Guy Fieri is famous for flash, flavor and fire-wrapped hot-rods. As Food Network fans will attest, he’s not known for subtlety. Likewise, he’s never been shy about his roots in community college.
“The bus to Flavortown cruises right through American River College (ARC),” the alum proudly declared during an effort to raise support for the college’s dazzling, 22,794 square foot culinary arts facility.
It’s been a wild ride for the Humboldt County native. Fieri’s first stop was College of the Redwoods, near his hometown of Ferndale, where he began to look for a way to translate his love of food into a viable future. He later attended classes at ARC, eventually graduating from University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a degree in hospitality management before pioneering the “chef dude” persona that stoked a revolution in food programming.
Fieri considers himself someone who has personally benefited from experiences at California community colleges. And even as his celebrity profile expands to match the mammoth portions of his most famous dishes, the host of hit TV shows Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives remains focused on the communities that shaped him.
When the pandemic first began to punish the food service and hospitality industry, Fieri partnered with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation to bridge the gap. Since then, the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund (RERF) has raised more than $21 million for 43,000 restaurant workers in all 50 states, with Californians leading the way in participation. For many hospitality employees – the majority of whom earn below $50,000 – the grant would come just as a housing, utility or medical bill threatened to create chaos.
“It is nice to know that restaurant workers have each other’s backs,” said one Californian in response to the RERF grant.
Meanwhile, the celebrity chef and restaurateur was busy rescuing restaurant jobs with his “Flavortown Kitchens” concept, an ambitious project that employed “ghost kitchens” to support brick-and-mortar establishments. The concept employed celebrity branding, including Fieri’s own “Donkey Sauce” brand, to “bring Flavortown to your town,” bolstering takeout business to keep kitchens cooking, even during lockdown.
True to his small-town, community college roots, Fieri doesn’t go out of his way for recognition. Still, it’s hard to miss Fieri’s fiery fashion sense and distinct vibe when he shows up to support his community. In 2018, as the Camp Fire raged in Butte County, the frost-tipped foodie rolled up unceremoniously in his food truck, treating first responders to strategic sustenance and a surreal sight. He would repeat the effort throughout Northern California, providing a spark of relief for the heroes who battled the deadliest wildfire season in California history.
“My father-in-law was out fighting one of the wildfires this last year and [Fieri] showed up with his food truck and just started feeding people,” Ferndale native Nicholson Stratton recalled to the Times-Standard in February. “It’s that local connection that keeps him driving toward the goodwill of our communities.”
That connection carried through to Fieri’s most recent television project, Season 2 of Food Network’s Tournament of Champions, which featured celebrity chefs competing for prize money to support struggling restaurants in their communities. The winner of each episode took home $10,000 for their designated restaurant, with series champion Maneet Chauhan earning total of $40,000 for businesses in her hometown of Nashville. The “adopt-a-restaurant” idea was one Fieri pitched at the last minute, after seeing the devastating effect of COVID on small food service businesses.
From food trucks for firefighters to restaurant rescues, the high-energy host has never stopped giving back to his home state. In 2015, his participation was instrumental to the funding of ARC’s $8.6 million culinary arts building. Before that, in 2011, he co-wrote and supported legislation to establish statewide awareness for culinary engagement and nutritious eating among youth. Since then, the second Saturday each May in California has been officially recognized as “Cook with Kids Day.”
“It passed and I was just elated,” Fieri told FN Dish about the experience. “It meant that everyone – chefs, restaurateurs, schools, businesses – would have to focus on kids for one day.” Fieri’s success story is testament to the power of California community colleges not only to spark a successful life, but to keep communities whole through grassroots service and support. And when it comes to leveraging his celebrity status for the good of California communities? Fieri considers it a privilege.
“There are so many people who did so much that didn't get all the recognition they deserve,” Fieri says in an interview with USA Today. “But that's just what we do as a country: we support and get involved and we help.”