Healthy Living gets an up-close look at the world-famous celebrity chef’s kitchen and life.
Q&A by Healthy Living staff
Photo above: Matt Tuthill
Robert Irvine is a world-class chef, fitness authority and philanthropist. His Food Network shows have included the extreme cooking challenge, “Dinner: Impossible,” and his follow-up renovation show, “Restaurant: Impossible,” which has aired more than 170 episodes.
He also is the author of four books: “Impossible to Easy,” “Mission: Cook,” “Fit Fuel” and “Family Table,” his most recent work, which is a balance and nutritional guide for families to live their best lives. In 2016, he launched Robert Irvine Magazine, which offers recipes, workouts and motivational tools.
Robert recently talked with Healthy Living about cooking at home in the kitchen and abroad in unique locales, his tireless support of the nation’s military and how to stay fit and healthy.
Do you believe the kitchen is the heart of the home?
Absolutely. In my experience, the key to a healthy, strong family life leads through the kitchen. In my most recent book, “Family Table,” I share my reflections on how to create strong family bonds by coming together in the kitchen and at the dinner table. Meal prep shouldn’t be something that one family member does by themselves while everyone else is off doing their own thing. As often as possible, couples should try to cook together and get their kids involved. The kitchen is a wonderful place to tune out distractions, connect with one another and pass on what you’ve learned.
What is your goal as a chef in helping people incorporate your view of food and recipes into their home kitchen?
Flavorful, healthy meals don’t have to be complex, and meals don’t have to be two sides and a protein. I love to cook lean proteins like chicken, salmon and sea bass on a grill, then top with a simple black bean salsa made with canned tomatoes, black beans, onions and a little hot sauce. In general, I just don’t want anyone to be intimidated by making a great meal. A lot of it starts with great ingredients and having the good sense to let those shine and not get in the way too much. Master a few simple techniques and you can cook great food for a lifetime.
Your website says you’re not a typical chef. What makes you different?
While I love focusing on cooking healthy and tasty meals, I’m a military man at heart. I started the Robert Irvine Foundation to provide support for military members, veterans and their families. I work with my partners to create awareness throughout the community about the sacrifices made by our military personnel and first responders, and inspiring community support for the men and women defending our freedom. It’s my life’s work, and by far the most important thing I do.
What do you enjoy most when doing a TV show?
On “Restaurant: Impossible,” I love meeting and helping people. While I have a tough love approach, I have genuine care and concern for these restaurant owners. I’m truly committed and dedicated to helping these people turn around their lives and businesses. And I should add: doing the show is not entirely altruistic. It’s fine to help people for selfish reasons because it really does feel great! Every restaurant we fix gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction.
Can you share some of your experiences of working in exotic places like Bali, Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam?
I’m on the road upwards of 300 days a year, which has afforded me the opportunity to visit some of the world’s most exotic destinations. Each location is so beautiful and different, and the cultures and cuisine delicious and unique. But as fascinated as I am by the differences, and as much as those differences should be celebrated, I’m always more impressed by what’s the same—what’s universal. Love of family, friends and a sense of community—these are things that all cultures value. And, of course, food is at the center of that, a universal language that brings everyone together. Food’s power as a unifier is what really made me fall in love with it, and to get to see that power on display throughout the world has been incredibly gratifying.
What draws you to charitable work with troops and veterans?
Supporting the military and their families has always been a cause near to my heart. I got my culinary training in the British Royal Navy. Forming the Robert Irvine Foundation gave me a way to directly give back to those who serve our country, as well as first responders and many other heroes in our lives. The foundation has become the backbone of everything I do—with my sole mission through all of my partnerships, shows, products and more, directed toward it. We support our heroes through morale and welfare programs as well as provide financial assistance. My main goal is to raise awareness about the sacrifices that these men and women make each and every single day to defend our freedom. In short, we owe these men and women a debt that can never be repaid. But we have to try to give back as much as we can, whenever we can.
You’ve won many awards and accolades. What is your proudest achievement?
When I was designated honorary chief petty officer by the U.S. Navy and awarded the Bob Hope Award of Excellence in Entertainment and Support of Our Service Members in the same year. To me, those were signs that I was doing something right.
Many people struggle with motivation to stay fit and eat well. What keeps you motivated to stay in shape?
I always make it a priority to get to the gym for an hour a day, and at this point, it doesn’t even feel like a choice. If I want to continue pursuing opportunities in the culinary world, in TV—and keeping my foundation running at a high level—well, I can’t do any of that if I’m sick or out of shape. It’s not “working out,” it’s training for a high-performance lifestyle. Everything I’m able to accomplish stems from being physically able.
What are your three favorite things to eat? Any “cheat” meals or snacks?
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. On the cheat side, I love pub food like ribs, fish and chips, and I love desserts; virtually any dessert would make my guilty pleasures lists. Another guilty pleasure is Skittles (except the green ones!). The good news here is that I can enjoy my guilty pleasure, as can anyone that understands the concept of moderation.
What items would we find in your fridge most of the time?
Grape seed oil! It’s great because it has omega-3 fatty acids, a higher smoke point and no flavor, so it’s the perfect all-purpose cooking oil. It also needs to be stored in a cool location, so I actually recommend keeping it in the refrigerator for best results. A Sunday roast is one of my favorite meals, so if I’m not traveling, I often have a whole chicken, Brussels sprouts and butternut squash in there. When I’m traveling, I always have demi-glace, white wine vinegar and juices. I can make anything from that. Add in some grape seed oil and you can make a delicious salad dressing, then all you have to do is chop up your salad ingredients and you’re done!
What’s your favorite workout music?
I like a lot of different music, including a lot of things people wouldn’t expect. I love ABBA when I work out, Celine Dion and Pink. “The Winner Takes It All” is my favorite song. I also love Queen Latifah … she’s so genuine and gives so much.
Does your family share your same passion for working out and eating healthy?
Yes, we all share the idea that balance is key. My wife is probably more of a stickler for eating a clean diet than I am. She’s incredibly disciplined. When I cook for my family, we do a lot of fish, particularly salmon. My wife also loves pot stickers, so we eat a lot of vegetarian pot stickers.
You’ve written a number of essays about your strategies for a healthy family. Will you share some of those strategies?
My latest book, “Family Table,” focuses on just that. Interspersed throughout the recipes are a series of essays on my family philosophy. The book really shares what I’ve learned about how to be a better parent and lead children by setting a positive example. A few of the essays center on blocking out the negative influence of technology; we’ve all gone out to dinner and seen the families where everyone’s staring at their phones instead of talking to each other. And I’m not some curmudgeon when it comes to technology. It’s about appreciating what’s right in front of your face, because kids grow up so fast. You blink and they’re grown up—that’s always been the case. Now, with the phones, I get an uneasy feeling that there’s a generation coming up who won’t really know their parents. But when we quiet the noise and are truly present with one another, everything in front of us takes on a deeper meaning, especially family. We can’t stop the advance of technology, but we can take back dinnertime. The kitchen, the dinner table—these places should be an oasis. More than just physical nourishment, dinner can be time to feed your family’s soul. Family and food go hand in hand.