04/06/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT
Growing up, Guy Fieri adored his mom and dad. But their meals? Not so much. "My parents were into macrobiotic cooking—vegetarian, nondairy, whole grains, no red meat," Fieri says, shaking his head. "I started cooking when I was 10 because I just couldn't eat that stuff."
Starting young taught the spiky-haired chef with the "Kulinary Gangsta" tattoo how to have fun with food. That infectious joy has won him millions of fans for his Food Network shows like Guy off the Hook and Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. (It has also made him rich: He built his folks a house next to his Santa Rosa, Calif., home—no hard feelings about the alfalfa sprout childhood.)
Not surprisingly, Fieri, 41, now shares his love of cooking with sons Hunter, 12, and Ryder, 3. His wife, Lori, 38, who handled kitchen duty during the 200-plus days Fieri was on the road last year, seems immune to the charms of the stove. So when Dad's home, the boys head to the kitchen to help make favorites like barbecue, sushi or pizza. "Most parents think kids will mess up cooking," says Hunter, whose own innovations include cayenne-chocolate pizza. "They overreact instead of letting us have fun, like my dad."
And while Fieri allows that a deep-fried s'more may not be the healthiest treat, he says food is "so much more than nutrients. We all have an emotional connection to food. Why not use that to connect to our children?"