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Guy Fieri on his career and the upcoming finale of 'Tournament of Champions'

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS")

GUY FIERI: It's the most dreaded device in the culinary universe. It is the randomizer.

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Guy Fieri isn't just another celebrity chef. He's the commander, the big cheese, the top hot dog of an entertainment empire stretching across numerous TV shows.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS")

FIERI: Let's light things up.

RASCOE: One of them, "Tournament Of Champions," is wrapping up its fourth season next Sunday, April 9. While his breakout hit, "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," affectionately known as the Triple D, is finishing its 16th year on the Food Network. Guy Fieri joins us now. Welcome to the program.

FIERI: That's quite the intro, Ayesha, quite the intro.

RASCOE: We have to make sure we get it correct (laughter).

FIERI: Yeah. You had all of my stats.

RASCOE: "Tournament Of Champions" is a competitive cooking show. And this season, you added a twist - the randomizer wild card. Tell me about that.

FIERI: Well, if you understand what the randomizer is, it's five different spinning wheels that pick the protein, the vegetable, the type of food, a particular piece of equipment that must be employed and the time. Well, we thought, why don't we take it one step further? Everybody's kind of getting a little bit, you know, of an idea of what goes on. Let's try doing something different. We took the time out, and we said, OK, we'll give you a guaranteed amount of time, but you're going to get a wild-card ingredient or equipment that's going to be put into play. And it definitely sent everybody spinning this year.

RASCOE: What were some of the wildest, like, combinations that you got, and, like, were people able to, like, roll with it?

FIERI: If I were to pick five ingredients out of your cupboard and some piece of equipment and said, you've got to use this juicer. You've got to take these sardines, this peanut butter, and you need to make me an all-American dish fried in 30 minutes, you're watching Michelin-starred chefs; you're watching gurus of the industry; you're watching people that have done it all look at me with their eyes crossed and just want to go, where's my mom? Can I go home?

RASCOE: Yeah. Yeah. So you became famous thanks to "Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives," as we mentioned, the Triple D, And so let's listen to part of an episode when you tried a peanut butter burger in Logan, Utah.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DINERS, DRIVE-INS AND DIVES")

ELISEO GARCIA: Let's build our peanut butter burger. Put the cheese and the bacon.

FIERI: Don't overdo it on the peanut butter.

GARCIA: Put aioli, sriracha sauce. It has tomatoes and onions - hamburger. And there you go, sir.

RASCOE: How did it taste? Let's be real. How did it taste?

FIERI: It's not going to be my first choice...

RASCOE: OK (laughter).

FIERI: ...But not because it wasn't made properly or not because people don't love it. I'm not a huge peanut butter fan in that context.

RASCOE: Tell us how this show came about. Like, you go all over the country, and you go to all these places where there are, you know, unique local gems and try the food. Like, how did this come about?

FIERI: The interest of it is these mom-and-pop restaurants. And I was a mom-and-pop restaurant guy. You know, when I started out with my first restaurant when I was 26. And I know how difficult it is to get the attention, to get the recognition, to get the awareness, to get the support. And so we said, let's build a show that goes around and finds funky joints, places that are not on the beaten path, places that you might not stop at every time 'cause it's got a funny name, or the building's not the most picturesque, or it's not in the greatest part of town, and let's go highlight these places.

And when we first started it, people said, you know, what do you think? Yeah. It'll do for a couple of years. You know, we'll probably run out of places. I could do this for another hundred years because the mom-and-pop restaurants are really kind of like the the fabric, the tent poles of the community. I mean, everybody has their favorite burger joint, their dive joint, their getaway place. It's these mom-and-pop joints that are really kind of the - they're the heart and soul.

RASCOE: You always seem to love the food. Like, is there - did you ever eat anything that you were like, this don't really taste good? 'Cause whenever I eat something I don't like, you could see it on my face immediately, from the first bite.

FIERI: I'm not selling you a bag of beans. If I don't like it, you won't see it. We do so much research. By the time I'm going to a location, I've had such a chance to understand what this restaurant's about. Like, I'm doing research right now for another shoot we're getting ready to do. And I've got five researchers that work, and they've sent me the research binder, and the research on the restaurant's about 15 pages long. And there's so many things I can tell about a restaurant before I'm actually at the restaurant that I can know whether or not it's going to work.

RASCOE: Like, what are some of the key things?

FIERI: Well, how do they make chicken? Do they make their stocks, they make their salad dressings? Do they make their - they're a pizza place. Do they make the pizza dough? They're a bakery. Do they bake the buns? How did it come together? Who are they? How did they learn? - all this kind of stuff.

RASCOE: Over the years, the types of restaurants that you go to on the show have kind of broadened. Like, at the beginning it was a lot of barbecue joints and burger joints, and you still have those. But now it seems like there's more Asian fusion. You have Haitian food, Mediterranean. Like, was this a conscious shift to kind of make sure you were diversifying? 'Cause there's a lot of food in the U.S. representing all these different cultures.

FIERI: It wasn't necessarily conscious. I don't know that I do anything consciously. I don't know that I'm that smart. It's where the food's going, you know? It's like vegetarian. I was just at my son's high school doing some projects with them for their culinary program. And we were talking about food diversities - you know? - what's going on with gluten intolerance and in vegetarian- and veganism. And I'm like, it's what's happening. It's the truth. It's the future. I'm looking for places with character. I'm looking for places with story, and I'm looking for places that make great food. And whatever combination that is, bring it.

RASCOE: I want to ask you about what your relationship is to food, 'cause food can be so complicated. You know, a lot of the food we want to eat is unhealthy. And then people can judge you if you don't eat well and the way you eat and what you eat and how you eat. There is, like, all of this stuff.

FIERI: People shouldn't judge people. If you want to eat chips that were processed and made in Schenectady in a in a factory and shipped across the country on a rail - have at it, you know?

RASCOE: I eat Doritos, so that's what I have every Sunday morning for (laughter) breakfast.

FIERI: Doritos have their place in history, all right?

RASCOE: Yes. Yes.

FIERI: We make taco salad at my house, and Doritos make it on there. The thing is this. I'm your cook. I'm not your doctor, OK? I'm not here to tell you what you should and shouldn't do to yourself. I do think people should be more conscious. Personally, I am trying to be very conscious about what I eat, when I eat, how I eat. I eat way different now than I did 15 years ago. I've learned more. I've become more educated about food and about how food makes me feel. You know, we're starting to have such a better education as a society about what food does and doesn't do.

RASCOE: I just want to ask you really quickly - the Triple D, the "Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives" - it's become its own form of comfort viewing. So it's not just comfort food. It's comfort viewing. How does that feel for you?

FIERI: Well, I think, Ayesha, it's kind of like you. Look at the smile you have on your face talking to me and sharing all this information with the world. And I think it's in human nature that we have this innate feeling of responsibility to try to take care of one another and to love one another and support one another and honor one another. I'm a cook. I'm a dude from Northern California. I don't have any special talent other than just I love to laugh. You know, I love to have a good time. And something I'm doing and putting together is making people feel happy and giving people comfort. For me, that's the greatest gift.

RASCOE: That's Guy Fieri, host of a number of shows on the Food Network, most recently the fourth season of "Tournament Of Champions."

Thank you so much for coming on.

FIERI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.