Brisket with Guy Fieri
A little backstory for tonight’s San Diego episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives
This week, Guy Fieri got his star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. For a lot of reasons, but the best-known is Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on Food Network. And for tonight’s episode of DDD, he returned to San Diego and asked me to show him one of my favorite spots.
I’ve known Guy now for six years now, consider him a friend and mentor. I’ve never written about my time with him, because it’s not my place. I let friends tell their own stories. But since tonight’s DDD focuses on my hometown and people have asked, I agreed to share a few personal observations.
Guy and I met when I was a little down in the dumps. In 2011, Food Network had given me my own show, called Crave. It aired on prime time. There were some expectations. The ratings started out pretty well. And then new seasons of Monday Night Football, Dancing with the Stars, and How I Met Your Mother all came back in my time slot. Ratings dipped, Crave was canceled after one season.
It happens—all the time. The network had given me a generous shot, our show hadn’t gangbustered, and I respected their decision. I was moving on, focusing on my writing, and other TV gigs.
Then the producers of a new Food Network show called. It was called Guy’s Grocery Games, and they wanted me to try out as a judge on the first season. I’d never met Guy. So I drove up to L.A. in my beat-up truck, walked onto set in my cheap writer clothes, and they ushered me to a trailer.
I tried to meditate to calm my nerves. As soon as I sit down, I get a knock on my door. A production assistant says Guy would like to see me in his trailer.
I knock on his door, it opens, and there he is. I don’t care who you are. It is always surreal to meet someone who’s been on TV as much as Guy has. Especially someone with the personality of a lightning bolt. It’s like a fictional character materializing in front of you, and asking you to speak. It takes a second to shake off the vertigo.
He welcomed me to the set, sized me up, said a few words. We didn’t know how the show would be received. We didn’t know if this first episode would be my last, or the show’s last. Everything about new TV shows is touch-and-go. He basically said, “We’ve all got one shot, so make the most of it.”
At some point in that first episode, Guy chuckled at something I said. So he gave me another shot. And another. And another. Five years later, I’ve been on almost 100 episodes of Guy’s Grocery Games. It’s been a hell of a ride.
People always ask what Guy’s like. Again, the first rule of being a friend is not talking about your friends. But I feel comfortable speaking broadly about a few things.
First, I had my preconceptions about Guy before I met him. I had him pigeonholed. And he blew every single one of those preconceived notions out of the water. He is one of the smartest, funniest, most emotionally perceptive people in every room. And he’s real. You know when he’s happy, and you know when he’s not. He does not bullshit. In an age of filters and spin and brand-speak, he talks straight and it sets the room on fire.
Most importantly, he gives a damn about people. He’s one of the few stars I’ve met who can rally 200, 300, 30 million people behind anything he’s doing because he takes time to make sure they know they matter. While most food media focused on the Grant Achatzes of the world, Guy and DDD pulled into tiny mom and pop shops across America, treated ‘em with respect, showcased their cooking, and changed their lives. As I explain in my most recent story, he tripled and quadrupled the business of San Diego restaurants he’s visited over the years.
And this championing of the average American is no marketing gimmick. On set, he takes genuine interest in people that other stars might look at and ask for coffee. He treats his entire crew—from lowest on the totem pole to highest—the same. He makes them laugh, he takes the piss out of them. Guy is what DDD is—extremely loyal to the mom, the pop, the everyperson.
Sure, Guy and I have had our differences. Friends do. I think he’s fired me twice over the years. I think I threatened to quit once and then groveled for my job back.
But here we are, having brisket in San Diego.
So for this episode of DDD, I took him to Grand Ole BBQ y Asado in Flinn Springs. In my view, Grand Ole is a bit of a regional savior. In 2010, I traveled the country looking for the best barbecue, from Lexington, North Carolina to Lockhart, Texas. I had brisket that tasted like spiritual divination. After that trip, I returned home determined to find it in my hometown.
And I couldn’t. Because there wasn’t any. San Diego’s barbecue was a pretty sad approximation of Franklin’s or Smitty’s or Lexington Barbecue. And then Grand Ole showed up in 2015. Real-deal Texas brisket with a Baja twist.
Still, it was nerve-wracking to recommend San Diego barbecue to Guy Fieri. This man has visited pretty much every American barbecue spot worth its spit. I started to think maybe I should’ve stuck to fish tacos and called it a day.
I think Grand Ole ranks up there with some of the nation’s better barbecue, and tonight you get to see what Guy thought. You also get to see him take the piss out of me and put me to work, as he has for years.
Wouldn’t have it any other way.
And to the Guy who gave me a shot at a time when it felt like there were no bullets left in my chamber—thanks, man. Congrats on your Hollywood Star.
Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives airs on Food Network tonight at 6 p.m.