The untold truth of Guy's Grocery Games

For a cooking show to stand out from the pack, it really needs an angle — a host engineered for TV helps too — and Guy's Grocery Games combines multiple angles. Since 2013, the show has pitted chefs against each other to find out just how well they can navigate their way through a supermarket and push past the various obstacles Guy Fieri throws at them. Part Chopped, part Cutthroat Kitchen, and a nostalgic dose of Supermarket Sweep combine into one very entertaining show. 

Unlike Fieri's other popular Food Network show, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, he's not dipping his fingers into the creations of chefs this time around. No, in this role he's seemingly pushing chefs to see how just how difficult he can make their shopping process without driving them totally mad. As for the story of Guy's Grocery Games, let's take a look at what the games are like for the contestants and judges, and what exactly is going on with this mythical place known as Flavortown.

The casting process for Guy's Grocery Games can take a long time

If you're a chef who wants to put their cooking skills and creativity to the test on national TV and run around Flavortown to potentially collect $20,000, be prepared to jump through a few hoops. Guy Fieri doesn't just let anybody play his grocery games, and producers of the show put contestants through a pretty rigorous vetting process.

As for finding those supermarket chefs, sometimes producers track them down, and other times chefs reach out to the show. Keith Clinton, the chef at Memphis' Erling Jensen: The Restaurant, got a call while at work from the show's producers. "They just called the restaurant and said, 'I see you're doing some interesting things on Instagram and Facebook. We're just wondering who's the chef there and what's going on,'" Clinton told Memphis Flyer

Chefs interested in being on the show are asked to submit photos of their best dishes and have several Skype and phone interviews with the show's producers. "While it was a long process, it was totally worth it in the end," recalled AJ, a New Jersey firefighter who went up against other firefighters on the show. 

The one thing contestants won't be required to do during the casting process is come up with a signature catchphrase, Shepos Cenami told Delish. They leave that TV magic to Fieri.

Being a judge on Guy's Grocery Games is a pretty sweet gig

Obviously, being a contestant on Guy's Grocery Games and walking away with a wad of cash is a major win, but being a judge isn't too shabby either. Judge Melissa d'Arabian said the question she's most asked by viewers of the show is "Is it fun?" Of course it is! D'Arbian went on to say that filming the show is basically "like going to summer camp" only with way better food. 

Judges are made to feel welcomed by Fieri before they even step on the set, and the Grocery Games host makes sure to include a little flavor from his hometown and show filming location of Santa Rosa, California. "When I arrived to my hotel, there was a handwritten note from Guy with wine and a basket of fruit welcoming me to the show," judge Brandi Milloy told PopSugar about her first experience with Guy's Grocery Games. "I get chills just thinking about it. Talk about feeling welcome!"

The show's coordinators also make sure to pamper the judges when they arrive on set by stocking their trailers with their favorite foods. Milloy said that she casually mentioned her liking of gummy bears and when she showed up there were all sorts of gummy bear varieties waiting for her. "It was incredible," she recalled. 

When you consider the opportunity to eat meals prepared by creative chefs and have a personal trailer with all of your favorite foods, being a judge on the show sounds almost as good as winning Grocery Games.

Chefs on Guy's Grocery Games don't spend most of their time cooking

Guy's Grocery Games is all about speed. From being able to fire off fast answers during the show's "Culinary Quiz" game to running around the store for ingredients to whipping up the dish, contestants have to move fast. When it comes down to it, contestants actually spend very little time over the burner cooking. Factor in the lengthy shooting days and that actual cooking time is relatively small. 

Appearing on GGG is a long day and a single episode can take up to 12 hours to shoot. Those who aren't early birds need not apply, because the day begins as early as 5 a.m., former contestant DeAnna Germano told Syracuse.com. The three rounds each only consist of 30 minutes, so the chefs are cooking for only about an hour and a half — at the max. So what do the other 10 and a half hours of the day look like? Generally, a lot of waiting around for the judging process and conducting interviews with the producers to relay to the folks at home what sort of pressure the chef's are under. "After you compete, you sit down and do interviews, which can last two or three hours," Cenami said.

