Guy Fieri gushes, at the opening of our conversation on an early afternoon in July. He is preparing to take off with his family on a summer vacation and trying to corral his new Chihuahua, Smokey, which he received as a birthday surprise, but bubbling with the anticipation of discussing his latest Florida enterprise. “I always say, ‘God, I want to get a place there,’ and people tell me, ‘Wait till the summer and see if you say that.’ I show up in July, and I still love it. I love it.”
If there were any question of that before, there isn’t now. And as if to prove it, the globe-trotting prolific chef, restaurateur, TV host and author has planted stakes here, at Aventura Mall, where he has just opened an outpost of his super-popular Chicken Guy! restaurant (the first Florida location is located in Disney Springs). Unlike most Food Network personalities and world-renowned culinary figures, Fieri has eschewed multimillion-dollar interior design schemes and fancified menu items presented to look like museum pieces in favor of purely delicious, good old-fashioned fried chicken. Why? “I have been everywhere there is to go—I have been there, done that,” he says. “And I gotta be honest—no matter where I go, nobody can say they don’t love fried chicken.” No argument there, but it isn’t as if there are no fried chicken restaurants in Miami already, I point out. “It’s the uniqueness of the fried chicken—the crunch, the texture, the salt,” he responds. “There’s a lot of bad fried chicken out there, a lot of misrepresentation. So for me, I thought, I’m going to take all I learned, and all I know, and put it together in a fried chicken joint with a lot of complementary sauces. It took two years to put together, and a lot of people, energy, attitudes and perspectives. I’m not trying to be everything to everybody,” he continues. “It’s a fried chicken joint. But the batter is made using a specific method, and the chicken is fried in a very proprietary way. It’s fried hotter and faster and with less oil; it’s nice and crispy and tender and not greasy. And the sauces are all made from scratch.”
Arriving at a final selection of flavors for those dipping sauces was no easy feat. Fieri says he “dreamed up every sauce I possibly could”—35 in total—and started holding tastings and having his testers evaluate each one anonymously by filling out forms. He started whittling down the list by eliminating those that he says “didn’t make the cut,” until he arrived at 25. At that point, his business partner, Robert Earl of Planet Hollywood fame, called him and asked, “Which 10 are we going with?” To which Fieri replied, “We’ve pared it to 25.” He laughs at the recollection and says, “He said, ‘No way,’ and I said, ‘Absolutely!’ I won. We went with 22. Here’s the deal: When you come for an experience and you’re only offered ranch or barbecue, maybe you’ll feel you don’t want chicken today. But when you have 22 choices…that’s how I eat! Look around the Fieri house. We go from Jamaican to Mexican to Indian. So there’s a sauce for every mood.” And in case they can’t make up their minds, patrons can sample sauces—among them, Wasabi Honey, Cumin Lime Mojo, Habanero Hot Sauce, Peri Peri, Bleu Cheese and Bourbon Brown Sugar BBQ—prior to ordering.
As for the name and mascot of the concept Chicken Guy!, Fieri gets just as excited about this as he does discussing the menu. “You want to hear how Chicken Guy! came about?” he asks, although both of us know it’s not an actual question. “When I was a kid in shop class, we’d have the radio on, and at noon there was an old vaudeville radio program called The Adventures of Chicken Man,” he says, laughing again. “It was this haphazard chicken character, a superhero or a detective, and they’d say, ‘Will chicken man survive?’ I loved it. When Robert and I started talking about doing this, I said if we’re going to call it Chicken Guy it can’t be my fat head as the logo—we need a character. So we created the chicken with the sunglasses and the spiky comb.”
And in case you don’t stuff yourself to the gills and still have a hankering for a little something sweet after all that fried deliciousness, Fieri has dreamed up more decadence in the form of dessert. “When you were a kid, did your parents let you eat sugary cereals for breakfast?” he asks. “Because mine didn’t. I only got them if I slept at a friend’s. But remember how you’d eat the cereal and then the milk at the end would have all the flavor in it? Well we decided to make our desserts to taste like that.” He then goes on to cite as an example the Apple Cinnamon Cereal frozen treat, a concoction of vanilla soft serve (made by soaking the cereal in a heavy cream base), Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Apple Jacks cereal with fresh whipped cream. “Aww…it’s sooo good,” he enthuses.
Like everything else associated with Fieri, the Chicken Guy concept is all about deliciousness at the heart of a fun experience. The good news for South Floridians is that they no longer have to hop a plane to California, New York or Vegas to sample the food at one of his restaurants. After 23 years in the business, he’s opened a place right in our backyard. And if he gets his way, one of these days soon it may be his backyard as well.