Guy Fieri talks “Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off” … and tacos

To Guy Fieri, Rachael Ray is more than a longtime Food Network colleague and fellow food TV superstar — she’s family. Family he is looking forward to beating the (pots and) pans off when the duo’s new six-week series Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off begins on January 1.

“This is more like a sibling rivalry,” Fieri laughs, “because here you have two people — although we’re not from the same family — there are tremendous amounts of the same thoughts on life. Love people. Love competition. Love food. Love pushing the limits.”

Rachael vs. Guy pits Fieri against Ray to see who can craft the ultimate celebrity chef from a pool of famous food fanatics including Joey Fatone, Coolio, Cheech Marin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Taylor Dayne and Olympic champ Summer Sanders. The winning celebrity earns $50,000 for the charity of their choice.

And the winning mentor gets a boatload of good-natured bragging rights.

“I’ve known Rachael for years, but you don’t get to know somebody until you’re ‘on the ship’ with them, sailing the sea,” says Fieri. “Until you’re doing 12- or14-hour days together, you don’t really know exactly what you’re getting. So here’s Rachael and she’s picking her people and I’m picking my people and we’re trying to give them advice — just our whole style! It was crazy! I remember calling my mom from the show and going, ‘Are we related to her at all? This is too coincidental!’”

Ultimately, though, the two were united in the quest to make the best show they possibly could. Because once they agreed to take part, the onus for the show’s success fell squarely on their collective shoulders.

“It was hysterical. It was absolutely hysterical and it was very positive energy,” Fieri says of the result. “There’s drama, of course. And there’s nail-biting situations — true nail-biting situations, not conjured up, not ‘we run the clock extra’ or ‘we build in some other storyline’ for the drama. We stopped everything else we were doing in our lives to build this show.

“But it’s still a rivalry. It’s a family battle! It’s like going head to head with my other side: Is she the girl Guy Fieri or am I the guy Rachael Ray ? I’ll let you guys deal with that [laughs].

Channel Guide Magazine: How did the show come to be — and when were you asked to participate?
Guy Fieri: They came to us with the ‘would you be interested?’ and we ran with it from there. Jane Street Productions are the ones that did the show for Food Network and the awesome thing about them was that they gave Rachael and I so much creative freedom about how we wanted to do things and where we wanted to do them. It was really a true collaboration. Nothing but props for Jane Street — these folks were outstanding.

And I’ll tell you, Rachael was skeptical and had her baseline expectations as clear as I had mine: ‘It’s got to be real. I don’t want cheese.’ Brian Landau who was our VP at Food Network put this together, and I’ve done a lot of projects with Brian and he’s awesome. He gave me the straight up and said, “Dude, this is what you and Rachael make it.”

So Rachael and I have a tremendous amount invested in terms of time and energy and love — but we both really believe in it. I mean really believe in it. I don’t come to New York in the holidays, in December. December is my month off. Home with the kids, couple weeks left of school, parent-teacher conferences, all that kind of stuff. But I’m out here in New York in December for six episodes on Rachael’s show, talking about this show! And not because I need another project. It’s because this show warrants it. Because it’s that cool.

If it does have as good as I think it does, we’ll back in the studio doing another round of this and it’ll get even more out of control.

CGM: Did you know whom the celebrities were going to be before you arrived on set?
GF: We had some idea. We looked at some profiles of people and Food Network was very, very respectful of what we wanted the show to be like. And one of my things, which was also one of Rachael’s — which I didn’t know until after we talked about it — was that they gotta know how to cook. Otherwise it’s not going to have the bite to it; what it has the potential for.

And everybody that we saw come through there, I take my hat off to them. Neat people. In it to win it. Going after it. Going after the charity money.

You take someone like Coolio — famous! Probably one of the most famous rappers we’ll ever know. You take this dude and put him on the Food Network and and say come out here and cook and compete against Joey Fatone? When you see that and you see them put their guard down and get in there and do this for charity, you can’t help but be in awe.

CGM: Did you guys have some say in what the challenges entailed?
GF: We jockeyed every possible angle you could imagine! … it was like backroom poker before the show. [But] you do not try to hide an ace up your sleeve with Rachael Ray! Because whatever benefit that ace would give you in the game, you would pay the ultimate price when she caught you with the ace in the end. So it’s cards on the table, baby! Cards on the table!

