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Duly Noted

Friday, Nov 16, 2012, 2:43 pm

Donkey Sauce and Fishy Marshmallows: Why Guy Fieri Matters

By Lindsay Beyerstein

Scott Beale, Creative Commons.

When the host of the most popular show on the Food Network opens a new restaurant in Times Square, of course the Times will send a critic. Good thing, too. Pete Wells's scathing review of Guy's American Kitchen and Bar is brilliant.

The piece is an unrelenting one-sided Socratic dialogue between Wells and an imagined Fieri: "What accounts for the vast difference between the Donkey Sauce recipe you’ve published and the Donkey Sauce in your restaurant? [...] And when we hear the words Donkey Sauce, which part of the donkey are we supposed to think about? [...] Why did the toasted marshmallow taste like fish?"

Celebrity chefs are the new rock stars, and none moreso than the camero-driving, bleach blond Guy Fieri. Unfortunately, he's Nickleback.

Salon's Mary Beth Williams accuses Wells of picking on poor Guy:

What made the piece so arresting, so widely shared, was not that it contributed in any meaningful way to a conversation about food – does anyone read the Times looking for guidance on whether to eat fried ice cream in Times Square? [...] It was that the Times had served up bullet-riddled fish in a barrel, an impassioned cri de coeur directed at the most mediocre of targets. In other words, it was behaving like just another random troll on Yelp.

Williams assumes that, as the dining critic for the New York Times, Wells is punching down by critiquing a Times Square tourist trap. I disagree.

Fieri made his name covering what will be remembered as a golden age of American food. Despite his obnoxious persona, his show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, appeals to foodies from all walks of life.

DDD isn't just about diners or dives, it's about the whole world of North American food beyond white tablecloth restaurants.

Lots of dining section readers watch the show, I guarantee you. The DDD website features recipes for lamb tagine, vension pate, and Texas tomato toast with roasted garlic spread and homemade ricotta. The curry goat recipe takes 15 hours to make. Even the fried chicken is served with homemade lemon jam. The DDD crew really gets around, too. As a Vancouverite, I was amazed they found their way to the Tomahawk in North Van and Save-On-Meats on East Hastings.

A Fieri fan might infer that Guy's American is more serious about food than your average Times Square restaurant. Pete Wells just saved her from getting ripped off.

Williams describes Wells' review as the flipside of that super-earnest Olive Garden review that went viral a few months ago. It was funny because reviewing a new Olive Garden seemed to be missing the point. The chain has been around forever and the food is the same everywhere.

If your goal is to avoid being disgusted by your food, or gouged for it, the Olive Garden is a safe bet. You'll get what you ordered and the hot food will arrive hot. Confections will not taste like fish. Judging by Wells' review, Fieri can't even deliver that much. If tourists come all the way to New York, they deserve a decent plate of nachos.

The Times dining section was right to cover Guy's American restaurant because Fieri's an important player on the national food and restaurant scene. Now that food is pop culture, food journalists have to pay attention to food TV.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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