April 27, 2017

"This is beyond food": Celebrity chef Guy Fieri chats about his new restaurant at Waterside District

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"This is beyond food": Celebrity chef Guy Fieri chats about his new restaurant at Waterside District

Guy Fieri and his television crew have cruised around these parts before, but this week the award-winning television host of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” wasn’t just zipping through town in a shiny red Camaro. He was setting down roots.

In addition to filming at hotspots such as Carib Shack in Virginia Beach and The Dirty Buffalo in Norfolk, Fieri on Thursday took a break to promote his new venture, Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse, an eatery in Norfolk’s new Waterside District.

The joint opens May 4 and will seat 90 indoor diners and 80 on the patio. It’s a sister restaurant to the flagship in Louisville, Ky., where the menu features bacon jalapeno pork rinds, a BBQ banh mi sandwich and andouille brisket meatloaf.

On Thursday, Fieri spent a few minutes in front of the restaurant’s flattop grill (“the most difficult position in this entire kitchen”) giving a burger tutorial (hint: go for “maximum sear”) that ended in a 6-inch tall, 80-20 burger layered with ’que, brisket, thin sliced pickles, cheeses and two big crisp onion rings. In between, he chatted about the business – and the allure of our region.

Q. You’ve said that opening a restaurant in Norfolk and becoming part of the city’s restaurant scene is “just plain awesome.” How so?

A. “You know what it is? I’m a big fan of our military. I’m a big fan of the soldiers. I’m a big fan of the commitment. I’m a big fan of the people. And every time I come down here, I’ve had eclectic food. You’re right next to the water, you’re bringing in people from all over the world. And on top of it all, you’ve got great weather.

“If you take all of that and put it together, what you end up getting is happy people. It’s happy to come down here.”

Q. You’re in the Barbecue Hall of Fame, and your Motley Que Crew team has a nice trophy or two. But opening a barbecue place here, where barbecue is a noun not a verb, and where vinegar-based Eastern Carolina ’que is king, is a bold move. So do tell what style of ’que will you be serving?

A. “Back in the day, Carolina was your vinegar based. You go into Texas, no sauce, dry rub, sauce on the side. Kansas City, you get that sweet sauce. ... What’s happening, people are starting to take an appreciation of barbecue from a lot of different places. ... So we do a variety. We do dry rub, we do Texas. We do brisket and pork. And we give you a variety of sauces. So we don’t set it to just one way.

“When you come to a city, an area like Norfolk, and all these folks, blue collar, military, overseas, a melting pot of people, and money is precious, you have to make sure we do our barbecue right.”

Q. You’re no stranger to the back of the house, having cooked and washed dishes, too. Once the restaurant is open, will you stop by now and again to cook, take a turn in the dish pit or just hang out?

A. “Well the dish pit’s my specialty. That’s where all chefs learn; that’s where we all started,” he joked, then added, “Oh, without question ... to keep the vibe and the energy with the team. This is what I said to the team today. ‘Everybody makes food. This is beyond food. This is an experience. People come in here. Money’s tight. The opportunity to go out ... is limited. So when they do that, we’ve got to make sure we deliver.’ ”

He tells them, “When I’m not here, you’re me.”

Q. How was the food you had this week while filming here?

A. “Look at all the restaurants you guys got. You guys are a restaurant empire. You have phenomenal food. Do you know how hard it is to pick six locations out of eight? It’s really tough. We’ve got a nice eclectic mix of restaurants. ... It’s going to make Norfolk and Virginia Beach look really good.”