Guy's Grocery Games pushes chefs to tap into their creativity

What separates Guy's Grocery Games from similar cooking shows where chefs are forced to work with surprise ingredients, are that the chef's have some — albeit very little — control over those ingredients. Sure, they might have aisle after aisle of food to choose from at their disposal, but cooking up a tasty meal becomes a lot trickier when you're forced to only use ingredients that come from a can

It's the games portion of the show that really tests the culinary prowess of the chefs and often results in some insanely creative dishes. Take the "ABC game," for example. Contestants are tasked with cooking up a meal where every ingredient must start with the same one or two letters. "I love the possibility of pulling out a letter that could really throw you but makes you think about what you really get," judge G. Garvin said. Other games might force competitors to swap bags after doing their shopping or avoid certain aisles completely, such as in the game Aisle Down. Trying to make French toast when a chef is forbidden from stepping foot in the bread aisle really forces the contestants to think outside the box — which is exactly what Grocery Games is all about.  

"It's just amazing because the beauty of being a chef is the ability, I think, to really adapt and overcome, and when you've set your mind to something, chefs commit to that," judge Beau MacMillan told Food Network.

Guy's Grocery Games shares a connection with Supermarket Sweep

A big part of what makes Guy's Grocery Games work is the fantastic set the show films on, and the man behind that creation is set designer Scott Storey. Storey has been designing TV sets for several decades now and besides Grocery Games, he's created sets for the shows Big Brother and RuPaul's Drag Race (via Reality Blurred). 

One show that older Guy's Grocery Games fans might remember that had a similar format to Grocery Games is the now-defunct game show Supermarket Sweep. Storey was the set mastermind on that too, however, the set of Supermarket Sweep wasn't as sophisticated as Grocery Games. "Buying fake meat was too expensive," recalled Storey. "So the production company would just buy real meat. It would sit there, unrefrigerated, for a week... Everything was just rotten, because there's no refrigeration. It's just scenery."

Storey knew that he didn't want that to be the case when designing the set for Guy's Grocery Games. The set designer said he only had four weeks to build the set and vendors told him "It can't be done." He not only succeeded in creating a near perfect replica of a functioning grocery store but did it so well that even food vendors were fooled. Storey recalled a time when a potato chip delivery guy showed up to the set and couldn't help but marvel at the set before remarking "No one will shop here. There's no parking."

Fieri doesn't hold back on the Guy's Grocery Games contestant support

Both the chefs who appear on this cooking show and the judges that ultimately decide a contestant's fate say that Guy Fieri is genuinely excited about each chef who appears on the show. DeAnna Germano told Syracuse.com that her interactions with Fieri were an overall great experience and described him as not just down-to-earth but more "chef-like" than people might give him credit for. 

While Fieri might have been labeled a jerk a time or two and dubbed as difficult to work with by TV producers, that doesn't seem to be the case on Guy's Grocery Games. In fact, former contestant Shepos Cenami had a lot of praise for not only his welcoming manner, but how helpful Fieri was to her and the other chefs. "Before the show, Guy gathered the contestants to remind us we're there to have fun and to show the world who we are as chefs," Cenami told Delish before adding that he never hogged the spotlight and would even help chefs out. "His role, if you take advantage of it, is to help you in certain ways... I think I asked him to open up a jar!" 

The helpful advice — and hands — that Fieri lends to the contestants are all part of him "sincerely wanting each person to do their absolute best," Grocery Games judge Brandi Milloy told PopSugar.

Prepping for Guy's Grocery Games is nearly impossible

How does one prepare themselves for the onslaught of shopping challenges that await them on Guy's Grocery Games? Well, aside from running around their local supermarket with a stopwatch to see how quickly they can find malt vinegar, preparation is futile. 

Fieri explained in an interview that it's not only the pressure of the TV lights and cameras, but the "trials and tribulations" of the show can really wreak havoc on a contestant. Giving an example of only being allowed to cook steak and potatoes with items from frozen foods, Fieri said such challenges can really throw a chef off their game. "For a lot of chefs, including myself, I wouldn't know what to go get out of the frozen foods section and make steak and potatoes. You can't just get a Swanson Hungry Man and cook it up and go 'steak and potatoes.'"

Those challenges can be absolutely brutal too. Grocery Games winner Lindsay Porter told the Edmonton Journal that she had to prepare a noodle dish using frozen chicken-fried steak and said the challenge "was absolutely awful, probably one of the worst things I've dealt with."

