Guy Fieri bit back at the New York Times restaurant critic who assailed his eatery, accusing him of having an “agenda.”
“I thought it was ridiculous, that to me was so overboard,” Fieri told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie in his first interview since the controversy.
In a review now seen ‘round the world, critic Pete Wells tore down the celebrity chef’s new Times Square restaurant, Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, in a series of rhetorical questions that took aim at the unsatisfactory food — as well as some seemingly personal jabs at Fieri.
“Has anyone ever told you that your high-wattage passion for no-collar American food makes you television’s answer to Calvin Trillin, if Mr. Trillin bleached his hair, drove a Camaro and drank Boozy Creamsicles? When you cruise around the country for your show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” rasping out slangy odes to the unfancy places where Americans like to get down and greasy, do you really mean it?” Wells writes. “Or is it all an act? Is that why the kind of cooking you celebrate on television is treated with so little respect at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar?”
While Fieri admitted that the review has given him a few things to think about, he defended the quality of his establishment and his commitment to the food — asking and answering a few questions of his own.
“We’re trying as hard as we can to make it right, to do it right,” he said. “Is it perfect right now? No. Are we striving for it? Yeah.”
The bleached-blond Food Network host also took umbrage with Wells' assertions that he hadn’t stepped foot in his 500-seat restaurant, and that his cooking skills are “all an act.” Fieri told Guthrie that he was involved in every part of the restaurant, from designing the space and developing the menu to training the staff.
“This is more heart and soul,” Fieri said. “This is not just a name stamp.”
Fieri claims he was targeted by Wells, saying that he wasn’t really given a fair shake because the restaurant has only been open for two months.
“He came in with a different agenda,” Fieri said, later adding, “It's a great way to make a name for yourself, go after a celebrity chef who is not a New Yorker.”
It's not just Fieri who thought Wells’ tough critique was unwarranted; a TODAY.com poll found that 59 percent of readers felt the review was "too harsh." And while Fieri is often the butt of the joke in chef circles — a notoriously tough crowd — a few of them even took his side.
Food Network host Alton Brown tweeted Tuesday: "I am planning on visiting Guy Fieri's NYC eatery this weekend because it can't be as bad as all those snooty New Yorkers say. #wishmeluck"
Others, like “Next Iron Chef” contestant Eric Greenspan, expressed their disappointment with the Times.
“I viewed this as the New York Times stepping down a level and trying to compete with blogs,” Greenspan, chef and owner of the Foundry in Los Angeles, told TODAY.com. “I look at them to rise above the Yelps of the world and give me a well-educated food review ... I went to the opening of his restaurant, and look, I had a laugh about the Donkey Sauce like everyone else did. But it's Guy f------- Fieri. It's not Daniel Boulud. It's almost like they reviewed Hard Rock Cafe.”
But Wells, who visited the restaurant four times for the review, hasn’t backed down and disagrees with critics who wonder why he reviewed Guy’s restaurant in the first place.
"This is important American food that makes a lot of people very happy," Wells told the New York Times public editor. "And since that's the case, you ought to do it right."
While Fieri seemed to brush off the haterade, other chefs who’ve been torn down say the best thing you can do is grow and learn from the experience.
Fabio Viviani, a “Top Chef” veteran and cast member of “Life After Top Chef,” felt the sting after Los Angeles Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila ripped his restaurant Firenze Osteria.
“Sometimes a bad review can be the best thing for your career,” Viviani told TODAY.com, referring to the fact that it helps you evaluate the team you have in place to execute your vision. “If I were Guy Fieri, I'd sit down and say to my staff (and say), 'Guys, this is a restaurant, not a Food Network show.' You have to have a system in place.”
During the TODAY Professionals segment, advertising expert Donny Deutsch weighed in with his advice, telling Fieri to own his everyman image and continue to connect with customers.
"Walk right in and say, 'Yeah, we’re not for critics, we’re for you and me,'" Deutsch said.
Fieri said that "without question” the negative feedback he’s gotten will make him examine how things are done at Guy’s. “This is an ever-changing, ever-evolving process,” he said.
When asked if he had any last words for Wells, who ended his review with a sarcastic “Thank you,” Fieri laughed and said, “You’re welcome,” adding, “I stand by my food.”
And while he told TODAY that his restaurant "will move on" from the controversy, he does have a shoulder to cry on if he needs it; Dr. Phil's shoulder, in fact.
"I want to do therapy on him over this," Dr. Phil joked when he joined the TODAY Professionals panel with Fieri.
As Dr. Phil also pointed out, it's been confirmed that the New York Times' own ad sales team hosted a client event at Guy's American Kitchen & Bar Wednesday night, with about 200 guests invited. A spokesperson told Poynter that the event had been planned two months prior to the kerfuffle. No word on whether the Times crew agreed with Wells that the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders were "far from awesome."
Krista Simmons contributed to this report.