Guy Fieri fed residents of his hometown Ferndale, California, from his own pretzel car at 10 years old.
Then he studied the culinary arts in France, earned a degree in hospitality management at University of Nevada at Las Vegas; afterward he returned to California in 1996 to open his first restaurant.
The audition and win on the 2005 "Next Food Network Star" catapulted Fieri to international stardom.
On Aug. 18, Fieri's latest show hits the airwaves. "Guy's Family Road Trip" follows the Fieri family on a series of adventures through America's iconic destinations and dishes they've discovered there.
As a kid, what did you like best about Ferndale? Where did you like to eat?
There were only two restaurants that I could go to as a kid; one was the Fern Cafe and the other was Roman’s Restaurant. I ended up working there when I got older. But even today, every kid’s favorite thing to eat in Ferndale is a hot dog from The Red Front Store.
When you go back to Ferndale now, where do you eat?
I still go to the Red Front Store and the Hotel Ivanhoe for dinner. Humboldt Sweets is a can’t-miss—it’s one of the best bakeries with these outtabounds cinnamon rolls. Mind’s Eye Manufactory has really great coffee.
What are the musts for visitors to Ferndale?
Ya gotta check out Russ Park for some of my favorite hikes, and then head down to Centerville Beach. There’s also the Ferndale Museum which shows off the great history—and crazy characters—of this little Victorian village in Northern California.
You once worked as a flambé captain.
It was when I worked at the Red Lion in Eureka and then later in Sacramento. That job allowed me to make the true connection of how in love people are with food. Guests would be captivated and mesmerized when I brought out the cart and cooked for them table side. I had always had the bug for food and restaurants but being able to interact, cook and actually serve them was what set the hook.
What are your favorite Vegas hangouts?
Not including my restaurants [Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen + Bar, El Burro Borracho], I always make a point to stop by Four Kegs to see my buddy Mario and eat the best stromboli in town. I always have to get a carne asada burrito from the original Roberto’s Taco Shop on Maryland Parkway and east Harmon Avenue, across from UNLV. And definitely Beijing Noodle No. 9 at Caesars Palace.
Do you still revisit the places you spent time at in college?
Definitely. I go back to UNLV frequently because [my son] Hunter goes to school there now and I still have buddies that live in town. I like to stop at the Stake Out Bar & Grill across from the campus—it was a big fraternity hangout back in my day.
How has Vegas changed most dramatically since you lived there?
The food scene has grown enormously. When I was there in the late '80s, it was all about which casino had the biggest and baddest buffet. Nowadays, that’s not the norm. It’s all about fantastic restaurants operated by great chefs serving up world-class food. Everyone wants to have a restaurant in Vegas these days.
If you had one day to do whatever you wanted in Vegas, what would you do?
First I’d go up to Mount Charleston. I haven’t been there in 30 years. Then I’d head down to Red Rock, followed by a trip out to Lake Mead, then drive down to Laughlin and hang out on the river. I’d wrap it up with a trip to the Hoover Dam; it never gets old there.
What’s the one thing that’s always with you when you travel?
I always have to have really good headphones. I have a custom pair from Aurisonics.
One thing you can’t be without in the kitchen?
My Turkish pepper grinder. The difference between fresh ground black pepper and the stuff that’s already pre-ground is night and day.
What’s at the top of your travel bucket list?
I’m planning trips to South Africa and Dubai to visit my new restaurants. [My wife] Lori and I really want to go on a safari. One day I’m going to travel throughout all of Asia.
You can dine with one person, dead or alive. Who and why?
My dad’s dad. He died when my dad was 15, but from what I’ve heard, he was a great cook and he loved cars. So many times when I’ve talked with my dad and learned more about my grandfather, I learn about how similar we were.