He describes himself as “having to know everything about something,” and that initiative has paid off in spades for Guy Fieri, who sold soft pretzels from a three-wheeled bicycle cart he built with his father called “The Awesome Pretzel” to earn money to study abroad in high school. He started college early, studying first at junior college, then at the hospitality school at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and opened his first restaurant, Johnny Garlics, in 1996 before achieving worldwide fame on the Food Network. Best known for his gregarious personality on such shows as Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, or Triple D as he affectionately calls it, Fieri has expanded his restaurant empire with the opening of Guy Fieri’s Vegas Bar & Kitchen at LINQ Hotel + Experience.
Guy Fieri’s Guide to Las Vegas
What do you consider the must-have staples at Guy Fieri’s Bar & Kitchen?
A: I can’t say that one thing is my favorite. It’s all hands-on food. I think the chicken wings we do give a whole different texture to it. We lollipop and brine the wings, which adds a whole other depth of flavor. Then we roast the wings, another depth of flavor. And then we quick-fry the wings so they’re not greasy, but they’re nice and crunchy. A lot of times when you come to a bar here in Vegas, and you’re cruising through a lobby, they make you a Jack & Coke or a 7/7, but we’re going to give you eclectic beers, a shot bar, scratch-made, artisan cocktails.
If you want a bigger meal, you’ve got the pretzel bun with pulled pork. If you want a lighter meal, you’ve got the ahi tacos with the crunchy taco and the sashimi ahi done with a little sweet soy and the jicama made with slaw. If you want snack food, you have the Italian nachos with the breadstick-wrapped pepperoni made to where it’s nice and crunchy and with four-cheese fondue. So it’s—that’s my favorite, no—that’s my favorite, no, that’s the one I love the most.
Where do you draw all these creative ideas from?
A: They really kind of had to cut me off. It’s like when a band goes out and wants to play all three albums. I had to really listen to the team. We did a lot of tastings, a lot of cuttings, a lot of evaluating. I try to realize that I’m not the one with all the answers. It became a mix of what do we want, what do we think the guests are going to want, what do our chefs enjoy making, what can we take to the next level? With the burger, we had 15 burgers to go through, from a blackened blue cheese burger to the championship burger to the pastrami burger to the Texas burger— and my team said “Time out, this isn’t Guy’s Burger Joint.”
Why did you decide to go to UNLV?
Fieri: I came back from France when I was 17. I came back to the United States in my senior year of high school—I’d been in France for my junior year. I had had the most amazing experience living in France, eating phenomenal food and traveling. I went to high school there. I came back and said “I’m ready to do this. I’m ready to get into it. I want to be a chef, a restaurant owner. I want to go.” So my parents said I didn’t have to go back to high school if I started college. So, I started college early. I went to junior college, because I didn’t have SATs. I got a couple of years of junior college under my belt and started looking at Cornell, Washington State and UNLV. To get a real specialized degree, a B.S. in hospitality, I’d say this is the best school. The great thing about UNLV is it’s a big little school. That’s what people don’t understand. If you want to have a one-on-one relationship with your school and your professor, and get everything they have to offer, you can get it at UNLV. I still have great friends there. When I go back now and visit, it’s bigger, but it’s the same energy of building the best industry professionals. I sound like an informercial!
What are some of the eateries you discovered when you went to school there?
Fieri: You’ve got to understand where I was in my budget. (Laughs) The places we hung out were the T-Bird, the Stake Out, Roberto’s and The Sports Pub. That was it. When I went to school there, from ’87-’90, you were hard-pressed to find any restaurants. Everything was a buffet. In that era, it was the land of the buffet. Now, it was a battle of who had the better buffet, but the reality was it’s not anything like Vegas is now. Now, I’ve come back to do Triple D three times.
What are some of your favorite Vegas finds from that show?
Fieri: One of my all-time favorites—this is one of my all-time favorites in the country—is Four Kegs. Four Kegs used to be over on Maryland Parkway, one of them is over on Jones & 95. The stromboli is the best I’ve found in the country. One of my favorites also is Forte. Forte, to me, is again one of my all-time favorite joints—Eastern European food you can’t top. Another is The Coffee Cup out in Boulder City—a quaint little Triple D joint. Lola’s Louisiana Kitchen, everybody that we’ve visited has been a great place. It used to be in Vegas that everything was centralized to the Strip, and if you were a Vegas local, you had the little ‘wich places you liked to go to, but now people are actually coming off of the Strip to go visit some of these joints.
What initially interested you in cooking?
