Dania was sitting at her desk, working intently in one of the many spreadsheets her job saddled her with, when she was reflexively drawn up from her chair by a familiar scent.
“Plantain?” she asked herself.
She stood slowly, wanting to be sure that she didn’t disrupt her focus with a false alarm. But it was unmistakable – plantain, and what seemed like horseradish and sweet chilies.
She opened her door to the familiar sound of simmering coming from the kitchen. As she rounded the edge of the wall, she spotted Gwen, glancing up at a recipe print-out that had been taped to the counter. And sure enough, mashed into a bowl on the counter –
“You’re making something with plantains!” Dania said, her grin pushing her cheeks up below her eyes.
Gwen turned. “I am! I wanted to try out some new recipes. It’ll make enough for the three of us, you can definitely try it.”
“Wow! That’s awesome.” Dania silently judged Gwen’s meager collection of spices that sat on the counter, but kept an open expectation for the fried plantain regardless. “What recipe are you using?”
“It’s from the Food Network,” Gwen said. She indicated the paper, and moved so Dania could examine the recipe. It seemed in order to her – green plantains, horseradish, hot mustard, a dash of cayenne – but two words near the top of the page caused her to hesitate.
“Guy Fieri?” she exclaimed. Her eyes were wide open.
Gwen laughed. “I suppose most people wouldn’t associate him with plantains, would they?”
“I mean, no,” Dania agreed. “Unless he’s making, like, some kind of burger with plantain spices as a topping. Or a deep-fried chocolate plantain or something crazy like that.”
“Well, as it turns out,” Gwen said, wiping her hands on a towel, “plantains are indigenous to Flavor Town.”
“I didn’t even think they’d heard about plantain in Flavor Town!” Dania said, still in shock. “I just figured the state tree of Flavor Town was a tower of onion rings.”
At that moment, Eleanor’s door burst open, and she appeared, leaning from the doorway.
“Who’s talking about Flavor Town?” she asked breathlessly.
“Gwen is!” Dania replied. “Gwen’s going to take us there.”
“Ooh, what are you making?” asked an expectant Eleanor.
“Fried Plantains with Sweet Heat.”
Eleanor, halfway through starting a response, stopped with surprise at the dish. “There are plantains in Flavor Town?”
“That’s what I – I just said that!” Dania replied. “Didn’t I just?”
“You did just,” Gwen answered. “Though I don’t see what’s so surprising about it. Guy Fieri isn’t all burgers and donkey sauce and massive ribs. At least, not all the time.”
“Okay, maybe,” Eleanor said, leaning against the doorway. “But, like, the majority of his fame comes from that. I mean, have you watched Drivers, Dine-Ins, and…”
She restarted. “Divers, Drine-Ins – shoot!”
She and Dania locked eyes, and slowly unspooled the named: “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”
“Say that ten times fast,” Dania giggled.
“I will not.”
“Yes, I have watched it,” Gwen responded. “I’ve also listened to it. You gotta pay attention to what he says about the food. Beyond the exterior, with the bowling shirts and the attitude, he actually knows what he’s talking about when it comes to food preparation.”
“Hold on, I’ll get my computer,” Dania said as she walked away.
“He got his show by winning Food Network Star, he’s not uncultured about food,” Gwen added.
“I mean, define uncultured,” Eleanor said. “I don’t doubt he’s a smart guy. But he’s also weirdly energetic about his food and the restaurants where he gets it.”
“True,” Gwen said. “But again, look at the words he actually says.”
“Maybe. But that’s not why he’s popular.” Eleanor glanced at the recipe again: Fieri’s crown of frosted tips and two-tone goatee gawked out from the page. “That’s not how he got male viewers to start watching Food Network.”
Dania re-entered with her computer in tow. “They have some of the episodes on the Food Network website, I don’t know from what season.”
“How many seasons is he at now?” Eleanor asked.
“Twenty six, or thereabouts,” Gwen said. “Although some of those seasons are only seven or eight episodes.”
“Wow,” Eleanor said, as Dania cued up the first episode. “He’s gonna run out of dive bars at this rate.”
“He still has the diners and drive-ins to go to,” Gwen hesitated. “Now that I think about it, he doesn’t go to that many drive-ins…”
“Shh,” Dania said. “It’s Flavor Town Time.”
The episode began as they all did: a top-down shot of Guy, driving his firetruck red Camaro down the road, and bellowing to the camera. “Hi, I’m Guy Fieri and we’re rolling out! Looking for America’s greatest diners, drive-ins, and dives!” The screen showed a rapid series of shots from inside the three restaurants where he would encamp himself during the episode, before cutting back to the Camaro, with the camera crew faintly visible in the reflection of Guy’s ever-present sunglasses. “That’s all right here, right now, on Triple D.”
“Triple D?” Dania asked. “When was that ever a thing?”
“He made it a thing,” Gwen explained. “Somewhere along the sixth or seventh season, he started referring to the show like that. This must be an earlier episode, he eventually stopped doing that.”
