackle every project that comes to mind.
"Everybody sings a song the best. You know what I mean by that?" he asks. "Everybody has one thing they do best. If you just listen, if you just pay attention to it, you'll find it."
Fieri's quick to call cooking his song — though he's not 100 percent committed to that answer.
"What's my song? I have an album. I can't say it's been a chart topper, but it's trying to trend upward," he laughs. "I don't know. My goal's to be a great dad. That's always been the benchmark of my life. If I could be half the dad my dad was to me, then I'd be a great success.
"I think that just dovetails into trying to be a good person — that I make a commitment, that I offer something to the world."
Photography by Gesi Schilling
Grooming by Kerstin Jaeger
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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.