The Grill Dads Bring The Fire From Their New Cookbook And Talk Guy Fieri - Exclusive Interview

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Combining the double takes and slow burns of standup comics with killer cooking chops, The Grill Dads — Mark Anderson and Ryan Fey — are definitely not your usual Food Network stars. On the heels of their two hit shows "The Grill Dads" and "Comfort Food Tour," the long-time best buds are releasing their first cookbook, "The Best Grilling Cookbook Ever Written By Two Idiots." In her introduction to the cookbook, actress Eva Longoria writes, "This book will empower you to light up your grill and use it to its full potential." In an exclusive interview with Mashed, whip-smart Anderson and Fey talked about the long, winding road they took since college to get them to where they are today. 

Anderson and Fey have an easy-going camaraderie and throughout our interview, finished each other's sentences and thoughts as old friends often do. Neither is a trained chef, and both had successful careers in advertising and event production, but when their regular backyard barbecues at Fey's Los Angeles house became the talk of the town, they employed their savvy business skills to create their own brand, The Grill Dads. When they won Guy Fieri's "Guy's Big Project," The Grill Dads were launched, and what started out as a hobby became a sensation, but it wasn't always smooth sailing. Anderson and Fey candidly discuses their eye-opening experience at Food Network, their working relationship with Guy Fieri, and why their debut cookbook is aspirational for beginners and seasoned grillers alike.

The Grill Dads have been friends for 20 years

Where did you guys meet? 

Mark Anderson: We're not sure where the initial meeting happened, but all the way back in the college days, we had mutual friends. I went to Ohio State, Fey went to Ohio University, and we met through some mutual friends. Right after college, Fey moved to New York City as a writer and then into advertising. I was a tour manager and audio engineer in the music business, and I lied to some people and told them I lived in New York City so I could get a job. I stayed on Fey's couch ... my free rent was me cooking dinner. That's where we connected, and ... every time we get together, there's some sort of cooking involved.

Were you always a great cook?

Ryan Fey: My love of cooking was born out of necessity because I didn't want to die. So growing up in Ohio there's two main food groups, meatloaf or casserole, take your pick. Sometimes, they combine those two things, which is like mind blowing, right?

Anderson: Meatloaf casserole's a real...

Fey: Meatloaf casserole is the worst thing. When I was very early on, I had an idea that I wanted to do some cooking, and I started making some things. It wasn't really for me until I got to college, and I didn't have money. People would eat out a lot, and it was more expensive. I would learn how to cook in my dorm room. When I got an apartment, Mark was in a similar boat, but I started making food for people and charging them to actually have dinners. I'd make money. It was a side hustle for a minute for me in college.

So, college friends paid you for it?

Fey: Yeah. I go buy ingredients, and I charge five bucks. It's cheaper than getting a pizza. They come in and have a tray of lasagna and have whatever, and I make some stuff, but I would end up coming out 50, 60%.

Anderson: Fey's not good at job costing or math. I'm sure, even though he charged, he probably took it on the chin a little bit too.

Fey: I'm sure I did.

The Grill Dads started out as a lifestyle brand

How did you decide to work together?

Anderson: I moved to LA when I got a divorce. I was in Atlanta trying to figure out where to go, and the brief was anywhere but Atlanta. The weather there was not for me. And Fey was like, "hey, our back house in LA is an apartment, why don't you come out here?" His wife, at the time, she was super on board. I had a week ... showed up with a moving truck, and then it was every weekend we were cooking, and it was a small, maybe 1,000, 1100 square-foot Spanish house. We were having 40, 50, 60 people over. We always loved grilling, but we did more grilling out of necessity.

Fey: We had a bigger backyard than our house.

Anderson: We'd have more room. It was also more social, because everybody was outside. The cooking was part of the event at that point. It evolved to where we had a few restaurants ask us to do guest executive takeovers because we also were working in advertising at the time. We would sell out two or three seatings at these restaurants, and they loved it. At that point, we, "Hey, what are we going to do with this?" We're advertising guys. We're good at marketing. We should do something. 

