For those of you who have better things to do than follow the arguments in the restaurant universe, here’s a quick summary of the controversy between Guy Fieri and The New York Times:
Fieri recently opened a 500-seat restaurant in Times Square called Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar. Pete Wells, the Times’ restaurant critic, gave it what might generously be called a scathing review—he rated the place as poor, and gave it no stars on the newspaper’s usual scale of one to four. Fieri was predictably outraged, and has been firing back in the media for the past week or two.
If you’ve really been hiding under a rock, Guy Fieri is one of the headliners on the Food Network. He has no formal training as a chef, but started working in restaurants in high school and earned a degree in Hotel Management. He operates two other dining concepts in California, Tex Wasabi’s and Johnny Garlic’s, with two and four locations respectively. If you tune into the Food Network, you’ll likely find him to be loud, brash and intellectually deprived—the type of person you fervently hope your daughter is never attracted to.
Have I been to Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar? No. Would I go? Probably not. A reading of the menu confirmed that it’s really not my thing; the dishes are mostly fried, drenched in sauce, or comprised of pork. On top of that, the Pete Wells review was hardly unique. Writing in the New York Post, critic Steve Cuozzo called the fare “heaps of sugar and sludge masquerading as normal food,” and said that he “wouldn’t feed the mess to a cat.”
So why is Guy Fieri so annoyed at the New York Times? At one point in his media blitz, Fieri accused Wells of having a “different agenda”—specifically, the desire to reject a chef from out of town. This does happen in Manhattan occasionally, but I believe something deeper is happening here. The rift between Fieri and Wells typifies the age-old conflict in this country between the common man and the intellectual elite. Wells seems unwilling to accept that an annoying blowhard can achieve fame and fortune solely because his deficiencies mirror those of his many followers. It’s the American way, and the Times had better get on board.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to www.iconicspirits.net.