Chef Robert Irvine heads to the Granite State

Chef Robert Irvine is headed here this month to host the new Hampshire food bank’s steel chef competition

You’re probably familiar with Chef Robert Irvine’s tough-love approach to whipping restaurant owners into shape from his popular Food Network show “Restaurant: Impossible.” What you might not know is that Chef Irvine helps more than just the owners of failing restaurants — he’s heavily involved with organizations that assist members of the military, their families and veterans such as his own eponymous non-profit the Robert Irvine Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation. On March 14, he’s turning his passion for doing good to the New Hampshire Food Bank’s exciting fundraiser, the Steel Chef Challenge. Visit nhfoodbank.org for more information.

People might not know about your military background. How did it lead to becoming a chef?  I actually entered the British Royal Navy at the age of 15, and it was on board a Navy ship that I first honed my culinary skills. I learned quite a bit about the challenges of cooking with limited supplies and equipment, but also about the dedication and sacrifice required of individuals who enter the armed forces. Clearly, my life has taken a few unique and exciting directions since my early Navy days, but my appreciation for the experience these folks endure every day in the name of freedom has only grown stronger.

You were recently recognized by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. What has this meant to you? There’s really nothing more humbling than a being the recipient of a Patriot Award, not only because of what the award stands for and who stands behind it, but also because of the many amazing people that received it before me. The specific Patriot Award I was honored with was the Bob Hope Award for Excellence in Entertainment. The award’s namesake alone should tell you quite a bit about the sort of man/woman it exists to recognize.

Clearly, you’re dedicated to active military members and veterans. Why is this important to you? There’s nothing that brings me more joy than to be the source of laughter or even a smile to an active-duty member serving far from home and facing extreme conditions every day. And even for those that do make it home and retire from service, memories of traumatic experiences are never gone from their consciousness, so any source of happiness or inspiration of hope that I can provide is the most rewarding effort imaginable.

You’ve been here at least twice now, thanks to “Restaurant: Impossible.” Is there anything about the state that stands out to you?  I don’t think there are many places in this country with a natural environment quite as gorgeous as New Hampshire. Just driving into the state and traveling from location to location was enough for me to appreciate it in a way I would have never realized possible. Then to top it off, I, of course, have managed to squeeze in some fantastic dining experiences here, so that’s also made me excited for the opportunity to come back.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve encountered on your shows?  Well, as you know of the show, I’ve never met a challenge I couldn’t conquer.  But I’ve had a few closer-to-impossible-than-possible moments over the years, and one that haunts me in particular was actually with the Food Network show “Dinner: Impossible,” which had me cooking in sub-freezing temperatures at the Ice Hotel in Québec, where I had only seven hours to prepare a delicious meal for the hotel’s entire staff. Everything was frozen, including our hands and feet, but somehow we managed to thaw out and create an incredible meal for the well-deserving team.

Categories: Q&A

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