Celebrity chef Guy Fieri calls his annual week-long January birthday party “Festivus Maximus.”
However, this would be a most excellent title for his life, too—his days are a revelry of food, family, friends, fun, and cars.
Best of all, Fieri’s trying to do maximus good for others at the same time. I got to know him during a 4 day wedding party in Mexico. He cooked the wedding feast. And I helped with the shopping. And while you might not think we have much in common, we have the same drive to give back and help others achieve their potential.
“We don’t use all of our brain’s power,” Fieri states with great conviction. “We have so much more we can do to empower ourselves, others and our communities, if we just open our minds, open our hearts.”
His life story lends credence to this perspective.
Outstanding and outrageous, profound and profane, Fieri looks outsider, but lives by old-fashioned American values. After winning “The Next Food Network Star” in 2006 and making the TV show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” a hit, Fieri shot into the fame stratosphere.
South Park spoofed him, Barney’s New York sculpted him, the Super Bowl and Kentucky Derby hired him, movie stars with big hearts—like Matthew McConaughey—befriended him.
Fieri now hosts four TV shows and a touring live show, owns 6 restaurants, writes New York Times best selling cookbooks and sells a growing line of foods and gadgets. His passions include, “cooking, my kids, cars and helping other people, which sounds cheesy, but it’s real.”
An employee confirms Fieri’s impulse to help others, saying, “If we’re in a room full of people doing a taping, and a woman tries to enter with a baby and a stroller, Guy drops everything to be the first at the door to help her.”
Fieri convinced California to adopt May 5 as “Cook With Your Kids Day” to promote better nutrition and family time, and is lobbying the U.S. government to do the same. He auctions off items for charities, like customized KitchenAid mixers and sunglasses, and is excited to hand out a huge check to a children’s hospital at the Kentucky Derby.
Fieri credits his values and success to his parents. They supported his every interest growing up—even the dangerous ones—while enforcing parameters. “I was never pushed, but held to strict boundaries of respect and responsibility, accompanied by a strong work ethic,” he says.
“I like to do crazy stuff, like put on a police suit, go out in the field and let police dogs attack me,” he says.
Fieri pulls up his shirt, saying, “This scar is from my surgery when I was 10—my rodeo horse stepped on me.”
His food career started about the same time, with the pretzel cart he built with his father and used to earn money. Those funds allowed him to go to France as an exchange student at age 16, and discover his true passion for cooking.
Fieri lives in Sonoma with his kids—Hunter, 14, and Ryder, 5 “going on 14”—his wife, Lori, and his cars. His parents live next door, in the home he proudly built for them.
“Cars are my real big junk. I have 10 of them. All yellow, except for my black ‘65 Cobra, which is the fastest, most wickedest vehicle,” he says with a grin. “I bought my Lamborgini two years ago, as my ‘I made it’ symbol.’ ” He adds, “All my cars have names.”
And all his friends have nicknames. “If you don’t get a nickname, you better wonder why,” he says.
I’m hoping for a nickname.
Now that he’s made it, Fieri’s future goals are simple: a new full-sleeve dragon tattoo, maintain his health and give back to empower others. To facilitate the latter, he started the Guy Fieri Foundation for Inspiration and Imagination.
“It sounds whimsical,” Fieri acknowledges, “but I couldn’t improve on the name. That’s what it’s about—inspiring kids to live their imagination. You don’t have to be stuck.”
As part of this empowerment, Fieri developed a 21st century version of his original pretzel cart, and an accompanying program to teach entrepreneurial and other skills to youth. He donated the first one to the grade school he attended.
Fieri and Make It Better are partnering to place at least one more in a local school or youth organization this spring. Watch for a video and the details to be announced soon. In the meantime though, please send us an email at [email protected] if your school or youth organization would like to be a recipient.
Fieri’s the real deal—a Festivus Maximus success story looking to do Maximus good for others. Make It Better will do all we can to help.