Couch Potato: What Is It With This Guy?

Everything about Guy Fieri is big and boisterous, and has been that way ever since he walked off a winner in the Food Network's second season of the Next Food Network Star. His voice's volume and rasp call to mind an overworked cattle-auctioneer. His shock of hay-colored hair has only gotten, with each passing season, more shocking, as if his hand is permanently wedged in a light socket. And the silver jewelry and wrist adornments rival Keith Richards when it comes to pirate-like bling.

But Fieri's high-wattage presence (his surname conveniently references his "fiery" on-camera persona) has made him unquestionably the Food Network's biggest star since Emeril first started bamming. What gets lost in all of Fieri's "dude" and "flavor town" blue-collar banter, and his culinary Jack Kerouac road trips to all those Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives is that he's actually an instructive and interesting chef to watch work.

Guy's Big Bite is the lone program that fully harnesses the kinetic Fieri to his kitchen and forces him to hunker down and cook.

Part of Fieri's appeal is how natural a screen brand he's become, one that begins with his name: He's just a Guy's guy. On Big Bite, the camera makes sure to pan all Fieri's man-cave furnishings such as the pool table, the flat-screen TV, the drum kit, the guitars leaning up against hulking stacks of amps. Heck, the show almost always opens with Fieri playing pinball, looking for all the world like an extra in I Love You, Man.

But behind all of Fieri's alpha male affect (don't miss the racing stripe, with the number 05, running up his French dressing-colored refrigerator) is an intriguing, fusion-prone chef. In one recent episode, Fieri constructed an entire menu around his first not-altogether-pleasant encounter with mussels while on a youthful culinary pilgrimage to France.

His "Monsoon Mussels," dressed conventionally in garlic, onion, white wine and cream, then carom off all points of the globe with the addition of ginger, coriander, cilantro and two incendiary Serrano chile peppers. The resulting bivalves would still do any Parisian bistro owner proud.

The unconventional approach to mussels continues with Fieri's take on the traditional accompaniment of fries. Dubbing them "Asian Street Fries," Fieri makes sure the Orient is generously represented as these spud cylinders are bathed in rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and Fieri's secret Far Eastern spice weapon: sambal oelek.

For dessert, Fieri returns to Europe, specifically Italy, for a silken Panna cotta boasting a saucy lid of cherries flamed in Kirsch and port.

In Guy's Big Bite, Fieri sheds enough of his star shtick to sprinkle very useful reminders and tips about all aspects of cooking. He wouldn't be caught with bottled vanilla extract for his Panna cotta. Instead, Fieri insists on scraping the dark, grainy interior of an extra long, Madagascar vanilla bean. He warns several times about the dangers of mussels that don't open up during cooking, admonishing us to discard them pronto. And Fieri finally delivers a workmanlike definition for the often inscrutable crème fraiche: It's just like sour cream, in consistency, only not as sour. Finally, I get it.

It can't be coincidental that the outro music to Big Bite is the kind of bluegrassy, twangy guitar Willie Nelson might easily strum on one his classics like "On the Road Again." For it's certainly become an axiom of Fieri's Food Network life that when he's not in his testosterone-filled Big Bite kitchen, he's "on the road, again," looking for the next tailgate party.

Guy's Big Bite airs on the Food Network, 2 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 12:30 p.m. on Sundays.