Talking “Diners, Drive-Ins, And Dives” With Kat Higgins

March 3, 2016

Our stable of Ponies is a diverse stable. We come from all backgrounds and pull from all experiences to make Fast Horse great. For example, Shayla was a professor, Alex S. founded a Twin Cities music blog, and I was a health and fitness writer. But in my opinion, our very own producing wiz, Kat Higgins, has the most interesting background of all. She was the executive producer on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Yes, that Food Network show with that guy, Guy Fieri, decked out in flames and peroxide.

As an über-fan of Triple D, I knew I had to take Kat to coffee to learn some precious intel. I mean, how could you not like a guy who says stuff like “I could put this on a flip-flop, and it would taste good,” and, “It’s like a hot-dog lasso on the ranch in Flavortown”?

And with that, here’s my own personal trip to Flavortown with Kat!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: If you crave any more quotes, there’s always this Guy Fieri Random Quote Generator.]

Kat and Guy

Kat and Guy driving around in his famous Camaro on set.

Q: What was your role on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives?
A: I started as a researcher in 2007 during the very first season and left as the executive producer in 2015. Over the years, I had many different and evolving roles. In addition to managing and refining the research process, I was in charge of the restaurant selection, the pre-, field, and post-production, and the content of the episodes. Even bigger than that became my role of managing the talent and the network relations and expectations.

Where’s “sunglass manager” and “bleach wrangler” on that list?! Did you have any unusual tasks?
I executive produced all the spoof material. Every year Guy has a giant birthday party with hundreds and hundreds of people, and it’s always a themed costume party. It’s always a totally lame theme like Caddy Shack and Animal House because he’s into stupid movies. I’m proud to say I won the costume contest three years in a row. Every year our tradition was to create a blooper reel to play at the party. One year I created “Fieri Style” – a spoof on Gangnam Style rewritten to match Guy’s life. It was a hit!

Triple D is the only Food Network show to have been nominated for a Primetime Emmy (It’s been nominated three times in three years), and you’ve won a Daytime Emmy with Guy. Why do you think Triple D is such a mega-hit?
The format of the show and the combination of the mass appeal of the talent all kind of blossomed together at the same time. And, Guy is an accessible, relatable person. Love him or hate him, he is relatable. In the early years of the show, we went from “never heard of” to Food Network’s top-rated show and stayed there for years and years. The direction of food-specific programming was really evolving at this time as well. It was becoming more travelogue, more foodie, more blue-collar, and the mom-and-pop shops were being celebrated. This trend was really jump-started by Triple D, but there have been a lot of copycats ever since.

Guy’s ‘68 Red Camaro that’s in every episode…How do you get it from location to location? I’m guessing Guy doesn’t make the cross-country road trip every weekend.
That’s the beauty of high-price luxury car transportation. We put it in a huge covered trailer, and it’s transported in that trailer from city to city. Funny Camaro story. We were shooting in New York, and we had Mario Batali out to be a guest on the show. We set up this whole shtick at the end where Mario was going to make off with the Camaro and drive it away. The cameras are set up and Mario gets in the car and drives off down the street. The car runs out of gas a few minutes later in the middle of a New York busy intersection. He calls Guy and says he has nice bystanders helping him push it out of the road. Needless to say, the individual in charge of making sure the Camaro doesn’t run out of gas was in the hot seat that day.

For all of our restaurateur readers, what’s the criteria for picking a Triple D restaurant?
First, homemade food from scratch. Food has got to be outstanding. Guy has a ridiculously high bar when it comes to food quality. If he doesn’t like something, it doesn’t make the show. If he’s on TV and he says, “This sauce is money,” he really means it. Second, the character, which is usually the chef, has got to be interesting, dynamic, and easy to work with. Also, the restaurant has to be within 45 minutes of a city center. When Guy comes into a city to film, he does three restaurants in one day and three restaurants the next day. That means your locations have to be very close to each other because you can’t spend half the time driving from restaurant to restaurant. There’s a whole myriad of criteria beyond these, but quality of food, strength of characters, and logistics are big ones.

What’s your favorite restaurant Triple D visited in Minnesota?
Victor’s 1959 Café. The other place that holds a special place in my heart is The Nook in St. Paul. I went to school with one of the owners, and I was responsible for getting him on the show. I have a lot of pride for that particular place!

What about of all time?
Pica Pica in San Francisco’s Mission District. It’s Venezuelan. Un-be-liev-able.

Looking back, what was the most rewarding part of being on the Triple D team?
I think it had to be just being a part of something so revolutionary and game-changing from the very start and growing with it every step of the way. It was my baby. My son was a year and a half when I started on this show. I raised him along side this show, and it’s the same thing. You have missteps. You have growing pains. And it screams at you, cries, and sh*ts its pants. But in in the end, it’s your baby, and you love it.