Watching Guy Fieri work up-close is a recipe for fun


Frank Matson looks into the monitor as the Reverend Run DMC

By Susan Matson
Guy Fieri is rocking with laughter, taking two steps back, clapping and putting his head between his knees. He jumps back up, slaps the counter and shouts, “You nailed it, man! You totally nailed it!”
We’re in one of Princeton’s restaurants, Jammin’ Crepes, 20 Nassau Street, but Mr. Fieri’s reaction has nothing to do with food. It’s true that the TV celebrity has spent the previous two hours happily asking about, looking at, and tasting gourmet crepes.
For now though, it’s about his co-host, the famous rapper Run-D.M.C. As Mr. Fieri and his film crew, for the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives show, were packing up to leave, it happened that Run had an inspiration. He reached over to the specialized flat, round crepe cooking pans and pretended to be a DJ, working with vinyl records. He spun the pans with a finger, riffing “b-b-b-b-boom chicka boom, k-k-k-k-kk,” and the rap he created had everyone in the place rocking. Two takes, and Run’s “jam” was in the can, as they say in show biz.
And what do I, the witness to all the mayhem, actually know about show business? Almost nothing. What I do know, and am thrilled about, is the fact that my brother Frank is the executive producer of several Food Channel shows, and he has come to three Mercer County locations with two crews to shoot “DDD.” And he has invited my daughter and me to watch.
Frank’s production company, Citizen Pictures, is based out of Denver and has worked with Fieri for five-and-a-half years. DDD itself has been around for 10 years. When I asked Frank what it was like, working for one of America’s best known celebrity chefs and TV personalities, he said, “It’s a life changing experience — and I wouldn’t change a second of it.”
That’s a good thing. After seeing what’s involved in featuring some of America’s best eateries on TV, I’m convinced that the person who could keep up with the pace of filming, week after week and location after location, is one in a thousand. Frank says he has shot more than 1,000 shows across the country.
In the Princeton area, three places were featured: Jammin’ Crepes; the Rocky Hill Inn, 131 Washington Street in Rocky Hill; and the Bagel Street Grill, 660 Plainsboro Road in Plainsboro. The process involves more than two hours per shoot of logistics, setups, filming and refilming, suggesting and changing Q-and-A dialogues with chefs, and, of course, tasting.
While one crew is wrapping up, another starts up across town so that no time is wasted. While the incredibly tight schedule seems like one leading to major stress, the camera people, logistics people and directors seem to have a sense for keeping everything operating according to plan and without friction. The result is a highly edited 10-minute clip, although having another player, like Reverend Run, might add 5-7 minutes to the total.
Of course the restaurants themselves take on a lot in order to be in the spotlight. Owners Kim and Amin Rizk, and Kathy Klockenbrink of Jammin’ Crepes planned carefully to make sure door signage stated that the place was closed to customers, without tipping off Fieri fans that a show was being taped. They also had to prepare their famous, labor-intensive 20-layer Orchard Lemon crepe well in advance because it can’t be cooked and eaten on the same day.
In the case of the Rocky Hill Inn, the note on the door claimed “closed for renovations.” Two days were needed to set up the space exactly as the crew required — including lining up on the bar several dozen of the best craft beers that the inn is celebrated for. (The inn has also won local media awards for its burgers).
Being chosen for the show also means that main chefs — like Kim in Princeton, and Evan Blomgren in Rocky Hill — have to pass muster through an extensive 90-minute phone interview so that DDD developers can be sure all food items are fresh, made from scratch, and truly exceptional. Of course most eateries can expect that the loss of customer revenue over a few days will be well offset by more long-term customers attracted by the promotion in DDD. With the show shot July 28, airing will take place in about six weeks.
The live shoot itself, though, seems less like work than play. On Nassau Street, a few crewmembers guarded the door while the rare people in the know like myself hung out, waiting for the signal to come in. Once we were in, we got to see Guy asking thoughtful questions about ingredients and the cooking process, while complimenting Kim, cracking jokes, and using his trademark enthusiasm.
Guy generously agreed to a fan photo with three of the Matson clan. In the process, he made a point of telling me that Frank is “one of the most talented and most gracious people I know.” As a bonus, my teen and I were invited to sit down and actually try the lemon crepe, along with tall mugs of coffee, while the cameras rolled.
Look for the episode this fall — perhaps as soon as late September.
Susan Matson is a Hightstown resident and this is a first-person account of her experiences with the Food Network’s TV show “Diners, Drive-ins, and Drives.”