Robert Irvine is equal parts Chef, Drill Sargent, Counselor and Magician. He is the creator of the most popular show in the Food Network’s history, Restaurant: Impossible. And he is clearly a force to be reckoned with.
This weekend’s appearance at the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park was the last in his year-long “Robert Irvine Live Tour.” He brings the same intensity and passion that he exudes in his televisions shows to a live audience for an interactive stage version of his original program, “Dinner: Impossible.”
I scored some one on one time with the tough, buff Britt before he took the stage. We spoke about the big change ahead for “Restaurant: Impossible” which is the element of ambush. Can you imagine being surprised by THIS guy?! He shared his excitement over his new project, Fit Fuel, a guide to fitness, food and wellness. And I fired off my “Foodie Five.”
- What food won’t you eat? Cinnamon or peppers
- What ingredient can’t you live without? Rice wine vinegar
- What dish still stumps you? Cornbread
- What’s the biggest mistake home cooks make? Not turning off/down the burner.
- What would you like your last meal be? Roast chicken and mashed potatoes.
After my interview I got to sit in on the VIP experience. About 60 of his biggest fans got to fire off any questions they had for Irvine…like ‘Why was a local restaurant he featured/rescued on his show failing in the first place? (his answer: The owner was “Stupidity on legs.”) …’Do you have any of your own restaurants?’ (just closed two, but he is opening several soon, including one in Vegas and one at The Pentagon, and he is working out a concept with Disney) and ‘What was the hardest change he had to make in his own life?’ (realizing that it wasn’t all about him, he said)
“I realized that success does not equal being an a@*#hole. And I was one.”
Then he did a couple of interactive exercises. He demonstrated why he prefers grape seed oil (no flavor to interfere with the rest of the ingredients) and showed the proper technique for searing the crab cakes he was making (with fresh lump crab meat, stone ground mustard, egg yolks, mayo, chives, parsley, Old Bay and panko bread crumbs).
The fun really began for me when the Chef Irvine asked me to join him up front. I helped make the accompaniments, a grilled corn salsa and tomato salad as a garnish. He held my hand over the smoking, oiled pan to demonstrate just how hot it needs to be, and to remind us not to move the protein, so as not to disturb the natural sugars.
I was tasked with plating the notoriously demanding chef’s food…a tall order, but he was pleased.
And…not only did I get to participate in the demo…I got to eat the crab cakes that were hand-made by this wonder-chef. A good day at the “office” indeed.
After a brief photo/autograph session and meet and greet, it was time for the main event. He took the stage in front of an eager crowd that he had eating out of the palm of his hand.
He’s an imposing figure and a commanding character. Even his chef’s coat was an “extra medium.” Irvine himself jokes that he shops at Baby Gap for his famously tight tee-shirts. But I don’t blame him. The man is in incredible shape. And given both his physical fitness and his culinary chops, his new wellness and lifestyle book, Fit Fuel should do very well. What’s even more impressive about it, is that all of the proceeds go to the Robert Irvine Foundation, his non-profit that supports the men and women of our military. Irvine, who served 12 years with the Queen’s Royal Navy, spends about 150 days of the year traveling to military bases around the world. A portion of the proceeds from his commercial products line, Robert Irvine Foods also goes to support our military and their families. In addition, he supports the Gary Sinise Foundation, helping build homes for members of the Wounded Warrior Project.
During the two-hour show, the host and audience challenged him live with seemingly impossible tasks. The first was to make a dish incorporating a ridiculous combination of ingredients selected by six audience volunteers (including Spam, Lucky Charms, lobster, and Sour Apple Pucker) A couple of “sous chefs” from the crowd started the dish and quickly made a disgusting mess (by adding broccoli and potato chips in too). Chef Irvine had to pick it up from there. When he was challenged even further, and restricted to only one burner, Irvine unplugged a piping hot spotlight from stage right, and set it up on the prep table, then proceeded to sear a steak using the heat from the lamp. Genius. In less than 12 minutes, Irvine turned the mess into something delicious…confirmed by an audience taste-test.
The second event was a “Utensil Challenge” where Irvine’s chef’s knife, stock pock and tongs were taken away. Oh yeah, the host added a “Physical Challenge” into the mix. Irvine was also handcuffed around an audience member who had to act in tandem with him in order to complete the dish.
He competed against the self-proclaimed best professional chefs in the audience, working with another set of ingredients from “audience roulette,” which included zucchini squash, Oreos and steak. A blind taste test proclaimed Irvine the winner, again. He did his “happy dance” with a smile on his face more genuine than his usual mischievous smirk.
He concluded by letting the audience in on what he’s got in the works, a five-day a week health and wellness show. And he is two weeks in to Season 12 of Restaurant: Impossible. With an 87% success rate, and nearly 1 billion viewers globally, the franchise is a monster, and Irvine its master.