We were thinking about buying a restaurant in LA, and my dad was in banking for 40 years. He told me that if I bought a restaurant, he would disown me. The quote he said was, "The lucky ones fail quick." We're like, "Hey, we create content for a living for other brands. Let's do it for ourselves." We decided to do the Grill Dads to scratch our creative itch for creating content, but also cooking. That's how it all got started.

Fey: That's actually what's a little bit different from Mark and I, we weren't on a food path. We were on a lifestyle path. As brand purveyors and guys that have spent 20 years in creating brands for other people, we premeditatedly created The Grill Dads out of the idea that we wanted to make some IP, do something with it potentially. We didn't realize it would become — it was a side hustle for a minute — we didn't realize it would get as big as it has and is continuing to get, and it's really a fun ride, so much so that this is the empire that Mark and I are working to build, and we're having a lot of fun doing it. We offer entertainment and practical cooking recipes and tips and all that stuff.

We're a comedy team, so we bring levity to food. With what we all just went through over the past couple years, I don't think there's a better time for us to not take ourselves too seriously. Truth be told, we're also here to disrupt how dads [a]re portrayed in the media. We're modern dads. We're very different from the grass mowing, New Balance wearing, braided-belt guys that you see ... We have no problem with that, but that's not us. A lot of times, Mark and I say this all the time: "A grill is a tool, barbecue is a cuisine." We show people how to make everything you can imagine on the grill and all different methods, whether it's fire and smoke, you name it. That's the key, and that's [why] a gateway drug for cooking outside is what we provide.

How The Grill Dads got on Food Network

How did you get your show on Food Network?

Fey: We decided to put together a little pilot of a show called "The Search for California Barbecue" just for us [and] put it on Indiegogo. It got funded very quickly. Instead, what we wanted to do was prove a business model and then sell it to the California Visitors Bureau and give everyone their money back. We had no intention of keeping people's money to make a pilot. We have money to make our own pilot, but it was proof of concept. That's when Mark contacted Marc Summers in a blind email and said something like, "I'm the better looking Grill Dad..."

Anderson: You know, Marc Summers was a standup comedian before "Double Dare." He was executive producer and a host on Food Network for a long time. I was like, "I'm going to send him this trailer for this show." I searched the internet until I found his email address, sent it to him, [and] said, "Hey, I'm Mark. I'm the better looking half of the Grill Dads. We thought you might like the show concept that we have." At the time, I was working for an ad agency in Portland, and I sent the email and I walked into a meeting and ten minutes later, a Burbank phone number rang. 

I'm like, "There's no way, but I'm going to answer it anyway." I answered it. It was Marc Summers. He's like, "Who the f*** are you guys?" I'm like, "What do you mean?" He goes, "Are you chefs? Are you actors? What is this that I'm looking at?" I said "No, we're advertising guys who love to cook." He goes, "This is the best cold submission I've ever had," and he took us up to Guy Fieri. They were both interested in working with us as co-executive producers with Brian Lando and then launched us through Guy's reality show, which we tried to avoid, called "Guy's Big Project," which we won. Then, at that point, it went from a hobby to a real thing.

The Grill Dads didn't want to do a reality show

Why did you want to avoid "Guy's Big Project"?

Fey: Trust me, no one wants to look at us on reality television. We got faces for radio. Just ask our parents.

Anderson: We're old and we're cynical. It's like I told the producers, if some 20-year-old [production assistant] comes up to my room at 2:00 in the morning, hands me a tuna can and GPS coordinates and tells me to go on this hunt for these different things, I'm going to the airport. I don't have the energy to do any of that bulls***.

