Picture this: It’s the late 1980s, the Runnin’ Rebels are a championship basketball team, and Vegas is on the verge of unleashing the megaresort. California-bred Guy Fieri walks onto the UNLV scene and surveys the Las Vegas culinary environment.
“At that time, it was like ... who has the best buffet?” Fieri laughs. “Now, hotel-casinos are filled with the greatest chefs from around the world. It was a different time, but it was such a critical time. I still am in awe of the experience.”
Fieri’s determination to learn the business side of the culinary industry is what brought him to UNLV. The cooking part? Well, that started at an early age: “Cooking is all I’ve ever done,” Fieri says. “It’s what I did at home when I was a kid.”
It’s also what he did as an exchange student in France—an experience, Fieri says, that fueled his passion for cuisine. “It gave me an opportunity to try a wide variety of new foods and meet interesting people. When I came back, I wanted to continue these things and someday be a chef and restaurant owner.”
But Fieri’s dreams of culinary greatness didn’t come easy. For the better part of two decades, he has worked at a feverish pace, honing his skills and building a brand that now boasts 67 restaurants worldwide, a line of barbeque sauces and cooking equipment, a boutique winery in Northern California, and four TV shows and dozens of specials.
Despite his very public success, one gets the feeling Fieri is most at home in the kitchen cooking with his wife and two sons, with whom he often shares the stage. Guy and his son, Hunter, now have something else in common: They’re both Rebels.
"UNLV is known for having a great hospitality program,” says Hunter Fieri, who is a junior hospitality management major. “And that's what I'm interested in, so coming here was smart choice for me—not to mention the fact that Las Vegas offers endless opportunities to learn, gain experience, and succeed in the industry."
Today, both Fieris are walking, talking examples of the Rebel spirit—an essential character trait, Guy says, if you want to thrive, be it in the restaurant business or life.
“If you’re going to be great in a consistent, special way, you’ve got to be creative, innovative, and willing to go against the grain. That is what UNLV is. It’s a little school in the desert that started something big.”