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Flavor Town is under siege by New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells and a hoard of supporters who loved his deliciously mean review of Guy's American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square. But this morning, Guy Fieri appeared on NBC's Today Show to defend his turf. Sort of.
In his interview with Savannah Guthrie, embedded above, Fieri offers three possible defenses for his restaurant. He says that the restaurant has only been open for two months and is still ironing out its kinks -- OK, fair. He says that his restaurant is gigantic so it's hard to ensure consistency while making all his menu items "by hand," as he proudly announces his staff does. This is less sympathetic... if Fieri knew he wouldn't be able to serve 500 people good food all at once, he probably shouldn't have designed a restaurant that seats 500 people.
Yet Fieri's most consistent argument is that Pete Wells had "another agenda" when he wrote his review. He says this no less than three times. What exactly does he mean by "agenda"?
"To me it's impossible to come in and have a dining experience and have every single thing wrong unless you come in with a different agenda and you sensationalize something and blow it out of the water," Fieri explains, possibly demonstrating that the answer to the first question in Wells's review of questions -- "Have you eaten at your new restaurant in Times Square?" -- is "no."
"It's a great way to make a name for yourself," he continues. "Go after a celebrity chef who is not a New Yorker."
Beside the fact that Wells told the Public Editor of the New York Times that his agenda was to see whether Fieri succeeded in venerating the classic American vernacular cuisine he claims to love, there's a big hole in this theory -- Wells already has a name for himself. He's the most powerful restaurant critic in the country. And before that, he was the culture editor of the New York Times. Sure, this nasty review made him a topic of discussion on Gawker and the Today Show, a rarity for any journalist, but it's hard to imagine what the upside of more name recognition for Wells would be. There's not that much room left for him to grow as a food writer. He's at the top. Would he really risk his reputation for the sake of more fame?
At the end of the segment, Guthrie -- who really goes wild with the idea that the proper Italian pronunciation of the "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" host's last name is "Fietti" -- asks Fieri what he would say to Wells now if he could say anything. Fieri's witty (but almost surely) canned response, in reference to the review's terminal expression of gratitude, the only sentence that was not a question? "You're welcome."
UPDATE: 11/15 1 p.m. The Braiser reports that The Times hosted a 160-person party at the restaurant last night -- but it seems to be unrelated to the review. Apparently the sales department had scheduled a wine-and-dine event for clients there two months ago! And they saw no reason to change the venue even after Wells' review. We know The Times prides itself on the divide between editorial judgment and business decisions, but you'd think that the poor employees in the sales department would want to avoid a place that serves inadvertently fish-flavored marshmallows when they're trying to impress big spenders.
UPDATE: 11/15 2 p.m. Guy Fieri's PR team sent Eater a formal statement on the review to reinforce the Flavor Town Castle fortifications the celebrity chef built on The Today Show. "I normally do not respond to reviews or critics, however, given the tone of Pete's piece, it's clear to me that he went into my restaurant with his mind already made up. That's unfortunate," it reads in part. "I take comments from patrons, fans and visitors very seriously, and if there is ever a problem with our service, I'll fix it." Read the full thing at Eater.