Fey: In our minds, it's not our thing. The interesting thing is, the reason we won is we have no fear because we're literally us. We're this buddy-comedy thing that everyone likes. It's Mark and I. We've been doing this same s*** for years. In fact, his wife is the one who said, "You idiots need to put a camera on you. You guys are going to win, and you need to be on TV just because... there's an endearing quality, it's hard to hate on good dads. You guys are self-deprecating. You have a really good time, and you create banging food, and you're very approachable to people. And... although you may look like 'Duck Dynasty,' you have a level of polish in your vernacular and other ways of using this model and this mechanism to make people laugh and have a really good time."

Anderson: It's also going on a reality show and feels incredibly vulnerable ... each episode was 42 minutes. They had over 5,000 minutes of footage per episode. They can make you look mad. They can make you look happy. They can make you look stupid. They can make you look smart. That's the part that was really nerve-wracking for me. We called someone who's become a good friend of ours now who won. She won "Next Food Network Star"... We're like, "Hey, we're nervous about doing this because they can make us look like d-bags." She goes, "How about you guys just don't ever be d-bags in front of the camera?"

Fey: Mark and I made a pact ... We're going to be nothing but ourselves, and that's it. Win, lose, or draw... We're going to have fun with the crew. That's where people forget, there are 80 people working for you on these reality shows. People don't even have empathy for those positions. Mark and I, we took people out, we got [them] presents. We hung out and got to know people's names and what they're interested in.  We also are ad guys. We've worked with some of them after the show, we got them jobs. We formed really long-lasting relationships and didn't look at it as something they owe us. It's [a] very different mentality from a lot of the kids that go on and think, "Well, it's me, me, me." It's not.

Guy Fieri is a big fan

You had a lot of interaction with Guy?

Fey: He was our executive producer ... for "The Grill Dads" and "Comfort Food Tour." His production company, Knuckle Sandwich, with Lando Entertainment, ran those two through for the Food Network. They were the production company who hired. We were the talents. We had a talent deal. We were a little bit different than a lot of the other talent. We do a lot of our own writing and directing as well with our showrunner ... We've been doing this stuff for a long time, and we understand how content's made, and we understand holding an audience, hopefully, in the right way. They were very comfortable with us, helping to define the style and what we wanted to do for our show. Guy was great too. He was like, "You guys get it, go make a show."

Do you have a favorite episode of your show?

Fey: Oh wow. I don't think I've ever been asked that. The one where it features me more is always my favorite. If there's less Mark, it's a win-win for everyone.

Anderson: Even though it had a really adverse impact on the ratings. Honestly, there wasn't a favorite episode, it was..

Fey: The process.

Anderson: The best part of the whole thing was the act of making the show. We had an amazing crew, two crews actually, because they kind of leapfrogged each other. So we worked every day, but the crews, they needed a day of setup and shooting some tight shots of the food. We didn't want to have any favorites so we had Team A and Team One. They would leapfrog each other. Having, 11, 12 people in a room whose shared vision and sole purpose is to make great content, [where] everyone's on the same page, was the best. Honestly, as soon as you're done, it's "How is the edit going to be, how are the ratings going to be, will we get another season? What is the time slot going to be?" I found that the peak of the whole thing was the act of physically making the episodes.

The Grill Dads created their own success

Fey: We also were very privy, when we, early on, said, "We were curious" — to the Food Network brass — "how much marketing dollars are you going to put in this?" They said zero. We said "Zero, as in like not a lot of money or actually zero?" [It was] actually zero. We're like, "Oh, no s***. We hope the audience will find us. That's what you're saying." Being ad guys, we know enough to know about paid, earned, and owned media and understand how those things work ... the model honestly was very different from what we were used to and what we thought. 

We took it upon ourselves to do a lot of our own press, a lot of our own stuff because we're not going to wait for these guys, because they're not going to do anything. It's their model, but Mark and I, we respect the process. The problem is it's a business — a creative entity, it is a business. They got to sell ads, and those ads have to be continued to re-up. If they would've unleashed this, we would've crushed it even more and had a whole different set of offerings and IP. It wasn't the way they wanted to play ball.

