When chefs become rock stars, they take their pots and pans on tour

Guy Fieri looks like a rock star and talks like one. Now, the chef is touring like one too.

The Food Network star, who burst on the scene in 2006 when he won the Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. (SNI) cable channel's competition for new culinary talent, is taking his pots and pans on the road. He even has an "opening act" Australian flair bartender Hayden Wood.

"I can do demos standing on my head," Fieri told DailyFinance in an interview, insisting that he is not acting either on TV or the stage. "I don't know whether I would be such a good actor...I am always having a good time."

Fieri, who describes himself as the "Bad Boy" of the Food Network, hosts four programs on the cable channel. He also is a real-life restaurateur who is aiming to more than double his restaurant holdings to about 13.

"If you don't set a goal, you don't have anything to jump toward," he said. "I am fortunate to have a really good business partner" (Steve Gruber).

Fieri and Gruber own the Johnny Garlic's and Tex Wasabi's chains in California. Their expansion plans may be well-timed. Consumers are becoming more confident as the economy continues to improve, albeit slowly. The National Restaurant Association projects that sales at full-service restaurants will hit $182.9 billion in 2009, an increase of 1% over 2008. Quick-service restaurants, such as McDonald's Corp. (MCD), will see sales of $163.8 billion this year, a gain of 4% over 2008.

Mom-and-Pop restaurants, like the ones celebrated on Fieri's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" program, have been able to withstand the economic slowdown because their labor costs tend to be low, according to the host. The restaurants -- or "joints" as he sometimes calls them -- featured on the show are not struggling. Publicity from the show, though, often boosts the bottom line of the restaurants.

On "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," Fieri celebrates the type of large portion, artery-clogging cooking that makes nutritionists wince. One episode featured Cap'n Crunch French Toast made by the Blue Moon Cafe of Baltimore. The show features many shots of food going into the deep fryer.

While acknowledging that obesity is a serious problem, Fieri argues that people need to take responsibility for the food they ingest.

"You have got to use common sense," says Fieri, who also hosts "Guy's Big Bite." "It does not mean 'guy's big portion.'"

Fieri relishes finding new and exciting foods. He does not want restaurant owners to make too much of a fuss over him. "I don't want them putting on special airs for me," he says.

The owners of a Chinese noodle place in New York that Fieri recently discovered did not even realize that the spiky- haired, chubby, blinged-out diner in their establishment was a celebrity. That's fine with him.


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