Summer nights are for “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” reruns. Although I have always loved this show, it is even more compelling to me right now. As a self-proclaimed foodie who has lived in the same town for years and is working at home during the summer, the show is a friendly reminder that good food can be made by anyone — even an amateur like myself — and found anywhere, not just in far-off places. It can be jealousy-inducing to witness friends posting pictures of delicious and extravagant dishes while on vacation or studying abroad. But venturing far is not the only way to engage in the culinary arts, as its episodes celebrate local cuisine and the self-trained chef.
Although I am a fan, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” is arguably the most controversial television show on the Food Network. The show’s host Guy Fieri begins each episode in a red Chevy Camaro with the same cheesy line — “It’s Guy Fieri, and we’re rollin’ out” — as he visits homey restaurants across the U.S., devouring fried pierogies, piled-high corned beef sandwiches and similar comfort foods.
Venerable celebrity chefs throw out the name “Guy Fieri” as an example of TV personalities lowering the standards of what should be considered TV-worthy cuisine. Critics write scathing editorials on the typically calorie-laden foods celebrated on the show. Food content aside, Guy Fieri’s spiked hair, signature sunglasses and flamed shirts, as well as his overused catch phrases — comparing everything to his metaphorical “Flavortown” — have made him an object of memes and ridicule in the fine diner’s eye. But these very quirks are what draw me into the kitchens of everyday chefs who enjoy satisfying cuisine.
In episodes like “Old School Joints,” Fieri stops by a cozy roadside diner tucked away in Delta, Wis. It’s the kind of town you might end up in if you ran out of gas on a road trip, but locals will claim Delta Diner serves the best jalapeno pancakes you’ve ever had. The diner was started by a married couple who wanted to bring their vision of childhood cooking with a twist to life. I’m reminded of my own experimenting in the kitchen, which is usually questionable. However, their creative signature dish is a hit. As Fieri might say, it’s extra Flavortown.
On another episode titled “Knockout Burger Joints,” Fieri ventures into a burger joint in Boston. The camera zooms in on the owner who bravely quit his 9-to-5 job to pursue his passion. He flips patties, fries bacon and stirs creamy cheese sauce into a simmering pot of macaroni shells. My mouth waters as he adds hot sauce for an extra kick. He offers Fieri a taste of the final product and watches intently as the TV host takes a generous bite.
Fieri declares the meal “pretty rockin’” and “gangster.” These are hardly exaggerations — the Mac Attack burger is a favorite of the regulars.
With his Chevy Camaro and silly sayings, Fieri visits locations of diverse flavors and cultures: Chicago for “shut the front door” deep dish pizza, Philadelphia for “real deal” hoagies and Rhode Island for “lights-out delicious” clam chowder. I can go on a culinary adventure from the comfort of my couch and learn about culinary delights that feel more meaningful and close to home than solely artistic. If Fieri stopped by my place, I would present to him borscht, a Russian beet soup that has transcended generations in my family.
Following alongside Fieri, I savor the stories mixed into the food. I love to learn about a pair of friends who left the corporate life to start a food truck or a mom-and-pop diner that has been successfully operated by a single family for decades.
Critics claim the show does not produce any revelations on good cuisine, unless you want to discover 100 different ways to give a compliment or find out the secret ingredient in an old family recipe. To me, that’s the hidden charm. The show breaks down hierarchies in the culinary world, often pushed by “elite” cooking competitions, like “Chopped,” which pit executive chefs against each other. Rather, Fieri highlights that anyone can learn to cook and create delicious recipes — from hobbyists to college students like myself perfecting culinary skills over the summer.
Furthermore, each story Fieri serves up forms the foundation of Flavortown, an imaginative town Fieri invented as the premier spot for food. Flavortown is a place where sophisticated food culture is altered, where quality food can be cooked equally by Cordon Bleu-educated chefs and the average Joe, who despite no formal training has a unique perspective on how to make customers’ mouths water. Flavortown is a place that proves local establishments are accessible culinary destinations that should — and can — be praised and visited as much as Michelin-starred restaurants. Flavortown is a place that celebrates cuisine — from hamburgers to pancakes to potato soups — that feels relatable, rather than unaffordable and too pretty to eat.
“Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” is not about “all that’s bad in American cuisine.” Viewers such as myself tune in to see a light shined on establishments that have often been hidden from the elitist world of food. The comfort food and Fieri’s eclectic storytelling have kept the show on air for over 10 years and are the reasons why taking a drive into Flavortown is an enjoyable way to explore cuisine.
Pauline Povitsky is a Life Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.