Elaine and Scott Harris
Could he be the Superman of chefs? Although rappelling down the outside of a landmark hotel might not be the traditional way to promote the opening of a chef’s first Vegas restaurant, Robert Irvine believes that he can accomplish anything he puts his mind (and body) to. The Food Network star and his crew do what it takes to mediate, motivate, and make over the most difficult restaurant problems, making him something of a motivational guru as well as a chef. Taking over a failing restaurant often entails dealing with failing marriages and other difficult relationship and financial issues, but on his popular Food Network shows Restaurant Express, Restaurant: Impossible and Dinner: Impossible, he does it all with amazing clarity, compassion, and a combination of trust and tough love.
Now, Irvine has branched out to incorporate his love of healthy living into his career with his newest cookbook, Fit Fuel, and his own food company, Robert Irvine Foods. According to Yahoo Finance, the company “offers a range of restaurant-quality products that are created with all-natural ingredients, minimizing the use of artificial preservatives, and crafted to be healthier by reducing calories, sodium and fat content without sacrificing the taste.” His Signature Sidekicks dishes, available at Wal-Mart, are an effort to make sides simpler and more nutritious by using top-quality ingredients. He also offers instructional YouTube videos, teaching even the novice cook how to make a healthy meal in minutes using his pre-packed Sidekicks. Not only that, the Robert Irvine Foundation donates a percentage of the proceeds from his food line to struggling military families.
Irvine exudes genuine compassion about helping others overcome barriers to successful living. During a Veteran’s Day cook-off at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino, the location of his soon-to-open restaurant, we spoke with him about his partnering with Ed Manley, founder of the Military Hospitality Alliance, for the 13th annual Military Culinary Competition. Fifty active duty military chefs met in friendly competition for the coveted title of Armed Forces Culinary Grand Champion. The event was co-sponsored by the Veteran’s Support Network, a C3 charity that provides free training and certifications to homeless veterans.
The Daily Meal: You are such an advocate of helping others to help themselves through your show Restaurant: Impossible and your foundation. How do you carry the same mission into your affiliation with the Ed Manley’s work with Military Hospitality Alliance and Veteran’s Support Network?
Robert Irvine: Ed and I have been friends for many years; we met way back in the ‘90s when I came to the States. We did an event in Denver for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ed is involved with the USO and other things.… It is very important to show our military service members how to cook. The Tropicana, the site of my restaurant, is also very involved with veterans, and this is a great partnership with me. I spend, on average, 150 days a year traveling to benefit our military. We want to highlight what the culinary guys do in the military. All the great chefs are here in Las Vegas and what a better place to highlight this than here. This is an opportunity for them to learn different skills since they don’t compete like this in everyday life. They cook for thousands of men and women out there in Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, Germany, and so forth, so this is really about giving back. This is not about Robert Irvine, it is a veterans’ weekend, and that is really special.
Are some of the proceeds from the event going to help the veterans through the Military Hospitality Alliance?
Yes, that is through Ed and my charity here also. All the people you see here are veterans — veterans helping veterans. Our country has somewhat forgotten about our military, and we are a conduit between the military and the general public. We usually only remember them when something bad happens, which is such a shame since the military is the largest employer in the world to an all voluntary force, which is really remarkable.
Could you please tell us a little about your book Fit Fuel?
Here’s one thing about me: I do things that people say you cannot do. Someone says you cannot rappel down the side of the Tropicana, and guess what? We did it. People said why is a chef writing a fitness book? I own gyms, I train with the military, and because I can. It is now in the fifth printing. They said women would not buy the book, and 80 percent of the purchases are by women. And a lot of the proceeds go into supporting the military through the Robert Irvine Foundation. Everything is about giving back.