1. Flavortown Market wasn't always a grocery store. What started as a 15,500-square-foot warehouse now serves as a fully operational supermarket. To keep it up and running, 2,400 amps of electricity are used, about enough to power a dozen homes.
2. And while most grocery stores take up to two years to construct, the set of Guy's Grocery Games came together in just three weeks.
3. Following the first season, the show moved from Los Angeles to Santa Rosa, California— a.k.a Guy Fieri's hometown—to accommodate the host's demanding shooting schedule. And while it could easily be his neighborhood food store, cast and crew are prohibited from scanning the aisles. As Fieri joked, "I'd do anything to have this be my actual grocery store."
4. Of course, there are subtle differences between Flavortown and a real supermarket. That is, beside it not being open to the public. For starters, the aisles are wider to allow for carts and cameras—and there's no pet food or baby care sections.
5. Plus, attached to each shelf is a horizontal light. Why? "Because the contestants stand looking at the shelves," production designer Scott Storey explained. "You can't light them, so we built lighting into all the shelves."6. Nonetheless, there are store hours. According to the front door, hours of operation are from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. Come the weekend, Flavortown Market closes at 9 p.m. Alas, that's all just for show.
7. Throughout the 10 aisles are more than 20,000 items, each usable for cooking. "Every single item you could want as a chef most likely will be here," Fieri said. "Lamb chop, pork chop, lamb shank, smoked turkey. I mean, when do you find a show that offers you smoked turkey necks?"8. Of course, his own brand of food is stocked on the shelves. But there's also plenty of variety to guarantee, according to producer Megan Palmer, "it doesn't feel like, ‘This shelf is brought to you by so-and-so."
9. Just like with an actual, operating market, the show's team checks inventory daily to determine what they need—and what they're all set with. Their top priority: Make sure they're providing the highest quality of food.10. Meat and poultry are delivered from the local Santa Rosa Meat & Poultry. To enhance the shelf life of the 60-plus items, the meat is vacuum-sealed.
11. As for seafood, the nearly 440 pounds of fresh and frozen products are brought in from Tides Wharf Fish Market. Like with the meat, the fresh items are vacuum-sealed while the frozen ones are put in a walk-in refrigerator to thaw ahead of taping.12. On Mondays—just hours before showtime—50 types of produce arrive from West Sacramento's Nor-Cal Produce, Inc.
13. Baked goods, on the other hand, mostly come from Franco-American Bakery. The items, delivered on Monday, are intended to last through Wednesday, but if more is needed, smaller orders will be placed throughout the week.14. Everything is processed and given a barcode. That way items can be scanned at checkout. (This especially comes in handy during the Budget Battle challenge.) The price? An average of the product's actual cost.
15. And nothing goes to waste. On Fridays, food is donated to local food banks, including Redwood Gospel Mission. "It's impacted a lot of people," Director of Shelter and Recovery Ministries Chris Keys has said. "Guy was extremely grateful for what we do here and he wanted to make sure we received food from the show."
Meals include Peking duck, shrimp and even fresh produce. "It's a quality we don't typically get," Keys added. "It's really noticed by the homeless population."
16. Overall, nearly 30,000 pounds of food ends up being donated throughout the course of just one season. 17. The casting process is straightforward—and free of any gimmicks. Though producers will often seek out chefs on their own, a majority apply through the casting website. There, they explain their specialties, submit a demonstration video and share three photos of dishes they've previously made.
18. Alas, there's no way to prepare for what's actually going to happen during the competition. "You have to completely blank out everything because you don't know what they're going to ask you do so," explained contestant Nicholas Moulton. "So, I did that. But I stuck to my guns saying, ‘I'm going to focus on what I do at home.'"
19. Before filming takes off, Fieri makes sure each judge is fully prepped on the contestants and their backstories. "He reminds everyone that these people have left their families and jobs to be here and some of them have a lot more on the line than others," explained judge Brandi Milloy. "If you watch the show, you'll notice that Guy will drop hints and helpful suggestions to the chefs while they're competing."
20. Indeed, Fieri makes one fantastic sous chef. "His role, if you take advantage of it," revealed contestant Tracey Shepos Cenami, "is to help you in certain ways." Oftentimes, he'll open a stubborn lid, chop some veggies or even warn a competitor if their food is starting to look overcooked, 21. And if he does offers advice, listen closely. "His comments and questions," judge Melissa d'Arabian explained, "are usually peppered with a gem of genius you need to improve your dish."
22. Fieri treats his panel of judges with the same respect he shows his competitors. When Milloy arrived at her hotel, she was met with a handwritten note welcoming her to the show—and a basket filled with wine and fruit. As she gushed, "I get the chills just thinking about it."23. Though it is a game, Fieri wants everyone to feel at home. "Filming GGG is like going to summer camp," admitted d'Arabian. "Exhausting, but it's always a joy to see summer camp friends who make you laugh so hard sometimes that soda comes out of your nose."
24. He reminds the chefs to let loose, too. Ahead of the show, he gathers the contestants for a pep talk. According to Shepos Cenami, he'll "remind us we're there to have fun and to show the world who we are as chefs."25. Fieri can surprise his competitors with more than 30 different challenges, such as Cart Swap, Flip This Dish or Think Small. And they're just as cruel as they seem. "The games are diabolical," proclaimed judge and superstar winner Rocco DiSpirito. "They're true evil."
26. And though the host prides himself on his tricky "three, two, one, go," kick-offs, the competition doesn't actually start when he's done introducing the game. Rather, the cameras pause for a minute so the challenge can be further explained, giving each chef an opportunity to ask questions and make sure they've got it down pat.
27. Despite there being 10 aisles to choose from, contestants always start off racing down aisle six. This way, the cameras are able to capture everyone heading in the same direction.
28. More than 30 cameras are used to capture every chop, dice and sizzle throughout the competition. Indeed, no moment goes by unnoticed. There are even tiny cameras attached to the shopping carts.
29. While chefs are typically given 30 minutes to shop, prepare and plate, it actually takes up to 12 hours to film an entire episode. Why? Well, beyond the three cooking challenges, two to three hours are set aside for interviews. And, of course, the judges need time to deliberate over each and every meal.
30. And they always have something to say, even while the contestants are still cooking. Which makes the cooking station closest to the panel arguably the worst. "They're watching you the entire time, so they see everything you're doing," Shepos Cenami said. "If you're next to them, you can hear them chatting while you're cooking, which can be difficult."31. The judges will always have a critique, too. "There's no way any chef, in half an hour, under those circumstances, can have a perfect dish," Shepos Cenami added.
32. But the food is never outright inedible. In fact, for the most part, it's "terrific," raved d'Arabian. "But does it ever happen that the food isn't great? Yes. Even great chefs have bad days, and sometimes a chef's nerves get in the way of real talent. Only once have I ever had a dish that truly was awful."33. Alas, it's rare the judges actually clean their plates. After all, in just one episode, they're served nine dishes. The trick, according to d'Arabian: "Become a master of tasting with restraint."
34. But if Fieri gets hungry during game play, well, he has a secret stash of beef jerky hidden behind the rice.35. As for how to actually win? Well, Fieri has a few tips for that: Don't over-portion or add in "frivolous" garnish. Use acid, make sure to check the seasoning and don't make a dish that competes with itself. Plus, check the temperature of the protein, remember less is more and use your imagination. Easy, right?