IF YOU GO
Open daily for lunch, dinner and late-night dining, Guy Fieri’s Philly Kitchen & Bar offers a delicious blend of casual foods, including an extensive variety of burgers, wings, tacos and small plates for sharing. Additionally, the restaurant offers diverse list of wine and spirits, a creative collection of signature cocktails and over 16 craft beers. The restaurant is located on the casino floor at Harrah’s Philadelphia, 777 Harrah’s Blvd., Chester. For more information or hours, call 484-490-1715 or visit www.caesars.com/harrahs-philly.
When New York Times best-selling author, restauranteur and super chef Guy Fieri hosted a private engagement at his first area restaurant, Guy’s Philly Kitchen & Bar inside Harrah’s Philadelphia in Chester, last week, I was lucky enough to be among the guests. Not only had the opportunity presented itself to wine and dine with Guy Fieri and other guests at the party, but I was allotted about 10 minutes for a one-to-one interview with the king of Flavortown.
I had no idea what to expect from meeting the international Food Network sensation live and in-person, whether he’d be like his TV persona or totally different in real time, and I also had no idea what questions to ask that haven’t probably been posed to him hundreds of times before.
Guy’s Philly Kitchen & Bar opened up inside Harrah’s Philadelphia at the very end of 2016. Fieri said he had looked at plans and drawings and videos of the new restaurant throughout its construction but was anxious to visit and to see it in reality. The California resident planned the trip east to coincide with a side trip to the shore, where Fieri is set to bring Flavortown to his first-ever Guy’s Sammich Joint set to open at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City.
Guy Fieri is an amazing guy. He’d be instantly recognized no matter where he goes, with his signature bleached blond frosted tips, his garish gold metal jewelry and his trademark wraparound shades.
“I can’t even tell you how many times that I get pulled over by the police,” laughed the star of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” “And it’s not to give me a ticket, but to pose for a selfie.”
Obviously recognizable anywhere, Fieri stunned the guests at the local restaurant, who were munching on appetizers, sipping drinks of Fieri’s creation, into quietness when he unexpectedly entered, dressed in a shirt emblazoned with “Knuckle Sandwich” written on its back. At this point, it was only a few members of the media in the restaurant, along with Harrah’s staff. Fieri looked around his namesake restaurant, giving words, nods and looks of approval.
“This place is awesome,” he remarked, sounding totally sincere and pleased. “With the river and the racetrack in the background, a casino floor just a few feet away — the setting for this is just beautiful!”
He soaked in all of the surroundings, as he greeted and shook hands with the restaurant’s employees.
“I love all the Philly touches,” Fieri continued. “I am just so happy to finally be here!”
Fieri really did look genuinely thrilled to be there. He took at least 10 or more full minutes to meet with each member of the media who was present. While we waited for the international chef with the huge personality, we noshed on old bay wings, tuna tacos and trashcan nachos, which our server expertly shook out of a huge can without one falling off the large pile inside. We also sipped a variety of Guy’s signature cocktails, every one as interesting, yummy and original as the next. Personally, I preferred his margarita infused with jalapeños.
Since the media group was so small, we all gathered together in the same corner of the Philly Kitchen & Bar, which was great since we got to overhear so many personal interviews, but not so great since I overheard so many of the questions that I had lined up ready to ask, being used by someone else. So by the time it was my one-to-one with Fieri, I pretty much had to wing it!
Watching Fieri in person and his interactions with so many solved the mystery of why he rose to the top so quickly as a New York Times-bestselling author, the star of five TV shows, owner of restaurants around the world, featured on all kinds of merchandise and more. He has intense energy, a charismatic, down-to-earth personality that you’re instantly charmed by, plus he knows his food and cooking, and he’s both funny and fun!
Guy made every reporter feel as if she or he was the only one in the restaurant, asking them questions about themselves, seeming as if he genuinely cared if they had been there before or if they had tried his signature burgers before. He also gave everyone a copy of his cookbook, “Guy Fieri Family Food,” which he personally inscribed to each person at the party and posed for pictures galore! Here are some of the random things that I learned about Fieri through my interview:
On his “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” show, Fieri has been to places in every state, but four (Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana), which he hopes to visit soon. He saves his Hawaii visits for when his two sons get spring break because, of course, this is one of their family’s favorites. Fieri lights up like a Christmas tree every time that he brings up his two sons, Hunter and Rider, beaming as an obvious proud dad.
