Guy Fieri takes a big bite out of success on Food Network

A dash of determination and a sprinkle of spunk don’t always guarantee success, but, as Guy Fieri has proved, it can’t hurt.

The uninhibited Santa Rosa resident went from fun next-door-neighbor to cable’s winning ingredient after claiming victory over 10,000 entrants last year on “The Next Food Network Star.” He quickly landed two of his own shows on the Food Network — “Guy’s Big Bite” (10 a.m. Sundays) and “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” (10 p.m. Mondays) — and now oversees another surge of popularity in the handful of California restaurants he created.

“I am having the best time,” Fieri admits.

With all that savory food around him, it’s easy to see why. But Fieri’s newfound fame has everything to do with one basic fact: He has a passion for food.

“I was 10 when my mom said, if you don’t like what I’m making, then you cook,” he says. “So I cooked.”

Fieri soon discovered that he was full of sweet ideas. He couldn’t get out of the kitchen. “I learned that I could do what I wanted to do with food,” he notes, “but I also like to make people happy. I’m Italian and I love seeing people smile when they eat.”

Eventually Fieri became “the guy that cooks and puts on parties.” In time, his what-you-see-is-what-you-get, everyman vibe seemed to work in his favor. (Although, with a tattoo of a grenade on one bicep, a mammoth horseshoe on the other, bleached, spiked hair, trademark skateboarder shorts and white tennis shoes, he hardly fades into the kitchen cabinet woodwork.)

Fieri earned his chops managing a coveted Stouffer’s restaurant in Long Beach before he and fellow foodie, Steven Gruber, launched Santa Rosa’s Johnny Garlic’s in 1996. The place became a magnet for those who loved everything from Killer Garlic Fries, grill specialties, fresh salads, wines and much more. Two more Johnny Garlic’s quickly sprung up, followed by a catering division in 2001.

By 2003, another, much bolder food concept, was delivered by way of Tex Wasabi’s, a sushi and southern-style barbecue haven. The following year, Fieri concocted Russell Ramsay’s Chop House and earlier this year, another Tex Wasabi’s hit Sacramento.

“I don’t follow a lot of rules,” Fieri admits about his bold approach to food. He says his Tex Wasabi’s is “a kick in the butt” because it doesn’t try to be “the best sushi place in the whole wide world.” Instead, it unites two distinctly different palates.

“We do what we do really well,” he says. “The point is, you can enjoy some really nice, crazy rolls and roll out of that and into a nice rack of ribs.”

Still, with so much on his creative plate, Fieri doesn’t loose sight of what’s important — family, of course, and one delicious credo.

“My parents always told me to be real,” he says with a chuckle, “to not just march to my own drum but to make sure that I am marching.”

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