BJ’s Grocery Games
Even though I think most readers are probably familiar with Guy Fieri, I’m going to provide some background before launching into the heart and soul of this BLAST: BJ’s Grocery Games. Guy Fieri first emerged as a television personality in 2006 on the Food Network. It was the second season of a “reality” cooking competition show called “The Next Food Network Star” that pitted 12 ambitious cooks/chefs/restauranteurs against one another to win a show for the following season. In 2006 I was living in Providence, Rhode Island and was an avid Food Network viewer. For whatever reason, early in the “Next FN Star’s” competition, I put my money on Guy Fieri, a bleached-platinum, spiky haired hipster who, to me, seemed a natural for culinary television. As it turned out, I was right. Shortly after he won, I was on the phone with my old pal and consulting partner, Joel Kammer, who informed me that Fieri had two restaurants in Santa Rosa, California (Johnny Garlic’s & Tex Wasabi’s), where Joel was a teacher --- and both had pretty good reputations. I felt like my bet on Fieri was a good one.
After winning “The Next” show Fieri cemented his career on the Food Network, with his popular traveling reality program, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives”( hitting the airwaves in April of 2007 and still running). In 2013 he introduced Guy’s Grocery Games (still running, too) and that’s the focus of today’s BLAST. Before explaining that, I would be remiss if I did not mention the New York Times review of Guy’s American Kitchen and Grill, which opened in Times Square, New York, in the fall of 2012. I bring this up because the Pete Wells review on November 13, 2012 was what “Larry Olmsted of Forbes called ‘the most scathing review in the history of the New York Times’, and ‘likely the most widely read restaurant review ever.’” (wiki) Wells’s piece was a series of questions posed to Mr. Fieri and “scathing” is actually a mild term for Wells’s attack on Guy’s American. Here’s a brief sample from the review:
Did you notice that the menu was an unreliable predictor of what actually came to the table?
What exactly about a small salad with four or five miniature croutons makes Guy’s Famous Big Bite Caesar (a) big (b) famous or (c) Guy’s, in any meaningful sense?
Why is one of the few things on your menu that can be eaten without fear or regret — a lunch-only sandwich of chopped soy-glazed pork with coleslaw and cucumbers — called a Roasted Pork Bahn Mi, when it resembles that item about as much as you resemble Emily Dickinson?
When you cruise around the country for your show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” rasping out slangy odes to the unfancy places where Americans like to get down and greasy, do you really mean it?
Or is it all an act? Is that why the kind of cooking you celebrate on television is treated with so little respect at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar?
The review resulted in a major revamping of the restaurant and I can report to you that when the Lovely Carol Marie and I went there in 2016 it was, for a Times Square Tourist (rip-off) establishment, far better than Mr. Wells’s review. That said, even with Fieri becoming one of the most visible of The Food Network’s stars (something that would ordinarily repulse me), I still kind of like the guy (as one does, a tv personality) and I particularly like his Guy’s Grocery Games show. Which is what led to this BLAST.
If you are not familiar with Guy’s Grocery Games, it’s pretty simple. The setting is a full-scale grocery store --- aisle upon aisle of canned and bagged goods, a produce section, a frozen food aisle, etc. --- called “Flavortown Market.” Four contestants are given a challenge (“Only using items that begin with the letter ‘C,’ create a ‘Family Favorite’ meal”) with a 30 minute limit to shop, cook, and plate their creation for a panel of three judges. The show usually has three rounds (eliminating one contest each round) and the Winner gets to chase down items Guy reads off a list, potentially winning $20,000. Silly, but fun. During this period of sheltering-in-place, we have been watching our share of “Triple-G” (as it’s called) and it dawned on me the other day that in our current situation “Guy’s Grocery Games” is actually an educational/instructional program!
I think this idea may have come to me as I was racing around the Wilton (CT) Stop and Shop at 6 a.m. on Monday morning, the day after Easter. Even though there was only one other customer in the store, there I was, surgical gloves on, mask in place, dashing through the aisles, throwing items in my cart (following the proper “One Way” arrows) as if I only had Guy’s 2 minutes to get my $20,000!! Once I got home, I realized that we can actually learn a lot --- and maybe have some fun ---if we use Guy’s Grocery Games as a model for how we might approach our mealtimes, whether you live alone, or with a spouse, or with a family full of kids. With that in mind, I’m going to present some “guidelines” (either stolen directly --- or adapted --- from “Triple G”) that might make part(s) of your day more enjoyable. What I would strongly suggest (encourage?) is creating an array of 3X5 cards where you could randomly pick the Ingredients and/or “Classic” Dishes mentioned below --- thereby creating your “at-home” version of Guy’s –Now BJ’s -- Grocery Games.
There are two broad categories to consider when implementing BJ’s Grocery Games in your “sheltering-in-place” household: Ingredients and “Classic” Dishes. (These might be two separate piles/decks of cards to pick from) Regarding Ingredients, here are some of the “Games” you might institute in your kitchen.
When it comes to “Classic” Dishes, I’m using that term very broadly. Here’s a sample of “challenges” you might put on your cards (or simply “announce”).
And that’s how “Guy’s Grocery Games” become BJ’s Grocery Games, suitable for home participation and particularly useful during this sometimes trying period of isolation. Think about it. Try it. You may discover that you have untapped culinary creativity. Most of all, have fun.
Stay home. Stay safe.