This is not his first time in the Philly area, he told me. On his last visit, he and his son rode a skateboard down the Parkway to the Art Museum to see the Rocky statue. His son was disappointed that the statue was not positioned at the top of the steps. He chuckled, saying what a huge Rocky fan that he is.
Someone asked if he had a cheesesteak yet during his visit, and where it was from.
“You people really take your cheesesteaks seriously,” he shot back laughing. “I know it’s your state bird!”
He said that on previous visits, he tried all the usual well-known hot spots — Pat’s, Geno’s, Jim’s — but on this visit he had his cheesesteak at the highly recommended Dalessandro’s Steaks in Roxborough. Everyone standing there shouted out suggestions, and Fieri furiously scribbled them down to try in the future. He said that Guy’s Philly Kitchen & Bar features an entrée that is a combination cheesesteak/burger, which will only be available there.
Fieri, a resident of California, said he is “very into” history and antiques so he really loves visiting the Philly area, which is a hub for them both, and has “amazingly intricate and unusual architecture.”
“We had a really cool driver who took us all around to see things,” Fieri said.
Fieri was staying in Philly for a few days and then heading up to Foxwoods in Connecticut and then to Boston to do a fundraiser for Best Buddies. Before coming to the Philly area, he had just wrapped up six weeks of filming another show, “Guy’s Big Project.”
Fieri said he was totally impressed with the Harrah’s restaurant and the casino at large.
“People don’t ever realize how lucky they are when they have a huge entertainment venue like this a few minutes away from their homes,” Fieri shared. “The Harrah’s people rolled out the red carpet for us to be in here. They really wanted to make this happen.”
Guy had his hand in its creation, from start to finish. He watched its step-by-step construction and talked to those building it through Skype. When asked how he could possibly oversee every single segment of his restaurant dynasty — from where the chairs are placed to what appetizers are on the menu — he laughed.
“I tell you, sleep is way overrated,” Fieri joked.
His visit to Harrah’s was also about meeting the staff of his restaurant, those who will represent his brand each and every day.
“The people here will carry my brand, cook my recipes and serve my food,” Fieri commented. “I want to meet them and see who they are and have them see that I am real, that I believe in this place. The restaurant here is a lot more than just cooking and serving food.”
Fieri accomplished this mission. He met each and every single person working in Harrah’s. Fieri told them stories about how he had aspired to be a chef from when he was a young boy and would read his mother’s Betty Crocker cookbook, cover to cover. He let employees raise their hands, ask him or tell him anything that they wished, what they do or don’t like about the place and the food, what could be improved or any comment whatsoever.
“Don’t be shy,” Fieri told them after they all gathered together that night. “Ask me anything you wish. Tomorrow you are going to tell your friends that you met me. They are going to say, ‘Show me a picture’ and I don’t want you not to have one on your phone, so when I am done answering all of your questions, I will take an individual photo with anyone who wants one.”
Fieri was true to his word. Not only did he take time to meet and pose for photos with each and every employee there, but he asked them their name and wanted to know about them. I overheard him telling one young female to pursue her dream of going to culinary school and encouraged her to build up experience in his restaurant and then go after her dream of owning her own place.
During my interview, I asked Guy all kinds of questions, like how he stays fit with a life centered around food. He credits keeping his weight in check by following the advice of his mother “to eat everything in moderation.” Plus, he said that he “exercises, exercises and exercises” because he does love to eat, he said, and must balance his food intake with consistent movement. He also is an avid hiker.
Believe it or not, Fieri said he oversees the operation of every single one of his restaurants. I asked him if he’d be back at Harrah’s in Chester anytime soon and he said, although he loved the area and would like to come back soon, he most likely won’t because he’s so busy and his schedule is so tight.
He laughed when I asked him if he ever switched up his trademark spiky hair style to anything more tame, less ’80-ish, more conservative. He laughed, thinking about the answer he was ready to give. He said that he loves to “freak his wife out” every now and then by parting it on the side and combing it down.
“That only lasts about five seconds,” he laughed, “because that’s how long it takes before it pops right back up in the same style again.”
When I asked Fieri how he planned to spend Father’s Day, he said that when he gets back home to California this week, that he will load up his family and hit the road in a ginormous RV, one so huge that he needed to get a commercial truck driver license (CDL) to drive it. His RV adventures on the road will be Fieri’s next show.