The competitors really can cook. That’s the piece that I think makes this so different. Not everybody who goes onto a reality show knows the context. Not everybody who goes onto a lifestyle reality show is good at life. Not everybody who goes on the apprentice is a real good apprentice. The neat thing about the folks this show is they could cook.

And we just didn’t want to rehash what has already been done. Food — that’s my center. And food is the great common denominator of all people. The great thing was that when we got done shooting the show and everyone is sitting around and Summer Sanders would lean over and say, “Now when you’re making a ragout …” Summer Sanders! Olympian! And we’re talking about ragout!

And it’s so neat because when you really think about it, we’re all just food. It’s the fuel and it’s the passion and it’s the energy and to hear that with these people and to find that it’s all our common denominators. Cheech Marin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Taylor Dayne — sitting there having a conversation about artichokes.

CGM: You’ve had some famous pals on your shows — Matthew Mcconaughey on Guy’s Big Bite, Kid Rock on this week’s Triple D. If Rachael vs. Guy gets another season, that’s the competition I’d like to see. You and your buds, Rachael and hers, and have at it.
GF: [Laughs] All my friends called in last night [during the Kid Rock episode]! Sammy Hagar called me last night — he does not understand that it’s 1 o’clock in the morning in New York. He still thinks I’m in Northern California — we live about a half-hour away from each other — and it’s 10 o’clock. And he says, “I WANNA GO TO HAWAII!” Sammy’s a great cook. Sammy’s an excellent cook. But Rachael’s roll of celebrity friends is far exceeding mine.

CGM: So the biggest take away from Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off is …
GF: Sometimes you get involved in situations with certain people and they turn into a different style and get so competitive that you lose sight of what we’re doing. These celebrities were there to learn how to cook better, they were there to make a show, they were there to raise money for their charity. And the neat thing was that Rachael and I were both very aware of what this whole thing was all about. And that’s what kept it real.

You take someone like Coolio — famous! Probably one of the most famous rappers we’ll ever know. You take this dude and put him on the Food Network and say come out here and cook and compete against Joey Fatone? When you see that and you see them put their guard down and get in there and do this for charity, you can’t help but be in awe.

Rachael and I will  never forget those relationships and those friendships we formed, and we will help them with their charities and the events that have going on. And if they need items or if I’m in Vegas and Coolio is doing a gig — Joey Fatone and I are good buddies — they’ve always got us.

CGM: I’m supposed to ask you what you had for dinner last night, but I’d rather ask you what I should have for dinner tonight ….
GF: I’ll give you what you should have tonight — you should have tacos.

Here’s what you do. You get some good 80-20 ground beef. We call these “old-school tacos.” We’re taco fans, so I ask my kids all the time, I say, “What kind of tacos you want? Steak tacos or old-school tacos?

So, 80-20 ground beef. Not chili grind, but if you can talk to your butcher and get him to take a piece of chuck and grind it right there for ya in a little coarser grind. Cook that up with some peppers, some onions, some garlic and I like to add a little enchilada sauce. If you have some guajillo peppers, and you can steep them and grind them up and make your own enchilada sauce, that’s fantastic. Get that in there with a little bit of your favorite salsa or tomato sauce and cook it down a little until it kind of cooks apart. That’s where the old school taquerias, they would cook that ground beef down until it’s almost like a Coney Island chili sauce.

But here’s the kicker. Here’s what’s going to wow your family — and don’t tell them what the surprise is.

Take your corn tortillas and cook ’em in the pan with a little bit of oil, just to kind of crisp them up. You still want them to be pliable. And just when they start to turn a little brown, sprinkle them with a little grated — not shredded — grated, so it’s dusty, parmesan cheese. That cheese will just lightly melt into that hot tortilla — and then serve up those tacos. And you wait to see the look on their faces. It’s something I learned a long time ago — the first restaurant I ever worked at was a Mexican restaurant and that’s what they did to kind of stand out a little.

Shredded iceberg or shredded romaine. The nicest tomatoes you can find. The nicest. Shredded cilantro. Minced — minced — yellow or red onion. A little avocado. And a little crème freche. Or queso fresco. Or sour cream.

Get those parmesan-dusted tortillas. Cheese down first. Then throw the meat down on top of that cheese so the cheese melts a little bit. Then throw in the tomatoes and the lettuce so that way the tomatoes warm up and seep into the rest.

Ohhhh, I’m tellin’ ya!

Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off airs Sundays at 9pm ET on Food Network beginning January 1.

Photo credits: Food Network/Jason DeCrow

About Lori Acken

Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.
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