Celebrity chef Robert Irvine got into cooking when he was 11 years old, for one reason. Actually, it was 30 reasons.
“I joined a home economics class at the age of 11 because there were 30 girls and me,” said the 49-year-old Food Network star. “Though, actually, the first time I made a quiche Lorraine, the interest in the girls went out the window and inquisitiveness in cooking – not only how it happened, but also how it kept people fed – became more interesting to me than girls.”
The host of “Restaurant: Impossible” brings his high-energy touring show, “Robert Irvine Live,” to the Gallo Center for the Arts on Saturday. Much like the name suggests, the show is a live experience with the chef as he cooks, tells stories and tackles culinary challenges with the audience.
Irvine said the idea for the production came three years ago.
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“I wanted to be able to touch people who couldn’t be able to get to my restaurants,” Irvine told The Bee while on tour in Oklahoma City. “I am a hands-on guy with my fans. I wanted to be able to touch and speak and see people.”
He calls it a “multisensory show” that includes a mini-biography of his life – born in England, enlisted in the Royal Navy at age 15, served on Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia and worked as an executive chef around the world. The interactive production also uses video clips, though much of it is unscripted.
“You can sit there and watch a guy cook, but that’s not very exciting to me,” he said. “I want to have fun so people can escape for two hours of their life.”
Irvine’s own journey as a star of the Food Network began in 2007 with his show “Dinner: Impossible,” which featured cooking challenges in each episode. The series aired eight seasons before ending in 2010. The following year, Irvine launched his new series, “Restaurant: Impossible,” a similarly themed show that has Irvine helping struggling restaurants across the country by making over their interiors and menus in just two days.
He has also appeared on “Worst Cooks in America,” “Iron Chef” and “The Next Iron Chef.”
Irvine said the appeal of “Restaurant: Impossible,” now in its eighth season, is its human element.
“It’s a reality show, but it’s not like, apparently, all these other reality shows. I’m not told what to do or say. It’s about real people,” he said. “We have a 78 percent success rate in the restaurants we’ve saved. How many reality shows can say they helped a small business? We just saved a house being repossessed and a family being split up. I don’t think of it as television, I think of it as helping people.”
Of course, while he is helping people, Irvine’s sometimes aggressive style also shines through. Overhauling the failing eateries with $10,000 on a strict two-day deadline leaves Irvine little time for niceties. The New York Times called his formula on the show a “mix of tough love, expertise and shouting.”
Then there are the muscles. Irvine’s impressive physique, including his bulging biceps, which are perpetually peeking out from his tight T-shirts, is also on display as he whips unruly restaurants and their owners into shape. So how does a man who spends most of his time on the road traveling stay in shape himself? Does he lift sides of beef in each new kitchen he visits?
“I do cardio. I do 10 minutes a day to warm up. I work out using one body part a day, light weight and lots of reps,” he said. “I work out hard, and then take a shower and go to work. There’s no excuse not to be able to work out. You don’t have to go to gym – play football with kids, run around in the park. Get to know your kids, get them off their computers and smartphones. Cook with them like I cooked with my mother.”
To help people stay fit, Irvine launched a line of baked protein bars, Fit Crunch bars, earlier this year. He also has a new book, “Fit Fuel,” coming out later this year. He said anyone can learn to eat and enjoy healthful foods.
“I have been on a lifelong crusade to get parents and children to understand the correlation between fitness, sickness and food. A lot of children don’t understand where the milk and tomatoes come from,” he said. “That’s why I got into the fitness-type foods. Protein bars, foods that are better for you with less sodium, less sugar and more flavor. People think if you take the fat, sugar and salt out, it’s not going to be flavorful. But that’s not true.”
He said the popularity of cooking and food shows has helped improve the quality of food across the country. Restaurants and supermarkets have started carrying a more diverse line of products because of demand from consumers.
“People are much more savvy to their bodies and what we need in them,” he said. “The consumers have gotten so smart, so not only supermarkets but restaurants have to step up their game.”
Besides his TV hosting and live appearances, Irvine also has traveled around the world for various philanthropic endeavors. Most recently, he partnered with actor Gary Sinise and his work with wounded veterans. But whatever he is doing, Irvine said he hopes it helps people. Even if there is a little yelling along the way.
“I think my life has changed dramatically since I started doing this, being a public figure or celebrity or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “I just hope I can use it for betterment.”