Exactly nine years ago today, when the name “Guy” came out of Emeril Lagasse’s mouth, Guy Fieri‘s life would change forever.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I really hope this works. I sure would like to win this,'” Fieri tells PEOPLE of the moment right before he won The Next Food Network Star in 2006, which launched the chef and restaurateur towards super-stardom. “It was one of those movie moments. You can hear the paper opening. My heart was just thump thump, thump thump.”
While Fieri has still kept in touch with his co-contestants, he’s moved forward at a manic pace, occupying roles as cookbook author, restaurateur, T.V. host, and sunglass enthusiast. Only a few weeks after winning, his first show, Guy’s Big Bite, launched.
“We got busy right away,” Fieri says. “I remember watching myself for the first time. Every mistake I made I knew exactly what I’d done wrong. I remember going ‘ooooh! ahhhh!’ But the only way to learn is to pay attention and build on your mistakes, and I’ve been surrounded by producers who’ve taught me a tremendous amount.”
As for the next nine years, well, Fieri hopes things stay pretty much the same—he likes the way things have turned out.
“I don’t think Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives will ever end. I’ll be doing that show in a walker,” Fieri half-jokes. “I take every day as a blessing. I just want to continue being happy and healthy and celebrating with my family. I don’t see any sunset coming.”
Fieri is actually just getting started. After years of being badgered by his eldest son, Hunter—who starts college in the fall—the chef has finally caved to Instagram and posted his first photo (a #TBT one, naturally) on the anniversary of his win.
“Hunter has been on me like you wouldn’t believe,” Fieri says. “At least every couple of weeks he’s been giving the Instagram push. Finally, I thought, ‘You know what? If my fans want Instagram, I’ll give them some Instagram.’ I can’t say I’m the best photographer, but they’re going to get something!”
—Maria Yagoda, @mariayagoda