Anderson: We also learned really quickly that the Food Network is a starting line, not a finish line. A lot of people look at that the wrong way. We got a crash course on that in about two seconds because we're like, "This is our social following. On one night, Guy's going to crown us the winner — which actually was recorded months in advance — and then right after that, our show was going to debut." This was a Tuesday night, 9:00 p.m., prime time Food Network, premiere of our show. We're like, "All right, here we come, social media domination." We'll do this. We'll do that. We woke up the next morning and had 11 new Instagram followers...

If we want to make this a successful career that's bigger than a period on one of these shows, we're going to have to go out and build it for ourselves. That's why with this cookbook that's coming out, we're super excited to get a publisher that was willing to take a chance on us and help us take our brand to the next level. When they gave us the deal, we said, "We're going to go crazy with it. We're okay with being the biggest selling cookbook in the history of your agency... We're okay with being the absolute worst, but what scares the s*** out of us the most is disappearing into the middle of the pack with a safe, predictable book." They were like, "Cool. Let's do it".

The Grill Dads have a new cookbook

Let's talk about the cookbook. Who is this aimed for? Who do you want to reach out to with this?

Anderson: People with lips and a love of food.

Fey: It's a really interesting question. What we're really excited about is as modern dads ... we don't want to take ourselves too seriously. We always say that we got this phrase inherited to us: "If those two idiots can do it, I can do it." We're not this elitist kind of cookbook type of crew. We're... showing you how to make elevated dishes on the grill. And by the way, our stuff is not basic. It's actually foundationally understandable, but we have twists on everything in our own way, our own ownership of stuff. That's honestly why Eva Longoria wrote our foreword, because she's such a big fan of our spices. She's like, "You guys are very thoughtful in the way you approach food, and it's different from the way you look." She said that to us: "You would think you guys should just be making briskets and whatever on big barrel smokers," but we're not actually those guys who do that.

I'm talking about the demo now. In all honesty, we index really high in 24 to 36 and then 34 to 44, around that area ... We're predominantly male, but not by much. That's the other thing — we have a very good following of females, modern people that want to be modern dads. They always say, "I want to have a beer with these guys." You're like my neighbor, my uncle, my cousin, the guys that show up to the party and cook and they're the last ones to leave. That's the kind of the people we appeal to.

Anderson: With the book, we start with really basic technique. On several different types of grills, we're not saying you have to use a Big Green Egg, [a] pellet grill. We're trying to get people to understand what they have and be excited about using what they have and have access to, but at the same time, to the point where — to Fey's point of — if these two idiots can do it, anyone can do it. 

We're making food that's aspirational, attainable, because of who we are. We don't have James Beard awards. We didn't go to the Culinary Institute of America. We've never worked at a reputable restaurant, and we wear that on our sleeve and use that as our lens for food because we are huge, huge enthusiasts. We take classes, we watch a thousand videos. We've learned tons through our show. We work with so many partners. We are students of the game, but it's not the Cordon Bleu, it's the school of hard knocks. At this point, with the "Today" show and the Food Network stuff, we've really established this level of credibility, and it's really interesting for people to find out that we've never been classically trained because they can relate to that.

The Grill Dads' advice for first-time grillers

Do you have advice for first time grillers?

Fey: Fail big. It's the only way you're going to learn ... Mark's actually more of a student of this than I am, but he'll cook a hundred steaks straight to try and figure out how to dial it in. He's very good at that. We encourage everyone to catch something on fire, go out and actually understand your machine, understand the tool and to do that sometimes you've got to be a mess. Creativity's not clean. You need to go out and try things and see if it works and laugh about it if it doesn't, and then do it better next time.

Anderson: We really encourage people to try the same thing over and over until it makes them super excited. I always go in, I always hyper focus on one thing and try and get great at it until I'd rather have it at home than at any restaurant I've ever been to.

