Celebrity chef Guy Fieri wielded a full-sized garden hoe to adjust the coals while roasting 25 whole chickens over an outdoor grill on wheels for a benefit dinner Saturday night in Santa Rosa, where he lives.
“She’s hot, no doubt about that,” Fieri said, as the spice-rubbed chicken turned on spits over oak and charcoal embers in the trailer grill the Food Network star chef made with a friend.
“The key is low and slow,” he said, as dinner guests, including his parents, sipped champagne in front of the Worth Our Weight Cafe near Montgomery Village.
About 30 minutes later, dozens of guests — who paid $150 apiece — filed into the cozy dining room at WOW, the heralded local culinary apprentice program founded and run by Evelyn Cheatham.
On the menu was the rotisserie-cooked huli huli chicken, a Hawaiian dish, along with thin-sliced pork tenderloin, Dungeness crab bisque and three desserts, including a dark chocolate-avocado mousse.
“This is a Ferrari mousse,” Fieri told the young wait-staff members in the kitchen, all participants in WOW’s program aimed at turning at-risk young adults into food industry professionals.
On the white linen-covered tables were bottles of red and white Hunt & Ryde wines, Fieri’s brand named after his two sons, Hunter and Ryder.
Collaborating with Fieri on fixing the meal were three other Food Network chefs — Damaris Phillips, Carl Ruiz and Aaron May — each mentoring one of three WOW graduates: Michael Rudolph, who cooks at Catelli’s in Geyserville; Robb Ledesma, the kitchen instructor at WOW; and Michael Hilstrom, who works at La Toque in Napa.
Camera and sound crews captured the event, which will be part of a Thanksgiving special on “Guy’s Grocery Games” broadcast in November. The show will also feature a competition between the three WOW alumni.
Fieri, wearing a blue chef’s coat with the logo of his company, Knuckle Sandwich, on the back, said the dinner was more than a fundraiser.
“I’m really doing it as a recognition for WOW and how great Evelyn is,” said Fieri, 49, who started his restaurant-owning career with the Santa Rosa-based chain, Johnny Garlic’s, in 1996.
“I wanted to show the program is generating real young chefs. You have to be great. You have to be really strong.”
Eight years ago, Fieri’s parents brought him to the WOW Cafe for brunch for the first time, and he made it the setting of one of his “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” shows in 2011.
The admiration is mutual.
“He’s a good friend; he’s very generous,” Cheatham said, greeting guests at the door to her cafe.
“Hi sweetheart,” she said as Fieri approached.
“We’re ready to serve,” he whispered.
“It’s all going fine,” Jim Ferry, the chef’s father, assured Cheatham.
Earlier, out by the barbecue trailer, Penny Ferry said the family had known for decades that her son — known for his tattoos, sunglasses and spiky blonde hair — would be a showman.
“When he was 2½, my husband and I knew something big was in store,” she said. “He’s an entertainer.”
Fieri, who grew up in Ferndale, changed his surname to match his family’s original Italian name.