The rest of the episode ran mostly as Dania and Eleanor predicted it would go. After a brief introduction to the location in question – a small family-owned diner “serving things up their way” – the camera followed Fieri behind the counter, where he learned how to make the place’s signature dish.
“I don’t think it would be true Guy Fieri if he didn’t wear his sunglasses on the back of his neck like that,” Eleanor said, pointing to the fashion statement.
“Probably not,” Dania agreed. “I want one of the episodes where he wears the flame shirt.”
“I don’t believe he wears that shirt very often,” Gwen said. “He’s gone on record as saying that he doesn’t like it.”
“Ugh, disappointing,” Dania grumbled. “Fake news.”
“His whole aesthetic is this show. Like, they perfectly capture it,” Eleanor said, watching Guy interrupt the chef by tasting one of her ingredients. “The fast editing, the rockabilly stock music in the background – that music is doing a lot of the emotional lifting here.”
“Food Network in general have become masters of emotional manipulation and worldbuilding through music,” Gwen said. “You only need to watch a single episode of ‘Chopped’ to know how devastating a cymbal scrape can be.”
Fieri squeezed around another chef in the kitchen, leading Eleanor to wonder how they possibly fit the camera crew into such a small kitchen during the lunch rush. The guests that Guy talked to seemed perennially on edge to have this brash, gravel-voiced sauce banshee bearing down on their meal.
“I just want to see him plow into a burger, you know?” Dania said, with anticipation. “I want to see him do that thing where he bends over until he’s basically eating the thing from above.”
“‘The Hunch?'” Eleanor asked. “They name-drop it in the show, he’s aware it’s the best way to eat. Although I don’t think he’s going to eat a burger at this location, this is more rib-focused.”
As the music shifted, Guy plunged a fork into the dish, sawing it with a knife before bringing it to his mouth.
“Oh, I never noticed that,” Gwen said, leaning forward. “Did you notice that he eats with the fork in his left hand? He doesn’t do the hand-switch you do for utensils.”
“Weird,” Eleanor said. On the screen, Fieri was praising the dish’s mixture of ingredients.
“So money, man,” he said. “That’s like going through It’s A Small World in a jet boat. I don’t know what countries I just blew through.”
Dania, drinking, nearly spit her drink out as the trio laughed at the line.
“Oh my God!” Eleanor said. “That’s peak Fieri right there.”
“It certainly is,” Gwen said. “Hey, if Bob Dylan can win the Nobel Prize for Literature, anything’s possible.”
“I haven’t heard him talk about Flavor Town yet,” Dania said.
“He doesn’t say it that often on the real show,” Gwen said. “It took off beyond that, but it’s rare across twenty-six seasons.”
“There was that John Oliver supercut of them,” Eleanor reminded them. “It’s gotta happen sometime.”
“I know that Guy Fieri has a good understanding of how he’s perceived,” Gwen said, as Guy onscreen was introducing the next restaurant – a place he promised would “turn up the slather floodgates.” “It’s largely thanks to him that Food Network is all cooking competitions now, instead of women in sunlit rooms making polenta.”
“Well, he sorta shifted the priority of the network,” Eleanor explained. “Before him, Food Network was almost entirely educational. It was about showing off recipies that you could create. This was – at least I’m pretty sure it was – the first show to focus on restaurants, with their culture and backstories, more than the food.”
“But he does remain focused on the food,” Gwen explained. “Listen to this description.”
Guy was watching a chef make the next dish, and was indicating the spices as they went along. It was clear, between the astonished glances back at the camera, that Fieri had a strong working knowledge of choriso, sambal, unagi sauce, julienned leeks, and ground tumeric. At the end of the description, he glanced into the camera again, roping the audience into his own disbelief at the dish being prepared.
“I wonder if there’s an interesting class distinction to be made here,” Gwen said. “The whole concept of preparing food on your own has classist undertones: the high-end ingredients, the expensive tools, the time commitment. That Guy Fieri has extensive culinary knowledge but uses it to celebrate the dining establishments that are seen as ‘lesser,’ or not as sophisticated, could be interpreted as a democratization of the Food Network’s assumed class bracket.”
“Maybe,” Dania said. “Or it could just be that he’s a madman who gets crazy excited about all food.”
Gwen and Eleanor locked eyes and shrugged. On screen, the dish was being pulled out of the fryer and plated.
“Oh, the plantains!” Gwen remembered, running back to the kitchen.
“Don’t burn them!” Eleanor warned.
“Eh, we can just refer to it as “char-broiled” or something,” Dania said. She perfectly affected Fieri’s tone: “In this kitchen, they’re not just frying the plantain, they’re triple-deep frying it.”
“Just make all the mistakes intentional,” Eleanor suggested.
Meanwhile, on screen, Fieri was thanking a chef for their time. He held out a wristband-decked hand for a fist bump, which the chef, after a moment’s hesitation, obliged.
Image Credit: Motor Trend
Author’s Note: All Guy Fieri dialogue in this review is taken directly from Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, which is owned by Food Network and Citizen Pictures. Fair use laws apply.