Nov. 28, 2008 -- Guy Fieri, the chef and Food Network star says that growing up, he was "always into food." And for Fieri, food is about much more than just "nourishment."
"It's an experience, it's an emotion, it's a memory," he said. "There's so many ties to it. For me, when I get to do it, I think about how happy it makes me to eat something that's really good or that's handmade by somebody and that somebody took the time to do it and I know how that makes me feel."
"We have the greatest experiences with food: engagements, announcements, celebrations," he said. "I mean if you look at it, if there's a celebration, there's usually food involved."
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Food and Family
Fieri, a past winner of the reality show "The Next Food Network Star" who now hosts four shows on the network, has stayed close to home in his culinary career, operating five restaurants in northern California where he was raised.
"It used to drive my mom nuts because the first thing I'd ask every morning when I got out of bed and walked into the kitchen is 'Mom, what's for dinner tonight?'"
Fieri still remembers the first time he prepared steak and spaghetti for his parents when he was 10 years old.
"[My dad] took a bite of the steak and he set his fork and knife down, and he looked over at me and said, 'You know what Guy, this might be the best steak I ever had.' And it still gives me goose bumps now, you know, 30 years later, that something I could make could make people happy ... I knew that my life was always going to have food in it."
When he was 16, Fieri went to France as an exchange student and decided not to return to high school after coming back to the United States. He was inspired in part by the quality of food he found in Europe.
"Food has always been my motivation," he said. "I'd rather not eat than eat an inadequate meal."
After consulting with his parents, Fieri got his GED and took a variety of different jobs in the restaurant industry -- bussing tables, working as a sushi chef and working in a meat processing plant, among them. He also got a degree in Hospitality Management at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
Thanksgiving: 'I Cannot Do It Normal'
"I learn every time I cook something," he said. "Every time I'm around somebody, I learn another piece. I'm real big into education, not that I really like to read a lot of books, but I'm into learning, I'm into being a better man, I'm into being a better chef, and I don't mind talking to anybody about anything they know how to cook."
Despite his Italian background, Fieri says he wasn't raised with a strong sense of Italian heritage or culture and sought out his culinary roots on his own. His favorite snacks are Italian meats and cheeses, not junk food.
"I think different nationalities or different bloodlines of people just have different styles of how they are as people. I think that Italians are very passionate, love food, love the family," he said. "You know how families treat families is very important to me. I like making people happy. I think that's why I do well on the Food Network is because I'm not putting on a show, I'm just trying to make people happy. I'm trying to do something that people enjoy."
Fieri seems to be succeeding in that goal. His show "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" is the No. 1 show on the Food Network.
Growing up, Fieri says his family never had a "normal" Thanksgiving meal.
"Sometimes it would only be 5-6 people or maybe 10. But [my dad] would always make food for 500 people. Leg of lamb, turkey, a salmon, a bunch of vegetables, I mean, just crazy things. And pie. …I never heard of barbecuing a turkey, a matter of fact I wouldn't even tell anyone we barbecued the turkey, because everyone else did normal turkey, but not the Fieri's. We barbecued it."
Fieri has continued that tradition with his own family.
"Thanksgiving to me … I cannot do it normal," he said. "It has to be, you know, Grand Marnier cranberry sauce with lemon zest, deep fried turkey, a smoked turkey, a barbequed turkey, a boneless turkey, a pastrami. … There's prime rib, but I can't just do one kind of prime rib, I gotta do it three ways. Ravioli is very key. Ten raviolis last year. I mean crazy raviolis ... I want the eating to go on for days, like a Roman feast!"
One dish that's a big hit in the Fieri household and in his restaurant, Johnny Garlic's, is "Tequila Turkey Fettuccini Alfredo." "It's kind of a traditional fettuccini Alfredo sauce done with some fresh roasted turkey, some jalapeños, some garlic, deglazed with a little tequila, hit a little bit of cilantro and heavy cream. It's dynamite," he said.
It's a crowd-pleasing dish that's a great way to use your leftover turkey, Fieri added.
"You probably had enough leftover turkey for turkey sandwiches; this one works dynamite right in here because you're taking the turkey, as well as it holds together and adding some different flavors to it that you normally don't find at the Thanksgiving table. ... Think you had a lot of people over for Thanksgiving, but wait until they try this leftover. They're not going to leave."
Fieri also shared his recipe for roasted and pureed cauliflower, "not your regular old Thanksgiving Day broccoli."
"Cauliflower is one of the vegetables I wasn't a real big fan of because my parents made me eat it I think too many times, but I came up with a recipe that I think will turn anybody into a cauliflower lover."
And to finish off your meal, Fieri suggests a holiday cocktail with spiced pumpkin liquor.
"I know not everybody has that, but you can actually find it in your liquor store these days."
This Thanksgiving, Fieri says he's most grateful for his family.
"I've got a great wife, two great sons, an incredible mom and dad, my sister," he said. "We're so blessed to have what we have and to take a moment to reflect on it doesn't happen often enough. Fortunately we have a day in our culture where we give thanks, but I give thanks every day. I really do. I'm just surrounded by great people and great opportunities and that to me is…everyday is Thanksgiving. "