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Learning from His Father

Chef Guy Fieri talks about why his father is his greatest inspiration.

By Guy Fieri, Food Network

As appeared in

Who’s my greatest inspiration?

No, it’s not a chef, though I’ve met some awesome cooks road-tripping across the country…you know, the ones at mom-and-pop joints who serve up crazy-good food. And sure, there are football players and movie stars who make me think, Wow, he’s a cool guy.

But real greatness? That I find closer to home. My biggest inspiration, the best role model this Guy could ever hope for…it’s my dad, hands down.

I grew up in Ferndale, California, a little dairy town north of San Francisco with a historic Main Street, and quaint Victorian houses. We moved there in the early seventies—the last stop in a meandering migration from Columbus, Ohio.

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My parents might’ve looked like hippies with their long hair and green van, but they were old school when it came to values. They were big on hard work, responsibility, persistence. And they believed that if you’d been given a dream, it was worth exploring.

They did it themselves, opening a country-western clothing store in town, even though neither of them had experience in retail. Mom had been a teacher and dental assistant. Dad had served in the submarine corps.

I loved hearing stories from his Navy days and colorful episodes from his own growing-up years in coal-mining country.

“Don’t let the specifics get in the way of a good story,” Dad likes to say.

My parents bought an old house in Ferndale. Dad fixed it up, learning as he went. He put my sister and me to work too. Dad loves to tell the story of the time we built a deck. He’d tacked all the boards in place. They just needed to be nailed off.

That was my job. I had my hammer and I was pounding big 16-penny nails into the wood. Sure, I was only six, but Dad had taught me well—those nails were going in straight!

Some family friends came over for dinner and saw me. “What the heck is Guy doing?” they asked my dad.

“Finishing off the deck.”

“But, Jim, there’s like a thousand nails he’s got to put in!”

Dad shrugged. “He’s got all weekend.”

It wasn’t child labor. It was just how we did things. We kept cows, pigs and horses, and my sister and I had chores. Mine were bringing in firewood and feeding the animals every night. There was a huge trough for watering the horses. It took forever to fill.

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One night I got tired of waiting and turned off the water before the trough was totally full. I went back inside and crawled into bed. Guess who woke me? Dad. “You get out there and water those horses.”

“I did,” I said weakly.

“You know what I mean, son. Go finish what you started.” I went. There was no skating by. Do a job once and do it right. Dad had no tolerance for laziness.

That included mental laziness. He always urged us to think for ourselves. “I don’t know” was not an acceptable answer. I remember one day we were driving to the dump. I was staring at a grassy field, zoning out. “What are you thinking?” Dad asked.

“I don’t know. Nothing, I guess.”

“That’s ridiculous. There’s no way you’re not thinking something.”

“Well, I was wondering, what happens to that grass? It grows and grows. Where does it all go?” What followed was a discussion about dairy farming and how much grass cattle go through.

To this day, I’m on a quest for knowledge. You can learn so much just by asking people about what they do.

Don’t be afraid to ask, that’s what Dad taught me. Don’t be afraid to try either, especially when it comes to chasing your dreams. You’ve got to know what it takes to make them come true, right? For instance, there was a time I wanted to be in the rodeo. I wanted to ride bulls.