Guy Fieri doesn't exactly fit the stereotype of the Wine Country chef.
The 38-year-old Santa Rosa restaurateur has a penchant for chunky jewelry, shorts and bowling shirts as well as spicy food with attitude. It's not quite the image of the Wine Country chef shopping at the farmers market for such seasonal ingredients as fava beans and fiddlehead ferns.
But Fieri blasted to fame Sunday night on reality TV series "The Next Food Network Star," beating seven other cooks from around the country to earn his own six-episode cooking show, which premieres June 25.
Despite Fieri's unorthodox approach, well-known Santa Rosa chef John Ash noted Fieri does fit another important demographic - that of the 18- to 35-year-old male, which is the audience the Food Network is targeting.
"He's got this energy and aura about him, and I think it appeals to the under-40 male demographic," said Ash. "He's the poster child for it ... he's energetic and kind of alternative."
But Ash, who helped launch the Food Network in 1997 with two cooking shows of his own, said he was not very impressed with the food content of "The Next Food Network Star."
"None of the food on that show was stuff that I felt I had to make - it didn't sound that delicious," he said. "It's a reality show and a competition, and food just happened to be the vehicle ... I think it talks less to a renaissance in food than it does to our competitive natures."
Fieri's success on the show - he was chosen the winner by viewers voting online and by text messages last week - didn't surprise his colleagues in Wine Country.
"From Day 1, he stood out as the clear winner," said Jeffrey Madura, executive chef of John Ash & Co. restaurant in Santa Rosa. "If I was a betting person, I would have bet the house that Guy was going to win."
Throughout the competition, Fieri exuded charisma and consistently proved he could perform under pressure.
"It was a combination of his personality and his cooking skills," Madura said. "I don't think anybody else had that presence, and they didn't have the skills that he did ... he had the whole package."
Of course, it didn't hurt that in the show's finale, Fieri was pitted against Reggie Southerland, a baker from Los Angeles who was earlier voted most likely to get knocked out of the competition.
Even when he wasn't doing well - Fieri was faulted on the show for using too much restaurant lingo - the fun-loving native of Ferndale seemed to possess a Teflon-like immunity to criticism.
Fieri owns Tex Wasabi's Rock-N-Roll Sushi BBQ and Russell Ramsey's Chop House in Santa Rosa and Johnny Garlic's California Pasta Grill in Windsor. He plans to to open a restaurant in Sacramento around the time his cooking show debuts.
As the Food Network continues to stoke America's fascination with cooking, it has spawned a raft of reality cooking shows on other networks and a sprinkling of criticism.
Chef-owner Amey Shaw of L'Assiette in Windsor said she skipped "The Next Food Network Star" but regularly tunes into Bravo's "Top Chef," which features 12 aspiring chefs who head to San Francisco for their shot at culinary stardom. Former Santa Rosa resident Tiffani Faison is one of the contenders on the show.
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