Royal Navy. Once he’d determined the food and beverage business as his chosen path, he quickly built his cooking chops in restaurant gigs around the world—working on cruise ships, executive cheffing, and in a series of restaurant ownership and consulting jobs. The idea for “Restaurant: hen it comes to TV Impossible” was his, Irvine says: shows about saving “It was actually a show that I restaurants, Robert wanted to do years before, when Irvine might rightly claim to be we started another program called the reigning king of the genre. ‘Dinner Impossible.’” That show, The popular Food Network with its reality TV-like premise star has really set a standard and its move away from strictly for how the concept ought to demonstrating food preparation, work, especially considering that in Irvine’s opinion, changed the “Restaurant: Impossible,” Irvine’s dynamic of food television entirely. most successful show to date, is His new show took things much now in its ninth season. farther from the old ‘stand and stir’ A spin-off from a previous show model. “‘Restaurant: Impossible,’ Irvine helmed, called “Dinner first and foremost, is the only real Impossible,” the premise of ‘reality’ TV show there is,” Irvine “Restaurant: Impossible” challenges says. “There’s no script; there’s no Irvine to literally resurrect a telling me what to do. When I deeply troubled restaurant in go into it, I choose not to know two days, with a meager budget anything about the restaurant or of $10,000. As each episode the family who runs the business, unfolds, it becomes a dizzying because I want it to be real. I want whirlwind of transformations, with their emotions to be real, their restaurant owners having to take a stories to be real—I want it to show painstakingly honest look at why that these are real people with real their businesses are failing, and then problems on the verge of bankruptcy, make a decision to change whatever and that it involves their homes, their is necessary—all in the brief span cars, their businesses—even their of 36 hours. In the process, it’s not kids and their marriages—and I take uncommon to see Irvine wield a that very seriously.” sledgehammer to knock out a wall, The loose, somewhat lend his shoulder for a fit of crying improvisational nature of the or tell an indifferent employee to show works for Irvine and his hit the road. Over the past eight fans. “It really amazes me, because seasons, “Restaurant: Impossible” each story is similar in the plot, as has broadcast a whopping 107 it were. It’s real life, and you never episodes, helped hundreds of know what the characters are families regain their pride and going to say or do. The emotions livelihood—and along the way, that you feel—anger, frustration, picked up consistently high ratings. fear, sadness, happiness—all the things that the human spirit feels The ‘fit chef’ at some point or another, you have If appearances count for to somehow push into a TV show anything, Irvine looks like the that runs for 42 minutes and takes sort of person you’d want on 36 hours of real time to shoot.” your side in any kind of fight. Irvine’s unquestionable Tall and strapping, and built like compassion for his show’s subjects a linebacker, he commands an has helped “Restaurant: Impossible” undeniable authority on and off gain a wide audience. “Let’s face the set. It’s clear that when Irvine it,” he says, “America was built on talks, people had better listen up. small business. And mom and pop A native of Wiltshire, England, restaurants are going out of business Irvine began his cooking career all over the place because of lack of when he was 15, in the British
R MISSION, INC
AMERICA WAS BUILT ON SMALL BUSINESS. AND MOM AND POP RESTAURANTS ARE GOING OUT OF BUSINESS ALL OVER THE PLACE BECAUSE OF LACK OF KEEPING UP WITH KNOWLEDGE, WITH FOOD, WITH KEEPING THINGS CLEAN AND ALL THE REST OF THE REASONS YOU SEE ON THE SHOW. I TRY TO DO WHAT I CAN TO HELP THEM. keeping up with knowledge, with food, with keeping things clean and all the rest of the reasons you see on the show. I try to do what I can to help them.” His ethos is as straightforward as his approach to helping the restaurateurs. “Years and years ago, when I first got into television, well, you go through this stage of ego—you think you’ve made it and nobody can touch you. And it’s only as you experience all the mistakes you make and things you see when you grow up, that you also see that what you do and what you say and how it affects peoples’ lives. Now, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t try and make a difference in somebody else’s life.”
an easy process. “Some people see me and say ‘Oh, you’re so mean,’ and I tell them it’s not meanness, it’s intensity. For 62 years, you’ve been losing money and I’ve got to fix your life in 36 hours. They do finally get it; after about eight hours and a minute, they realize ‘Oh, Robert’s not here to make us look silly—he’s here to help us.’”
With so many ailing restaurants vying for a turn with Irvine and his team, the popular host understandably has little time for other distractions. Even though he’s on the road 345 days a year, he says he still makes time for other projects. In addition to sticking with “Restaurant: Impossible” for as long as COUNSELOR AT LARGE One of the most unexpected hats people continue to enjoy it, the indefatigable host says he’s also Chef Irvine must wear for his planning the launch of a pair of hit show is that of psychological new shows—one built around his counselor. In every episode, the deep appreciation for returning restaurant owners, management military veterans and another and staff invariably seem to that’s focused on fitness, which require a bit of talking to in Irvine is equally passionate about. order to get themselves and their Everything he’s involved in restaurants back on track. Irvine’s style seems to lend itself nicely to seems to have a common thread, however, one that weaves its way the task. “When you deal with through Irvine’s story is humanity. people, you never know what’s coming, so I just rely on myself as “People inspire me,” he says. a dad and as a business owner and “No matter how downtrodden husband, and I try and put myself someone might be—I believe that we can make a difference every day in their position,” he explains. in someone’s life. I know it sounds “But bear in mind that I only have 36 hours to fix it, so I’ve got like a cliché, and I know I harp on it, but, to me, we always have to no time for nonsense—tell me what it is and let me figure it out.” ask ourselves, ‘What have I done for someone else today?’” As it turns out, it’s not always
JULY/AUGUST • 2014
Published on Jun 30, 2014
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