Credit: Photo of Guy Fieri: Getty Image; Graphic: Kitchn
personal essay

How Guy’s Grocery Games Is Reigniting My Love for Cooking

published Dec 7, 2020
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Guy Fieri stands there, with his spiky hair (held up, I imagine, not by gel but by sheer force of will). He watches the contestants as they hunt for their ingredients. They only have two minutes to shop — far less time than it takes me to normally putz around the grocery store. Guy’s Grocery Games is a cooking competition show with a twist. Instead of the sleek, sanitized kitchens of other Food Network fare, Triple G (as it’s fondly referred to by Fieri and fans) is set in a familiar locale: the all-American supermarket. 

Meandering through the aisles in the early mornings is — sorry, was — my favorite way to grocery shop. In fact, it was a source of comfort. As an ultra-anxious introvert, I don’t go out much. I prefer to stay home and read an engrossing novel than head out to a party. But I love going to the grocery store. I pop in headphones and listen to the latest podcast episode on my feed while I slowly get through my list. Sometimes, I don’t even have a plan. I just go with the flow. I’m usually a planner, a list maker, but the grocery store often turns me into a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal. Oh, there’s a sale on lemons? Throw those in the basket! 

Because of the pandemic, I haven’t set foot in a grocery store in months. Even now, with the long lines gone and panic buying done with, I continue to order online. I feel terrified of doing the wrong thing, running into an anti-masker, or coughing at the wrong moment next to the wrong person. It’s no longer a peaceful place where I can melt into the background: It’s a place to be on high alert. There’s no more sniffing melons and squeezing avocados in the mist-filled produce section. My apple-red granny cart now sits forgotten in the closet. I miss her.

The pandemic has left me tired of many things I used to love, and chief among them is cooking. Because cooking isn’t just shoving things into a pan and piling them on a plate. It’s planning, it’s shopping, and ensuring nothing goes to waste. And it’s exhausting. I’m already tired all the time, and the mental gymnastics of figuring out meals leave me double-zapped of energy. I was once eager to post Instagram photos of my carefully composed meals and whole-day cooking conquests. Now, I struggle to understand how anyone has the desire to bake a pie from scratch while a pandemic rages on. Instead of throwing myself deeper into the calm, familiar rituals of cooking, I pushed them away and felt a growing resentment for the people posting photos of multi-course feasts.

My apple-red granny cart now sits forgotten in the closet. I miss her.

After a long day of work and cooking, my brain is so fried that I’m not able to engage meaningfully in anything else. I played Animal Crossing for a time after its release, but I quickly lost the will to beautify my island, and I never got the hang of flipping turnips for profit. Instead, I turn on the TV.

In my hunt for stuff to watch, I somehow discovered Guy’s Grocery Games. I had vague recollections of hearing about the show, but I had no concept of what it was. It was exactly zero percent as I had envisioned. I had no idea there was cooking involved. Instead of a weird game-show program, I was treated to a spectacular mishmash of pure joy — mostly radiating off of Fieri. 

Watching the cooks on Guy’s Grocery Games running through the aisles and having a blast putting together delicious food makes me feel like I’m back in that place I know and love. The show is  a surrogate grocery store experience right in the comfort of my own home. It’s not a replacement, but Triple G is a suitable temporary refuge.

It’s not just the grocery store setting that speaks to me: There’s also something contagious about Fieri’s excitement for food. When I’m feeling sick of planning and prepping dinner, I put on an episode and almost instantly look forward to cooking again. Fieri is actively elated throughout the process, from shopping to plating. He’s not even cooking, and he’s delighted at every turn. Every interaction with contestants is full of enthusiasm. He rarely doles out pure criticism and manages to coat any jabs with compliments. He’s a masterful motivator, and every time he cheers the cooks on, I feel like he’s cheering me on. And so as I watch the culinary battles play out in this familiar space that I so miss in my own life, I start to feel a little less hostility towards my kitchen. 

The show is  a surrogate grocery store experience right in the comfort of my own home.

At the start of quarantine, there was a big trend in making everything from scratch. Bread machines were hot commodities. Stores were consistently out of baking ingredients like flour and yeast. For some, diving into the world of homemade goods was a therapy of sorts. I just felt angry about it. I’m normally the make-it-from-scratch type. But when the pandemic hit and I was stripped of my emotional fortitude, making sourdough starter was literally the last thing on my to-do list. Fieri’s grocery-themed show, where cooks incorporate pre-packaged supermarket ingredients, reassures that it’s okay if your pasta isn’t handmade. Your curry doesn’t need to simmer for six hours to taste excellent, and you absolutely do not need to make bread from scratch. Save your energy for more important things and bank a little bit of it to watch an episode of Guy’s Grocery Games. 

The show has also taught me that there’s something to love about the simplicity of making a meal. Not everything needs to be a multi-ingredient feast. As a result, I’ve scaled back my meal planning considerably and given myself permission to make easier meals with fewer components (lots of rice bowls!). Although my husband and I are incredibly lucky that we have been able to make a living these days, the pandemic has obviously been stressful in terms of finances. Thankfully, Grocery Games is a masterclass in how to approach food on a budget without feeling like you’re settling for something less. 

The show is an Alice-in-Wonderland world of food creation that’s both whimsical and wholly accessible. It continues to remind me that everything is delicious in its own way — even when you’re working with the humblest of ingredients. I sincerely hope I’ll feel at-home again in the grocery store someday soon, with my granny cart in tow, and a little spectre of Guy Fieri on my shoulder reminding me to embrace the joys of home cooking.