Robert Irvine is the hunky host of Food Network's Restaurant: Impossible where he's tasked with turning around a failing restaurant armed with $10,000 and military efficiency.
If Irvine seems authentic in barking orders, he should. His career started in the British Royal Navy where he served as a chef. Irvine also cooked on the Royal Yacht Britannia and at the White House as part of the United States Navy "guest chefs" program before his television career kicked into high gear. Irvine also owns Robert Irvine's Eat! on Hilton Head Island.
Irvine will be co-hosting several events at the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival, which runs from December 7 - 11. We spoke with Irvine about his golf game, what he looks forward to the most at the festival, and what the holidays mean to him.
Clean Plate Charlie: First off, you'll be playing at the festival's golf tournament. How's your golf game?
Robert Irvine: Not great. I am not a real golfer. I live on a golf course, but I only play golf for charity. I'm doing it because I believe in all things good. When you see the good that these food and wine festivals do for other people, that's why I do them. I'm a big charitable guy. We just finished doing a big charity for Wounded Warriors at San Diego medical center. Anything that gives back, I'm in. My merchandise sales go to Gary Sinise Foundation. My next four live shows go to Hurricane Sandy charities. Plus, I have a chance to see some of my friends and have a little fun on my days off. And there's nothing better than spending a long weekend in Palm Beach.
What do you have planned at the festival?
I've got Burgers by the Beach, the golf tournament with Food Truck: Impossible, Food 4 Thought scheduled, and I'm sure I'll do more when I'm there.
There are always surprises.
You're known for surprises and doing some rather unusual events that involve challenges. Anything up your sleeve for the Palm Beach festival?
This is Robert Irvine. I like surprises. It keeps people off guard. When people pay to go to an event you've got to give then their money's worth. You've got to be the chef and you've also got to put on a good show. Chefs start out cooking for themselves. It's a passion. When we go to these festivals, we become those chefs again. That's what I intend to do. It's my first time in Palm Beach and I'm very pleased that they asked me. I want to make sure that when people leave they say "oh my God, what an amazing time." I want to make sure they got their money's worth because money's not easy to come by these days.
Do you think that a chef has to have an "it" factor and charisma to have a wide appeal besides making great food?
Yes. I think charisma, without a shadow of a doubt. I think most chefs do have that. But, let's face it. Chefs have become rock stars most recently, and when you're on stage you've got to be able to appeal to all sorts of people -- husbands, wives, kids, the elderly, single gals, biker dudes. You've got to really cross the market because that's the people that live in the real world. When we start cooking we get wrapped up in the food and we forget it's supposed to be entertaining. You've got to remember to put your message across in a fun way, because no one wants to be lectured at a food festival. It takes a moment to skin a fish and be silly about it, but that silliness is what they'll remember and keep them coming back and remembering what they saw.
At the end of the day food festivals raise money for charities and stimulate the economy.
What are you looking forward to the most at the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival?
I like meeting people. Our chef world is a very small world. I really love the camaraderie of the chefs. I really love that we'll probably go out to dinner somewhere. I love that I'll meet people that I've' never met before. We may do business there. I know we're going to have great food, I'll meet some wonderful fans, and we'll have an amazing time.
The holidays are upon us, which makes people crazy planning large meals and parties. Any strategies on how to cook for the holidays?
If we're smart when we can be smart, there are a few things we can look out for. First of all, be ahead of the game. Don't leave everything for the "day of". Treat your home kitchen like a professional kitchen. That means work your Mise en Place. The night before, we can prep all the vegetables, cut them up, leave them overnight in the refrigerator in ice water with lemon to keep it fresh. We can make our stuffing the day before. It's much better anyway. I personally don't want to be so stressed out cooking all day that I'm too tired to eat. You have to time your day so you can spend time with your family, have a glass of wine. There are things you can do way ahead of time. So you can have a glass of wine, a beer, talk to granny. Write the plan down and work the plan.
You're British but you live in the states now. What does Thanksgiving mean to you?
I'm on the road,so someone else is cooking for me which I love. My girls are big, 11 and 15 so they'll join me on the road, along with my wife, Gail. But, mostly, this is a time to reflect. I reflect on the goodness that is around the world and I reflect on the good people I've come to know during the past year. This is a time when I reset my goals -- hey, I've done this but what could I have done better?
Reflecting on this year, what are your goals for the new year?
Next year I want to do more charity stuff and I want to try to get a movie. I want to do more acting. I want to go into producing television. I have a new book that I'm working on. There are so many things that I literally stack my deck to work harder at everything I do.
I'm more than the guy who screams at people. It's funny. I still consider myself a military man. I'm trained to start with a mission in mind to get things accomplished. It's just interesting the perception of television and when you meet me you get a completely different perspective. I love my life and if you follow me on Twitter you'll know. (@Robertirvine1)
For a complete list of Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival events, and to purchase tickets, click here.
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