Fey: That's why it's different for Mark because I'm good right out the gate. It takes him a lot longer to get.

Anderson: By the way, he's always good at something about two months after I show him how to do it, but you got to get the reps in ... You need to be at the plate and get some swings and then, and take notes like, "This was charred on the outside, raw on the inside." What was the grill heat like? You're going to find that your grill has hot spots and spots that are easy to flare up and spots that don't, and eventually it's going to start to become organic, and that's when the creativity comes into play. 

When you understand the fundamentals of cooking, that's the most exciting part, because that's when you go to the grocery store, you walk up to the butcher, and you stand in front of the case and you're like, "What looks good?" Then, you buy what looks good there, and you go to the vegetables and you build a menu back from that, based on all the experiences that you had.

Fey: The other thing is ask a lot of questions. If you don't know, have the confidence to be like, "I don't know, how do I do this?" We get more questions and DMs about things that, every day, all day, all the time. We answer everybody. That's the other thing, we're so present in the art and the practice of doing stuff, because it's fun for us. We have a blast doing it. Other people experience that. 

By the way, there's a really big movement [about] the idea that, especially with coronavirus and things, the outside kitchen is as equally or better of a congregational place than it is in your kitchen in your house. When you weren't allowed to congregate in your house, at least you could go outside, for a while. It's exploded. Look at what's happened to a lot of these grill brands and other places. They've exploded because of the pandemic, us too, because people are wanting to learn how to do stuff on their own, which is great. This Renaissance of outdoor cooking is incredible to me.

The Grill Dads want you to have fun grilling

What is your favorite go-to comfort food? And where?

Anderson: Mozzarella sticks anywhere they have them.

Fey: Mine is probably going to be deli tortilla chips ... Mark makes fun of me because I always buy them whenever I come to his house, and I maybe eat a few one day and I leave bags of tortilla chips ... and those guys don't eat them like I do. I buy a jar of salsa, tortilla chips, and they're always left behind.

What ingredient could you not live without?

Anderson: Kosher salt.

Fey: I'd probably say the same thing, actually. Kosher salt. How about olive oil?

What chef would you like to cook a meal for you?

Anderson: I'd have to go with Josiah [Citrin] ... he's the executive chef and owner of Melisse in Los Angeles, which is, I think, multiple Michelin-starred French Prix Fixe. He also owns Charcoal in Venice because his real passion is cooking over open fire, and it's all Big Green Eggs and all charcoal and they dry age duck. That's an easy one for me.

Fey: Jet Tila's a friend of ours ... if I could have Jet's drunken noodles or some of Jet's food, and it's funny, we've hung out with Jet [and] when you hang out with other people, you don't cook, you have a beer or whatever. I'm going to say Jet Tila. I would want to have his food.

Is there anything else you want to add?

Fey: [T]his is a book for anyone that wants to have the basics through the aspirational. We've tried really hard as our first cookbook. We show how to break down a spatchcock chicken in pictures, how to break down a whole chicken in pictures. We don't find that in a lot of places. There's an assumption made that you should do it, or it's written up in words ... laugh, have a fun time. You can see our journey in the prose that we've written. We really enjoyed doing it. It's part of being best friends and knowing each other so well that we can do this kind of a book. It's a rare type of cookbook because we feel it's as entertaining as it is informative. Put those two things together, and we hope we have something that's really awesome for people to have fun with.

Anderson: The informative part is big for me because I wanted people to understand the "why" ... we want to give people amazing recipes that are ready to go, but at the end of the book, if somebody puts the book down and thinks of their own recipe and runs to the store to get the ingredients, that would be really heartwarming for us. We hope [for] that — we spent a lot of time telling people the why, not just the how, so hopefully people will have that takeaway.

"The Best Grilling Cookbook Ever Written By Two Idiots" will be released June 7, 2022 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon. Follow The Grill Dads on Instagram and Facebook.