Editor’s note: Every Friday, HLN brings you the "My First Time" series, which explores the first time your favorite celebrities did something significant or memorable (so get your mind out of the gutter!).
In this installment, chef, restaurateur and TV personality Guy Fieri -- whose new show, “Guy’s Grocery Games,” airs at 8 p.m. ET on Sundays on the Food Network -- dishes on judging his first food competition and professes his love of grocery shopping.
HLN: When was the first time you judged a cooking competition?
Guy Fieri: It’s always been a funny thing for me because I get too sympathetic. I look at the challenge and the people and take into account too much. I’m a little bit of a softie. Not that I can't tell someone I don't like it! I did a cooking competition at Los Angeles county fair, and one of the items available was scallops. This was at 7:30 in the morning, and all the chefs wanted to do a wow appetizer, so almost all of them grabbed the scallops. So I’m eating scallops every way imaginable. I had a cup of coffee and some raw scallops. After I got over that, the dishes were very good.
HLN: You’ve done a number of culinary competitions. What stands out to you about your new show, “Guy’s Grocery Games?”
Fieri: There’s no show like it. There are all these components we love about cooking shows -- surprises, countdowns, eliminations -- but we’re in a real grocery store. We have chefs shopping for their ingredients and working within the parameters of a challenge, like shopping a particular aisle, staying within a certain amount of money or time. And then they actually cook inside the grocery store. Sometimes, they’re not allowed to cook with more than five ingredients. This is the best of all the shows you love, plus some. We can all relate to it.
HLN: What’s your advice for shopping efficiently at a grocery store? Do you “shop the perimeter” or do you have other tips?
Fieri: I am not the dude you want to shop with. It drives my wife nuts when I go to the grocery store. As soon as I start walking the aisles, I see wanton wrappers -- I need those! Or look at the fresh sourdough bread -- I have to get that! I love grocery shopping! I’m not good with essentials, though. There are times when I go to the store with my son Hunter and he’s as bad as I am. We walk in for two items and walk out with a $250 bill! We’ll be in my Corvette, a two-seater, and Hunter’s got all the bags in his lap. So the thing I would say is go with a list and don’t go hungry. You’ll buy more than you need.
HLN: What secrets to making a meal quickly have you learned from the contestants?
Fieri: One of the biggest things that troubles people is the mise-en-place. Call in the brigade -- spouse, kids who are old enough -- and get them to help break everything down, put it away, wash it. That way, you get to the source faster. The other piece is planning. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you’re making chicken enchiladas, get an already-roasted chicken from the store instead of roasting your own. So ask for a little help, do some planning and keep the ideas realistic to your timeline.
HLN: You’re big on having kids help out in the kitchen. What’s your advice for shopping for kids?
Fieri: The biggest thing is not to make a big deal about what you’re feeding your kids. Unless you’re making super spicy Thai food, there is none of this “We’re making this, but we made this plate of mac ‘n’ cheese for you.” No snacks at 4 p.m. -- keep them hungry. And realistic portions -- take their body weight, take your body weight, and give them proportionally less on their plate. Kids are smart, they tune in; when they see we’re pulling one over on them, they get it.
HLN: What’s a good Halloween recipe you could share with us?
Fieri: I go for the comfort factor. When you’re trick-or-treating, weather’s not the greatest. Nothing makes me happier than a little jambalaya. It’s spicy and hearty, it has veggies, rice, pork, sausage, chicken, etc. Put it in a Styrofoam cup with a spoon when you’re walking around with your kids. Because of its density and richness, it will stay warm. If not, it’s kind of like pizza -- it’s good even when it’s cold.
HLN: You’ve done cooking shows, written books, opened restaurants. What do you love the most about food?
Fieri: I love making people happy. There’s nothing that makes me happier than making something at dinner, putting it in front of my family, having them try it and hearing their responses. I make so many different styles of food and in different situations. I love camping and making really great food around a campfire. Just making good food and making people happy.
HLN: Speaking of restaurants, how’s American Kitchen & Bar doing? What have you learned after that not-so-flattering New York Times review?
Fieri: It’s doing fantastic. I’m actually sitting at the restaurant right now. We change and grow and develop in the restaurant business all the time. You don’t open your door and get it right the first time. We have a great team here. We’re getting ready for a big fall: We’re hosting big events for the Super Bowl and the New York City Food & Wine festival.