“Everything that I do turns into a show, haven’t you noticed?” he laughed.
Fieri, who is known for his fondness for fancy cars, said the best one that he owns, his all-time favorite, is a yellow 1971 Super Sport Chevelle.
I couldn’t let the interview end without asking Fieri how in the heck he stays so grounded, so down-to-earth with all he has going on and all that he has accomplished. I was honestly impressed with how genuinely nice the man seemed. He was highly professional, yet warm, likeable and friendly. Fieri explained that it’s not as difficult as it may seem.
“I am just a chef who likes to cook and enjoys food,” Fieri said modestly. “I’m really just a blue collar guy at heart.”
He explained that he was happily working as a chef who owned a few restaurants just a few short years ago, never aiming to turn into a TV personality with fans around the world, five highly rated shows, a No. 1 bestselling cook book, an official merchandise line and who now owns eight restaurants in California, restaurants coast-to-coast, as well as multiple restaurants around the world, in South Africa, Mexico, Dubai and other locations.
“I could always cook, that was my song,” Fieri stated simply. “Everything beyond that just sort of happened!”
When the interviews were over, Harrah’s security staff opened the restaurant’s glass doors to allow the invited guests, who had been lined up outside on the casino floor, to come into the restaurant. Some went straight over for a meet-and-greet with the Food Network star. I am not sure how or who got invited, only that many came with cookbook in hand to get signed.
Fieri repeated his generous behavior with the employees to all of the entire restaurant-full of guests. As the guests sipped on his signature drinks and noshed on appetizers, he talked on a microphone, telling the crowd about himself and answering all questions. He posed for photos, told some jokes and humorous stories and listened closely to suggestions and comments.
“This is your night. I am here for you,” Fieri told those in the dining room.
After everyone had time to enjoy the appetizers, special dinner menus were presented. Featuring Fieri’s trademark culinary style, the menu offers robust, bold-flavored dishes and signature, over-the-top culinary creations such as the award-winning, bacon mac-and-cheese burger, chicken fried chicken, cedar salmon with jalapeño apricot glaze and the ultimate cobb salad. The restaurant also features unique versions of regional favorites such as the aforementioned Philadelphia cheesesteak burger and a smoked cheesesteak and roast pork and broccoli rabe sandwich with Italian sweet peppers.
Honestly, the food was incredible. Our food and drink were aptly and cheerfully served by Matt Kobielnik, of Folsom, Kristine Sullivan, of Prospect Park, Andrew Bollinger, of Drexel Hill and Dayna Tait, of Blackwood, N.J. When Fieri said the attitude of the staff was paramount, I understood where he was coming from. The upbeat and extremely friendly attitude of our servers set the tone for a very enjoyable evening.
The portions were ginormous, and every single thing we tried was delightfully delicious. Fieri said everything on the menu was created and chosen by him. Truthfully, I would definitely go back. In fact, I look forward to returning.
Before I was done my interview time slot with Fieri, I asked him what he thought of the Philly area after his visit here.
“I’ve been here before, and I have to say that, above all, I really enjoy the people. Right before I came here, I was talking to Sylvester Stallone and I told him I was heading to Philly. He gave me this advice,” related Fieri. “He said the people of Philly will love you if you are legit and real. Don’t try to present yourself as something you’re not. They don’t like phoney.”
Fieri said he found Stallone’s advice to be right on.
“Philly people are all about family and friends and their community. There’s no fakeness, no pretenses, no phoniness about them. It’s a great place here,” Fieri remarked.
“You know what?” Fieri continued in his trademark “regular guy” voice, leaning in, as if to share a secret. “I am so proud to put my name on this restaurant here. The staff is first-rate, the food is exceptional and everything is just as it should be to make it successful. I am going to leave here tonight with a really good feeling.”
IF YOU GO: Open daily for lunch, dinner and late-night dining, Guy Fieri’s Philly Kitchen & Bar offers a delicious blend of casual foods, including an extensive variety of burgers, wings, tacos and small plates for sharing. Additionally, the restaurant offers diverse list of wine and spirits, a creative collection of signature cocktails and over 16 craft beers. The restaurant is located on the casino floor at Harrah’s Philadelphia, 777 Harrah’s Blvd., Chester. For more information or hours, call 484-490-1715 or visit www.caesars.com/harrahs-philly.