Humans may not have super powers in real life, but Chef Robert Irvine might be as close to super-human as you can possibly get. With restaurants in Las Vegas and the Pentagon… that’s right, THE Pentagon, a regular human would be content with those monumental achievements, but a super-human would do more. The only things bigger than Chef Irvine’s biceps are the size of his heart and the drive he has to not only give back to our military, but to educate people on eating and living healthy lives. You’ve seen him smashing walls with a sledge hammer on Food Network and preparing huge meals against even bigger odds in “Dinner: Impossible,” now the super chef is sitting down with TrunkSpace to chat about cooking in an ice hotel, potstickers, and exercising the culinary muscle.
TrunkSpace: When and why did you start cooking and who has been the biggest influence in your life with regards to your culinary journey?
Chef Irvine: I have always loved cooking. When I was younger, I helped my mom prepare Sunday roasts, but my first real interest in cooking came when I took a home economics class. It was the first time I was really educated about food, nutrition, and the balance of healthy and delicious meals. I continued cooking when I joined the British Royal Navy.
TrunkSpace: What style of cuisine do you enjoy creating the most and why? And what would you consider your signature dish?
Chef Irvine: It would be difficult to pinpoint any one cuisine as my favorite. I enjoy creating meals that are both healthy and delicious. One of my favorite meals is a perfectly roasted chicken with mashed potatoes – it is a simple and comfortable meal, but much harder to perfect than many realize. When I cook for my family, we do a lot of fish, particularly salmon. My wife also loves potstickers, so we eat a lot of vegetarian potstickers.
TrunkSpace: It’s been said that food is the gateway into a culture, that it identifies a history, family and a region. What do you feel your food says about your culture and history?
Chef Irvine: Again, one of my favorite meals to cook is a Sunday roast, a tradition in England. My food speaks to my childhood growing up in England and also incorporates healthy takes, which is inspired by my military experience. It’s important to eat well and stay healthy.
TrunkSpace: Every cook and/or chef has a really bad service, and it haunts them, but they grow and learn from it. Do you have a worst service memory that keeps you up at night? And how did it change you as a chef?
Chef Irvine: There was a dinner I prepared for the entire staff at the Quebec Ice Hotel in subfreezing temperatures during “Dinner: Impossible,” which was the closest to actually being impossible that I can recall. As chefs, we learn and grow from every experience. Repetition is the only way to exercise any muscle – including the culinary muscle – the more we practice, the better chefs we will be.
TrunkSpace: On the flipside of that, do you have a particular memory of your best service or a moment in your career that really stood out and has stuck with you?
Chef Irvine: I do a lot of work in support of our military personnel and their families and every moment I have to commit to these folks is beyond satisfying. It’s hard to put my finger on any one thing, but traveling with the USO and spending the past two Christmases with the troops in the Middle East would certainly be up there.
TrunkSpace: Do you have a set path in mind for your career and where it’s going? Where do you see yourself 10 years down the road?
Chef Irvine: While anything can happen, I see myself continuing to focus on pushing out good and healthy food, raising military awareness through my foundation, The Robert Irvine Foundation, and developing my monthly digital magazine, RobertIrvineMagazine.com. Whatever specific shape my endeavors take in the future matters less to me than the fact that I stay involved with what I’m passionate about. If you stick to what you’re passionate about, you can never go wrong.
TrunkSpace: With the advancement of technology in the past years, food has also advanced in many ways. Has it changed the way you cook at all?
Chef Irvine: I’m a big fan of a restaurant management software called CTUIT. It makes it easy to manage inventory and pinpoint what you’re losing to spoilage, allowing you to revamp or scrap specific menu items that are too costly or dragging down sales. It also allows you to evaluate employee performance in a really innovative way so you can reward high performance and counsel anyone who’s not up to par. It helps with everything, really, including scheduling. At the end of the day, it allows the staff to focus on turning out great food and providing a good experience to the customers. Any technology that can do that without getting in the way is a huge plus.
TrunkSpace: Molecular gastronomy… is it mad science or mad tasty? Do you feel it has a place in the culinary scene as entire dinner courses, or should it be used more in balance to further enhance traditional dishes?
Chef Irvine: I think if that’s your area of focus, then go for it. People are always looking for new experiences, so it has tremendous potential. At the end of the day, though, it’s all about the taste of the food. My food, of course, is more simple and traditional in preparation.
TrunkSpace: Chef life and tattoos seem to go together like sweet and savory. Do you have any food inspired ink? And if so, what does it mean to you?
Chef Irvine: No tattoos for me!
TrunkSpace: If someone offered you a blank check to open your own restaurant, whether that would be a brick and mortar, food truck or gastropub, what would your vision be? Where would it be located and what type of food would you focus on?
Chef Irvine: I’ve been lucky enough to have already opened my dream projects including Fresh Kitchen at the Pentagon and Public House at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. Both locations are incredible – seriously, who gets to open a restaurant in the Pentagon? – and they have tremendous energy. Both restaurants feature fresh, simple dishes and offer something for everyone, including a roasted chicken, of course.