Here’s a sample passage from Wells’ open letter to Fieri:
“Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are? If you hadn’t come up with the recipe yourself, would you ever guess that the shiny tissue of breading that exudes grease onto the plate contains either pretzels or smoked almonds? Did you discern any buttermilk or brine in the white meat, or did you think it tasted like chewy air?
Why is one of the few things on your menu that can be eaten without fear or regret — a lunch-only sandwich of chopped soy-glazed pork with coleslaw and cucumbers — called a Roasted Pork Bahn Mi, when it resembles that item about as much as you resemble Emily Dickinson?”
Like I said: the review is brutal. It also triggered some memories for me.
Last fall, I reported a story for an alternative weekly in Minneapolis about Fieri and his former producer, David Page, titled “Diners, Drive-Ins and Disasters.”
At the time, Fieri and Page were embroiled in a blood feud after the Food Network removed Page as producer of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Page blamed Fieri for his firing, sued the network for breach of contract, and accused his former star of being a pervert, an anti-Semite and a homophobe in interviews. (Fieri, his management, and the current field production team did not return messages seeking comment or declined to be interviewed prior to publication; the Food Network hired a crisis PR agent to deny the story after publication. The Food Network settled the lawsuit with Page after including a court filing that depicted him as the boss from hell.)
Page was a talented television producer who took the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives brand seriously, having pitched the show himself to the Food Network. He prided himself on the show’s rigorous screening process for selecting restaurants to highlight. Which is why Page was upset when Fieri “got the network to order me to include full-blown [Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episodes] at his restaurants.”
(Page’s wife, Roberta Brackman, interjected that Fieri’s restaurants “were not the type that would’ve normally been selected” for the show.)
“This food better be real. It better be made by hand. It better be legit,” Page said to me at the time, explaining his attitude toward Diners selections. “I actually ate at one of his restaurants after we shot something there.”
Page’s complaint was that he ordered a Panini and asked for a slight change from what was on the menu. The waitress said it couldn’t be done.
“They said: Not really, these come pre-assembled with the grillmarks already burnt into the bread,” Page recalled. “Were the grillmarks already burnt into the bread? We would never put that into Diners!”
My story quoted David Page saying, “Television done properly is simply voyeurism.” A large part of Fieri’s television appeal comes from the perception that he’s showing us real food eaten by real Americans across the country. It’s quite ironic that his own restaurants don’t live up to The New York Times’ standards or his former producer’s for their show.
Story by Gregory Pratt