If you are like me, you are a deeply unhappy person with a twisted soul who takes inordinate pleasure from the joys of reading a devastatingly, ostentatiously negative review. If you are like me, then, I suggest you pull up a chair, tuck a napkin under your chin and dig in to Pete Wells’ four-throwing-star ninja takedown of Guy Fieri‘s new Times Square restaurant, Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar, written in the form of an open letter to the Food Network personality:
[W]hen we hear the words Donkey Sauce, which part of the donkey are we supposed to think about?
Is the entire restaurant a very expensive piece of conceptual art? Is the shapeless, structureless baked alaska that droops and slumps and collapses while you eat it, or don’t eat it, supposed to be a representation in sugar and eggs of the experience of going insane?
Why did the toasted marshmallow taste like fish?
One could call the review excessive, even cruel. And one could argue that it’s simply a case of foodie snobbery, a highfalutin critic wrinkling his delicate nose at the down-home cookery that Fieri celebrates on his shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. But if Wells’ impressions of the food are right—I haven’t eaten at the restaurant—it’s not that Fieri is serving an unworthy, declassé kind of food. It’s that he’s taken the kind of authentic, lusty American foods that he’s showcased in his Food Network eating tours, used it to build a personal brand and used that brand to pass off a lousy imitation. Again, I have not eaten at Guy’s myself, but as an argument, Wells’ review isn’t an insult to diner-and-dive food but a defense of it.
As a big food-TV consumer, I have a mixed relationship with Fieri’s food shows, which could basically all be titled MMM GUY FIERI HONGRY GIVE GUY FIERI SOMETHING TO EAT! I can easily get sucked into a DD&D marathon on any given weekend afternoon or vacation day, but it’s despite the host, not because of him. I love the out-of-the way sandwich joints and blue-plate-slingers Fieri and his producers find, but Fieri himself doesn’t add much except a lot of mmmmms and aaaaahhhs. He’s just there as a kind of endlessly gobbling surrogate for the viewer–dipping his finger into bowls, leaning over pots and cramming his mouth with burger while moaning like a porno actor. His contribution to your understanding of the food basically amounts to listing all the ingredients while talking with his mouth full: “Burger’s really juicy, the bacon is money, cheese melts nice…” Cheese. Melts. Nice. You could draw spiky bleached hair on a Yelp review printout and learn more from it.
And yet his shows are hugely popular: the food is the star, and I guess watching Fieri tie on the feedbag is more satisfying than merely eating it with your eyes. He, more than anyone else, represents the evolution of Food Network (and food TV in general) away from cooking shows and toward eating shows. At least in the eyes of the Times’ food critic, though, he may have for once bit off more than he can chew.