Fieri: It’s twofold. Getting to make people happy, and getting to make the decision of what we’re going to eat. When I was a kid, whoever cooked made the call on what we were having for dinner. My parents were really into macrobiotic cooking—we used to eat fish, brown rice, a lot of vegetables—I was like “Where’s the meatballs and parmesan chicken?” I remember, I was very young, and my mom said, “Listen, if you want to have those things, the cook makes the decision.” I was 10, I said, “That’s how it works?” So in the little town I lived in, you could go to the grocery store and charge—it was like The Waltons—so I went there, got a couple of steaks and started cooking them. My dad came home and said, “what are you doing?” I said, “mom said I could.” He sat down to eat the steak and said, “Best steak I ever had.” That was it. That’s what it took, that little experience. Knowing it made people happy, that fed my creativity.
What’s you’re favorite type of cuisine?
What are your favorite places in Vegas to eat your favorite cuisines?
What is your perfect day in Vegas? What do you want to go do, what do you want to go see?
Fieri: Now, having a restaurant here, a perfect day is coming to the restaurant—being in the restaurant, spending time with the team, talking with the guests. And seeing my buddies, I have a lot of college buddies who still live here in Vegas. Also, seeing a fight, be it a UFC fight, a boxing match, any kind of sports activity. I’m a big fan of sports—anything like that. Seeing a concert. Come on! The best concerts in the world come to Vegas. I do that, hang out, find cool little places that you didn’t know existed. Things on the Strip, things off the Strip—it usually involves me being out late.
What is one item you can’t be without in the kitchen?
Fieri: A good sharp knife. A lot of people don’t like to cook because they don’t like to prepare the vegetables or the ingredients. If you don’t have stuff chopped, there’s stuff burning in the pan. A lot of people don’t work well with their knife because their knife isn’t sharp, then they don’t like to do all the prep. They limit what they cook, then they don’t like what they cook. As the golf club is to the golf pro, the paint brush is to the artist, the knife is to the chef.
What’s your favorite Vegas movie?
Fieri: My favorite Vegas book is Fear & Loathing [in Las Vegas]. Part of my son Hunter’s name came from Hunter S. Thompson. I read that book when I was in college. The movie: Casino, without question. It’s in my Top 5 list of greatest movies. I love watching it being a guy that came from Vegas. There’s a part when Pesci is taking the money back to the gangsters, supposedly in Oklahoma. He’s taking it to the meat market I used to work at. I see little things in the movie.
With all your different shows, restaurants and engagements, how often are you on the road? How often are you in the same place?
Fieri: It’s easier to say how often am I home? I’m on the road quite a bit, not as much as I used to be. I used to be on the road way too much. Now I’m much more judicious about my time, and how I spend it, where I spend it. But my most important place to be is home.
What do you like to cook when you’re at home?
Fieri: My wife has been on this unique all-protein vegetable diet, so we’ve been making a lot of stocks and a lot of soups and trying to use everything that doesn’t involve a carb. But with my family, it’s like this: at 7 in the morning, I ask “what do you want for dinner?” Everybody starts to weigh in. We have a woodfired grill at home, a woodfired oven, wok burner, you name it. The kids will rattle off all their ideas, I’ll rattle off my ideas—my day always equals what’s going to be for dinner. When I’m home, I cook every day. It’s my favorite thing in the world to do.
What are you listening to right now?
Fieri: Everything from old school to new school. I’m a big fan of Sammy Hagar, Metallica, Chili Peppers, Steve Miller Band, you name it, I’m all that. But it’s funny. Bruno Mars, I think, is awesome. Daft Punk is amazing. I’m not a real Top 40 type of guy, but there’s so much really good music coming out right now, that I’m definitely a fan of what’s going on in music these days.
Believe or not, in the past few years I’ve become more of a country music fan than I’ve ever been. I was a country western fan back in the day, but it was Willie, Waylon, Cash, those guys. That’s the type of country I grew up with. Now I’m learning about Lee Rice and Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean. I’ve learned a lot about country music being the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives dude—there’s a lot of country in that.
What is Vegas to you?
Fieri: Vegas is not what a lot of people think Vegas is, just as like they think they know who I am—oh, that’s that guy with the bleached hair who listens to rock ‘n’ roll and eats good burgers. I’m not a real big burger guy—I mean, I make a righteous burger here, but I make eclectic, ethnic, hands-on, scratch-made food. I want people to know get what Vegas is—a great destination for all types of people, from bachelor parties to family vacations. There’s great swimming pools and lots of attractions, the biggest Ferris wheel in the world (at the time)—there’s so many things going on here. I love to be a part of that, to be in the melting pot of all melting pots.