Food Network host Guy Fieri throws out a ceremonial first pitch prior to the start of a baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cubs. (Al Behrman / AP)
The “Seinfeld” fans among us no doubt remember the episode in which George Costanza (played by Jason Alexander) declared the “Summer of George.” Well, it may be accurate to proclaim this the “Summer of Guy.”
Last month, Guy Fieri, the tatted-up, spike-haired star of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” opened Guy Fieri’s Chophouse at Bally’s Atlantic City. Last week, he saw the second-season debut of “Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off,” a competition series he co-hosts with another TV-foodie titan (and his close pal), Rachael Ray.
Guy Fieri’s Chophouse is located on the second level at Bally’s, sprawling over the spaces that formerly housed the Reserve steak house and the casino’s poker, keno and horse-betting parlor. During a recent telephone chat, Fieri described his AyCee outlet in terms of his varied culinary background.
“I was a flambe captain, I did tableside cooking, I have a background in barbecue, I have a sushi restaurant in California and I’m Italian, so there’s a lot of influence there,” enumerated the 46-year-old Northern California native.
“So I took a lot of pieces of what I loved about a steak house, doing the traditional steaks, doing the big-boned steaks, but then kind of mixed it up with a raw bar and added more spice and more flair.
“The general idea is a little bit of a ‘new age’ steak house: Appreciating and respecting the ‘old-school’ method and style, but adding a little more of the ‘new-school’ attitude and flair.”
In addition to steaks (including a 22-ounce T-bone), the Chophouse offers a variety of fish and seafood, as well as sushi and Fieri’s famed Potato Rig, a pushcart filled with toppings for the one-pound baked spuds (General Manager Jeff DeClement said they’ll pretty much put anything on potatoes, as long as it can be found somewhere in the casino-hotel). There is also an array of off-the-wall desserts including a marbled cheesecake loaded with potato chips and chocolate-covered pretzels and splashed in hot fudge.
Hearing him praise Atlantic City’s beach, boardwalk, entertainment offerings and dining scene left no doubt Fieri has a soft spot for the town, even with its current round of casino closings. But be honest, Guy, what really brought you there?
“Anything that gives me an excuse to ... go back to White House Subs ... I mean, c’mon!” he laughed.
On the TV front, the new season of “Kids Cook-Off” (8 p.m. Sundays), is especially near and dear to Fieri’s heart.
“When I first got on Food Network, one of the first things they asked me was: ‘What kind of show do you want to do?’ he recalled. “I said, ‘I’d really like to do a kid’s show.’
“I spend a lot of time with my kids (sons Hunter, 18, and Ryder, 9), with my friends’ kids, with elementary-school students who come to my restaurants. I do a program at my restaurants called ‘REDS: Restaurant Education Days.’ It’s not just a field trip for kids. We bring ’em in and teach ’em how to (cook). I’ve been doing that for 20 years, so I have a pretty good handle on teaching and coaching, from sports to school to cooking.”
Nonetheless, the concept wasn’t an easy sell.
“When I first brought it up, it didn’t get a tremendous amount of (cook) jumping out of their seats,” he admitted. “A few years went by and I kept going back to it. At the same time, my partner-in-crime, Rachael, said she wanted to do something with kids.
“So (Food Network) they came to us and said, ‘We’ve seen the celebrity game you (two) are doing (“Rachael Vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off”). What if you do it with kids?’ ”
On the show, Fieri and Ray each coach a team. The eight youngsters from around the country were selected out of a pool of more than 5,000. Their efforts will be judged by the likes of superstar stove jockeys Robert Irvine and Wolfgang Puck.
“Season one was great,” he insisted. “Season two is going to be amazing. The kids brought game. I think Rachael and I are still both shaking our heads saying, ‘Did that just happen?’”
In case you’re wondering, Fieri and Ray had no side bets working during this season’s taping.
“Rachael and I are best friends, so it’s even more competitive,” he reasoned. “But no side bets this year.” That, he added, is because he couldn’t guarantee his team would win, and he wanted to avoid a situation where he’d be “jumpin’ into a kiddie-pool full of Jell-O!”