While being a highly-capable chef is always part of the winning formula, going into the game with a plan just isn't possible. "You can't really plan what you do," two-time Triple G winner Nicholas Moulton told The Berkshire Eagle. "You have to completely blank out everything because you don't know what they're going to ask you to do."

Contestants on Guy's Grocery Games often make the same mistakes

Surviving until the shopping spree round and getting a shot at the $20,000 takes a lot of outside-the-box thinking and fast footwork. Just because a chef has seen multiple episodes of the show, it doesn't necessarily mean they'll be able to always handle the challenges that come their way. 

Fieri often sees contestants fall victim to the same mistakes and some of those mistakes are the same ones that trip contestants up on other cooking shows. The show host told Food Network that he sees chefs routinely get eliminated for things like poor seasoning or adding frivolous garnishes that work against the main dish.

Arguably one of the biggest mistakes that can sink contestants is playing it too safe.Using your imagination and being open to completely challenge what defines a dish is a survival skill that both Fieri and winning chef Shepos Cenami agree on. "You have to make quick culinary decisions and commit to an idea and then execute that idea with little or no time or opportunity to change it," Cenami told The Daily Meal. Being able to think on her feet ultimately led to Cenami winning and transforming a boring frozen burrito into calamari salad with Thai slaw.

Guy's Grocery Games used to be filmed in a real grocery store

Guy's Grocery Games made its TV debut in an actual working grocery store. The original location of Flavortown was located in Fields Market in West Hills, California and it carried an impressive 25,000 different items for contestants to use (via North Bay Business Journal). However, by the end of the first season, the show was in need of a new home that was closer to Fieri's home base. 

For the new location, the production company took over a massive industrial area in Santa Rosa California and built a 15,000-square-foot grocery store that has all the bells and whistles a chef could want. "The aisles are wider, the lighting is better, so it makes it easier for the chefs to shop and see what's on the shelves," Fieri said. "Going along with the shelves, the culinary team has stocked and set them up so they're far more shopper-friendly.

While the proper set of Flavortown does have 5,000 items fewer than the original Fields Market location, it has larger kitchens that were built to mimic the feel of "working in a commercial kitchen," Fieri said. An added perk is that chefs can also run over to "equipment row" for any tool that they might need that's not already stocked in their station. 

Basically it's, "the greatest grocery store supermarket you'll ever find in your life" and every city needs one.

The set of Guy's Grocery Games is almost a fully functioning grocery store

If you were to rip out all the TV lights and hide the cameras, it would be really easy to mistake the set of Grocery Games as an actual working grocery store. In theory, that's exactly what it is. 

The food at Flavortown supermarket is logged and barcoded in the same way as it would be at any real grocery store, according to set designer Scott Storey (via Reality Blurred). "Every single item you would want as a chef most likely will be here," Fieri told the Food Network

Along with the absence of teenagers bagging groceries, there are some minor differences from a working supermarket that are absent in Flavortown. While there are checkout lanes, shoppers on the Guy's Grocery Games set won't find any aisles with pet food and "there's no baby care section," Storey said. 

While those items might be absent from the set, the Flavortown supermarket's shelves also differ from those you'd find in a regular store. The shelves themselves have lights attached to them to make things easier for the crew. Storey said this is primarily "because the contestants stand looking at the shelves, you can't light them, so we built lighting into all the shelves." 

Does your local grocery store have that? Didn't think so.

The food from Guy's Grocery Games doesn't go to waste

Flavortown may have an impressive selection of food with 241 different kinds of produce, 67 varieties of meat products, and 442 pounds of seafood, but what happens to all that food? The chefs on Guy's Grocery Games don't even come close to making a dent in the store's massive food selection over the course of an episode, and thankfully, it doesn't go in a dumpster out back. 

Moving the show's shooting location to Santa Rosa was a blessing for the community because all of that food finds its way to different food programs in the area (via North Bay Business Journal). Just like a normal grocery store, staff comb through the aisles each week to mark what food has been damaged or could be nearing the end of its shelf life. As for the non-perishables, at the end of the season they're simply covered up with plastic until shooting picks back up. 

The selected items are then pulled and divided up to go to different food programs in the community. Food that's not fit for humans often finds its way to area farms to be fed to livestock. In total, nearly 30,000 pounds of food ends up being donated over the course of every season (via Food Network).