Earlier this week, the New York Times published a scathing review of Guy Fieri’s new Times Square restaurant that has resonated through Flavor Town and beyond. The piece – penned by restaurant critic Pete Wells – took aim at everything from fishy-tasting marshmallows to a drink that “tastes like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde,” reserving some special scorn for Fieri’s own divisive personality: “When you cruise around the country for your show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, rasping out slangy odes to the unfancy places where Americans like to get down and greasy, do you really mean it?” Wells asked. “Or is it all an act?”
This morning, Fieri appeared on the Today show to respond to a few of the 34 biting questions Wells posed in his review. The Food Network star – who doubles as America’s 10th highest-paid chef, according to Today – opened by saying that Wells’s over-the-top negativity was uncalled for: “I just thought it was ridiculous,” he told Savannah Guthrie. “I mean, I’ve read reviews. There’s good and there’s bad in the restaurant business, but that, to me, went so overboard it really seemed like there was another agenda.”
So is Wells versus Fieri really a classic snobs-vs.-slobs fight? Not quite – as Guthrie pointed out, the Times’s public editor wrote a followup piece explaining that Wells had not “approached writing the review with a certain amount of glee.” After four visits, Wells simply found that the “vernacular food” served at Guy’s American Kitchen was sub par: “This is important American food that makes a lot of people very happy,” he said. “And since that’s the case, you ought to do it right.”
By and large, civilian diners who have eaten at Guy’s American Kitchen seem to agree with Wells’s assessment. 56 Yelp reviews give the restaurant an average of two and a half stars; on Urban Spoon, 28 users give it a measly 35 percent “like” rating. (OpenTable reviewers are kinder; there, Guy’s American Kitchen gets four out of five stars.)
Still, Fieri defended his latest eatery: “People see me as a TV guy – I’m really a chef. I’m really into restaurants,” he told Guthrie. “I’m doing the type of food America loves, and I’m doing it the right way.” Furthermore, he added, the restaurant is “not really expecting to” knock people’s socks off after having been open for just two months. Fieri ended the interview by suggesting once more that Wells must have had ulterior motives , saying, “It’s a great way to make a name for yourself: go after a celebrity chef that’s not a New Yorker that’s doing a big concept in his second month.”
Spicy! Watch Fieri’s full Today appearance below.