Guy Fieri wants to know where the barbecue sauce is. Not just any barbecue sauce—his barbecue sauce. As in, the barbecue sauce with his name and goateed face and signature on the label. As in, the barbecue sauce that, according to Fieri’s website, is “used by Guy’s Award Winning Barbecue Team The Motley Que Crew and served at his restaurants.” As in, the barbecue sauce that is supposed to be right there, next to the roasted pig that has been laid out on an enormous platter of lettuce at the 2017 Players Tailgate Party, which is going down in the vast parking lot of a Toyota dealership on Kirby Drive, a short walk from NRG Stadium.
Then the scrum of people around Fieri shifts, and the lost bottle of barbecue sauce comes into view. The chef breathes a sigh of relief and goes back to chatting with his adoring fans, thousands of whom have paid $699 each to spend their Sunday afternoon enjoying a gluttonous orgy of diabetes-inducing consumption choreographed by the star of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, who is described in promotional material for the party, not inaccurately, as “the most recognizable Chef in America.”
Being the most recognizable chef in America comes with certain obligations. Fieri’s hair is spiked and styled and bleached and frosted into his trademark coif, which matches his two-toned goatee. He sports mirrored wraparound sunglasses, gold earrings, a gold watch, and a gold pinky ring. Over his long black apron he wears an olive-colored, vaguely military looking chef’s coat emblazoned on the back with a logo featuring a skull wearing a chef’s cap and the words “Knuckle Sandwich.”
“Guy, can I take a selfie?” asks one man who has pushed to the front of the pack.
“Sure,” Fieri says, flashing his familiar grin and giving the camera a thumbs-up.
A woman wearing an Atlanta Falcons jersey turns around and presents her back to Fieri, who signs it with a Sharpie that suddenly appears in his hand. Another woman says she’s met him before, on the set of an Aflac commercial he once shot. Does he remember her?
“Oh, yeah,” Fieri says, sounding unsure. “That was a long time ago.”
The roasted pig is part of the BBQ Butts and Brisket serving station, which is just one of eight equally massive stations distributed around the sprawling parking lot, including Guy’s Burger Joint Burgers, Mac Daddy Mac N’ Cheese, and the Flavortown Finale Ice Cream & Candy Bar, at which guests line up to top their sundaes with gummy bears, crushed pretzels, and potato chips. The crowd eddies and swirls around the several dozen current and former NFL players on hand to sign autographs, and while the mood is buoyant, not everyone is riveted by the spectacle. On a stage under the carnival tent that covers about half the parking lot, ESPN radio anchor Jaymee Sire interviews a succession of stars, including a dour Odell Beckham Jr., who complains about the Houston traffic, and, when asked what he enjoyed most about Super Bowl Week says, “The fact that it’s over.” Sharing the stage with Sire is DJ Irie, the “first professional sports franchise DJ in the United States,” who introduces a series of special guests including Miss America 2017, Savvy Shields, who throws out tiny toy footballs to the crowd. Their response appears to underwhelm her. “Maybe a little more enthusiasm?” she asks plaintively.
Meanwhile, back at the BBQ Butts and Brisket station, the roast pig has been steadily deflating as Fieri’s assistants rip fistfuls of pork out of its open belly to feed the ravenous hordes of football-crazed tailgaters who continue streaming into the parking lot. Fieri himself seems to be tiring of the attention—at one point, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman pops up out of nowhere to give him a hug. “Y’all are kind of just standing here looking at me,” he tells his groupies, sounding dazed. “It’s weird!”
Yes it is, Guy. Yes it is.