The celebrity chef and former Hilton Head resident dishes on flavor and his future.
Story by Maddie Bane
Celebrity chef Robert Irvine has been involved with a plethora of Food Network shows, including Restaurant: Impossible, Chopped, Guy’s Grocery Games, Worst Cooks in America and Food Network Star. Over the years, his brand expanded with fitness-based protein products, a distillery, foundations that support veterans and active military, and, of course, restaurants. He’s even got one in The Pentagon that serves the Department of Defense. As a former resident of Hilton Head Island and someone familiar with Lowcountry cuisine, we thought he’d be the perfect person to chat with to discuss all things flavor.
BRINGING THE HEAT Robert Irvine is shown striking a pose with Anne Burrell on the set of “Worst Cooks in America,” working his magic during a “Robert Irvine Live!” cooking demonstration (top) and being recognized by the U.S. Navy as an Honorary Chief Petty Officer, an honor bestowed upon him for his dedication to the Armed Services and commitment to excellence.
[LOCAL Life] What inspired you to become a chef? Was there a certain dish that inspired you? [Robert Irvine] Home economics is where all the girls were! [Laughs] I didn’t wind up meeting any girls, but did find out that I had a natural way about the kitchen. I was hooked from there.
[LL] What’s one trick to turn an ordinary meal into something gourmet-looking? [RI] I might be the wrong guy to ask this question, because I’m all about taste. Little-known fact, but there are folks called food stylists, and their whole job is to make something look pretty on a plate for magazine and book photo shoots. I don’t work with them for my books because I think it’s dishonest. I always present my dishes in a way that most home chefs could recreate with reasonable effort. And in all honesty, if you put the love into the dish and don’t carelessly plop it onto the plate, it should look plenty appetizing.
[LL] What ingredient can always be added to heighten any flavor profile? [RI] Salt is the oldest and best flavor enhancer in the world, and I’m happy to see that more people are getting wise to the fact that it adds a really interesting layer to desserts — cookies, ice cream, pie, brownies — and not just to savory dishes. Salted caramel is a flavor I’m seeing everywhere, and I see they’re starting to make salty Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. You can try experimenting with it, but just remember that a little goes a long way. A while back, the editors at Robert Irvine Magazine recommended a Himalayan sea salt grater, and I’m a sucker for things like that —salt from all over the world. Regular table salt has silica added to keep it from clumping, and not everyone’s aware of that.
[LL] What’s your go-to flavor combination? [RI] You’ll never pin me down to just one, but if you look at my cooking, you’ll see that I really value balance, both when it comes to flavor and texture. Whether that’s adding a few crumbles of savory blue cheese to a bright, fresh salad of arugula and grilled peaches or my s’mores pie with its crunchy, salty, buttery crust and gooey chocolate and marshmallow topping. The perfect mouthful is what every chef is after. I don’t know if perfection can be achieved, but when you chase balance, you get closer to it.
MUSCLE MEN and WOMAN Irvine is shown with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Irvine’s wife, Gail Kim, is a famous professional wrestler. The couple met on the set of Dinner: Impossible, when he came to serve VIPs for WWE’s SummerSlam. He proposed two years later with a chocolate diamond. Guy Fieri (right) was best man at their 2012 wedding.
[LL] Can you walk us through the best meal you’ve ever made? [RI] Well, I think the question of what’s my best meal is one best answered by other people. No chef is in charge of how their creations are received. If you asked my daughters, Annalise and Talia, their favorite dish that I made for them when they were little, they’d say it was bacon on a Martin’s roll. [Laughs] But for my money, a whole roast chicken with a parsnip puree and roasted veggies — that’s very close to perfect. Again, it’s about taking the time and putting the love into it, but when you do, that’s food that really brings people together and has the power to make them happy.
• Family Table
• Mission: Cook!
• Fit Fuel: A Chef’s Guide to Eating Well, Getting Fit, and Living Your Best Life
• Impossible to Easy
• Dinner: Impossible
• Worst Cooks in America
• Restaurant: Impossible
• Restaurant Express
• All-Star Academy
• A Hero’s Welcome
• Chopped: Impossible
• Next Iron Chef
• The Robert Irvine Show
• Fresh Kitchen by Robert Irvine (The Pentagon, Arlington County, Virginia)
• Robert Irvine’s Public House (The Tropicana, Las Vegas, Nevada)
[LL] What is the future looking like for you? [RI] It’s bright! Like everyone else who owns a restaurant, the pandemic has been a very rough time for that, but you can’t keep this industry down forever, and when the whole country is open again and people are ready to go out to eat, I think you’re going to see new boom times for restaurants. In the meantime, I partnered with VirusSafe Pro, a safety checklist app that is helping all kinds of businesses reopen safely. My protein bar company, FitCrunch, continues to expand with new flavors and options for every kind of lifestyle. My liquor company, Boardroom Spirits, and Robert Irvine Foods are all humming along quite nicely now, too. I’m also proud of the Robert Irvine Foundation. We support veterans, first responders, and their families, and we’ve been able to do some great work during the pandemic. We’ve got to take care of the people who take care of us.
[LL] Are there any things you miss about residing on Hilton Head Island? [RI] Certainly! It’s a gorgeous place to live, and I’m so happy I got to call it home for as long as I did. The beaches are world-class and so are the people.
[LL] What would your “Last Supper” be? [RI] Oh man, that’s really tough, and I know it’s changed over the years, but I do have a deep love and appreciation for pub food. A full rack of ribs and some crispy golden fries sound like a darn good way to go out.
As seen on TV
Making a great meal doesn’t have to be impossible. This Italian flatbread was featured in the Restaurant: Impossible episode “Reuniting Family in Missouri.” Find more recipes from the show online at chefirvine.com.
6 ounces pizza dough
4 slices hard salami
4 slices spiced ham
4 slices mortadella
3 slices provolone cheese
2 eggs yolks
1/2 cup banana peppers
1 scallion, sliced
Directions  Roll pizza dough into a thin circle. Place cheese, salami, spiced ham, and mortadella in the middle.  Fold one side of the pizza dough onto the other, creating a pocket.  Fold edges of piadina, close by pinching using your index finger and your thumb.  Coat entire piadina with egg wash and top with salt.  Place in a 450 degree oven for 9 minutes. Cut piadina in half and plate. Serve with chili aioli (recipe below) and sliced scallions.
Ingredients (chili aioli)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon gochujang
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
Directions In a large mixing bowl, add mayonnaise, sriracha, gochujang and minced garlic. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.