In honor of all of the restaurants we miss dearly and who can’t wait to return, we ask some of the best-equipped chefs in the country to tell us about the meals that will be high on their list at Stay at Home Finally pick up orders. This is first meal back.
Robert Irvine, the star of the Food Network: Impossible restaurant, knows his way around the kitchen – and knows how to tear one up. Irvine began cooking professionally after enlisting in the British Royal Navy at the age of 15, and then served aboard the Queen’s royal yacht, Britannia.
After his 10-year business trip, the 54-year-old chef continued his culinary journey in the kitchens of hotels and ships in Europe, the Caribbean, America and the Far East. Eventually, that trip took Irvine, once named one of the 25 Fittest Guys in America by Men’s Fitness, to the Food Network, where Restaurant: Impossible was airing for the 17th time.
As part of our First Meal Back series, we reached out to Irvine at his Florida home to find out what he was up to during the lockdown and where to eat after the restrictions were lifted.
InsideHook: Where do you look forward to eating out most when the restaurants reopen?
Robert Irvine: For me, eating is about being with a group of people I enjoy being with. Where do I look forward to eating the most? Every restaurant where I hang out with good friends. One of the things the pandemic stole from all of us is our friendships as well as trust. Yes, we can zoom in and do all of these things, but the reality is that we are a group of men, women, and children who love to hug each other, shake hands, and be around people. Part of that for me is eating with people I love. I love my wife, but I’ve been here for eight weeks. I do the same routine. It’s almost like Groundhog Day every day. You get up, you take a shower, you go on a bike ride, you come back, you eat, you watch TV, you eat, you go to bed. I really look forward to being with people and enjoying food.
Who do you enjoy the most when the suspension is over?
A big part of my life until the coronavirus helped people and I spent over 150 days a year with our military around the world. For me, the right thing to do is to sit down at a table and with a 19 year old man or woman from one of our armed forces who may be forcing a nuclear warhead into a 20 × 15 hole or driving a tank or an airplane fly to break bread The most exciting dining experience ever. You can hear things from a different perspective. You have a 20-year-old who sends a $ 60 million plane off the end of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean but can’t yet drink a beer. I have the greatest joy when I dine with people who serve our country, and I sincerely mean that. I love to hear their stories.
Is there something you are looking forward to somewhere?
Vegas. I have a restaurant in Vegas and we have a huge bar. When I go to Vegas, it’s really the only time that I can’t just let go, I’m myself. It sounds weird when I say this, but I have my family around and I can enjoy it because I know I’m in that circle of security when that makes sense. I drink tequila. Not a lot, but I like tequila. We have a partnership with Patrón, so we make our own tequila, which is only sold in the restaurant. I literally shook it until it turned white and then I chug it like a shot. Then I’ll chug a Stella in pursuit. It’s called Robert Irvine.
Is there anywhere else that you really look forward to when the ban is over?
I love Washinton DC. I love the food scene there. I love New York, but I spend a lot of time in DC because I do a lot at the Pentagon and we have a restaurant there. I have a lot of friends there and I just like the atmosphere. It’s very classy, very fun, can’t wait to go back. I love a restaurant called Founding Farmers. You can get to the table from anywhere on the farm, but they – you will laugh when I say this – have the best devilish eggs on the planet. I keep going back there because they do a lot of great things, but I always start with fiendish eggs.
What did you cook at home during that strange time?
When you look at me it is obvious that I eat a lot of meat. My wife is almost vegan and has tried to teach me tofu, gochujang and many Asian foods. We don’t usually cook it here because we’re always on the go, but now we’re playing with tofu and some Asian spices. It was actually fun. When you write this people will say, “Robert Irvine, tofu? Yeah, OK ”because I’m not that guy.
What did you do to keep yourself in shape?
At first I thought we could order some weights because we don’t have a gym. Try to get weights during a pandemic. You literally can’t. So we drove 45 minutes to get a couple of bikes and we’ve been riding bikes ever since. I hadn’t ridden a bike since then. since I was probably 16. One day we do 20 miles and the next day we do eight miles. We do 20 miles and eight miles alternately. We did that to stay fit.
What does the restaurant business have to do to recover? this?
When you are married and have children, most household decisions are made by women. Women are the decision makers in our world. In my world too. My wife decides something, we do it. That’s a good thing because I don’t want to be decisive when I’m not working. I mean that in a sincerely positive way, but if we don’t make the women of the world comfortable when they go to a restaurant, we won’t go. Guys will go anywhere. We don’t think about safety, or maybe we do now because we need to think about it, but we never did. I think for me in the restaurant business I need to let all the mothers in the world know that my restaurant is safe for their children, for their grandma, for their grandpa, for their husband and for their friends. As soon as I can prove to them that the environment is safe, gastronomy will return pretty quickly. But it will take a minute to get to that point.
What was the biggest challenge for you in this whole experience?
Sit back and watch people go through trouble and unable to reach out and help them. Feeling helpless is the worst thing for me because I’m a do-it guy. I’m going to a place, I’ll fix it. I see a person, I fix them. I’m a doer so staying home scared because I know I can help people. Sitting at home at eight weeks feels like I’ve lost eight weeks, just stuck in time. Feeling helpless is just the worst part for me and I can’t wait. I want to take the risk of endangering my own health. It’s not about if I get coronavirus, it’s about when. Some of us will get it, some of us won’t. Some of us will make it worse, others won’t feel it. It’s out there, but we can’t live in a bubble or in a box. We need to be as safe as possible and follow protocols with gloves, masks and social distancing. I think there are ways to do that but still help people. Restaurant Impossible is a real show. Real people, real problems, real solutions. This makes it even more real.
Were there any positive aspects to all of this? Good site?
Absolutely. There have been terrible deaths, let’s get it out of the way. We had time with our families that we would never have had if we hadn’t been drawn into this lockdown. I think that’s positive. We learned to do things that we normally wouldn’t do together. Cooking together, cleaning together, eating together, going to school and adapting to life changes. I think we learned to do more with less. I think a lot of us have started to understand what family means and that comes from losing other people’s families. I think that really got us thinking about what we have more than what we don’t. We have love, we have life, we have each other. We don’t have toilet paper, but it’s okay, we’ll find out.
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