A wife's view of celebrity chef Guy Fieri
Published: Monday, April 6, 2009 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 7:57 p.m.
Lori Fieri isn’t complaining, though it is a school day and once again her husband, the father of their two boys, is ... Where was Guy that day?
He was in New York, shooting for one of his three Food Network shows, “Guy’s Big Bite.” The plan is for him to be home in Santa Rosa for five straight days and then fly off for about five days to make some of TV’s most popular food shows. His “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” is the Food Network’s most-watched program.
But Guy Fieri’s schedule is crazy, with endorsement commercials and celebrity appearances with David Letterman and Jay Leno and such. As a result, his time away sometimes stretches to two weeks.
“I miss him. The kids miss him. That’s no secret,” Lori, 38, said in the kitchen of the couple’s upgraded 1940s ranch-style westside home.
“Is it hard? Yes. I try to be really careful to not be too sad. We chose this for our family right now.”
From the beginning three years ago, when the half-tamed restaurateur she’d married first caused a sizzle among the star-seekers at Food Network, Lori encouraged him to go for it.
First-born son Hunter was 9 and his brother Ryder was well on the way, when in the fall of 2005, the Fieris received a phone call they’ll never forget.
A seat-of-the-pants audition video Guy had submitted to “The Next Food Network Star” competition had been well received. The caller invited him to come to New York for three weeks that December and compete as a semi-finalist.
Lori remembers Guy telling her that he wasn’t going to go. She was pregnant and Christmas was coming and Guy knew he shouldn’t be gone that long from his and partner Steve Gruber’s restaurants — Johnny Garlic’s, Tex Wasabe’s and Russell Ramsey’s Chop House. And, really, what was the chance the Food Network contest would come to anything anyway?
Lori recalls looking him in the eye. “I said, ‘Listen, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. You need to go.’
So Guy jetted off to the Big Apple. Over the course of three frenetic weeks in front of cameras, he rose to the top of the high-stress battle of wit and kitchen smarts like the fat in a cooled pork stew.
When Guy returned home from New York three days before Christmas in 2005, “he knew he was in the final two, but he couldn’t tell me,” Lori said.
Ryder was born that Dec. 31, and four months later the entire family, plus Guy’s parents, traveled to New York for the liberally hyped show that would announce “The Next Food Network Star.” Lori was standing on the set behind uber-chef Emeril Lagasse when he opened The Envelope and she saw her husband’s name.
“If I could go back and relive that whole experience again, I would,” she said. “It was such a high.”
The three-year run since then has been quite the rocket ride. Guy, with his spiky bleached hair, tattoos, backward sunglasses, Italian cook’s heart and brisk-bubbling personality, has quickly become one of America’s most-recognized TV talents.
Lori, who grew up in North Providence, R.I., with a dad who’s a toolmaker and a mom who cleans houses, makes no bones about the fun it’s been to adjust to the VIP treatment — the special seats at the Super Bowl and at NASCAR, along with the limo rides. There has been a constant flow of barbecues and knives and assorted cooking technology whose makers are eager for Guy to give them a test drive.
“We’re going the Kentucky Derby this year,” Lori said.
Of course, the income that Guy, 41, earns for the Food Network shows and the T.G.I. Friday’s commercials and all has been very nice. The Fieris have stashed college money for Hunter and Ryder and made some sweet improvements to the comfortable but unglitzy suburban Santa Rosa house they bought in 1997.
Lori assumes people may think Guy’s fame has made them wealthier than they are, just as some think that restaurant owners are more flush than most are.
“Are we living rich and famous? Absolutely not,” she said.
More than anything, she has savored watching as the ambitious and laugh-loving restaurant manager she met when she was 22 on her first visit to California seizes the opportunity the Food Network gave him to show the world what he can cook up.
“It’s not like you took a hermit couch potato and turned him into a rock star,” Lori said.
“He’s always been Guy. We’ve always had the same obnoxious friends. He’s just taken it to the next level.”
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