Food Network chef Robert Irvine shares tips for healthy eating

Food Network chef Robert Irvine shares tips for healthy eating

Chef Robert Irvin had no intention of appearing on TV.When I came to the US in the ’90s, I knew I could cook and run a restaurant and I did. Early on, no, I didn’t think about TV,” Irvine says.

He began his career as Executive Chef at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “Coincidentally, this restaurant was losing a lot of money before I got there,” Irvine said. “Her change was very satisfying, but only years later did I realize that such a transformation would make for good television.”

According to Irvine, when the Food Network began to grow and expand, “people began to realize that food programs don’t have to be a showcase of traditional instruction-style cooking in a controlled environment, that was a watershed development for me.”

Now, years later, by his show Restaurant: ImpossibleOver 200 (and more) diners have helped turn their restaurants and lives around. He has also hosted or appeared on countless other shows including Dinner: ImpossibleAnd the The worst chef in AmericaAnd the Next Iron Chefand much more.

And Irvine is using his notoriety for good, too. In 2014, he established The Robert Irvine Foundation, which focuses on giving back to our military and first responder communities. “Giving feels good. Helping sounds good,” Irvine said. “I am totally addicted to it and will do it for the rest of my life.”

While on location in Nampa, Idaho, he’s working on his next season of Restaurant: ImpossibleIrvine took some time outside of his busy filming schedule to answer a few questions for MensHealth.com about his TV shows and career, giving back and his foundations, nutrition and exercise.

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

Where do you find the motivation to pursue all your different endeavors, especially on tough days?

I guess I don’t think of it in terms of needing to find motivation. Motivation is all around me. There are my daughters, my wife, my team, my foundation. There are so many people who depend on me to bring them every day and give my all and I can’t let them down.

I can’t let myself down either. The kind of life I want to live depends on the forward momentum. In this sense, I have always been intrinsically motivated to achieve; There is nothing “there” – everything is “here” if that makes sense.

What do you think keeps like shows Restaurant: Impossible Alive and prosperous after all these years?

Menu redesigns and renovations are obviously common, and they are really powerful visuals that we just can’t do without. But I don’t think this show will reach 20 seasons and beyond if we count on that. We go in depth with the owners and try to find the root cause of the problems that threaten to flood the restaurant.

This is a strong emotional line for the viewer. Each week, they should root for this owner to get to the revelation and make the change, not just to see what the designer came up with. I think we have achieved that.

After all these seasons, what’s the most unique restaurant you’ve revitalized and why?

It’s not a cop to say you can’t ask me that. I can’t pick one favorite song, let alone pick a favorite restaurant. I would say I have a favorite class; I love helping civic-minded restaurateurs who use their restaurants as community centers and are looking for ways to give back to people in their area.

There have been a bunch of episodes like this, but I’ve filmed so much in general that I’m biased towards the most recent ones, which were Park Vue Soul Food Bar and Restaurant in Buffalo and Smith’s Soul Food Bistro in Gastonia, NC. As usual, I was frustrated with the way the owners run things, but they have such big hearts and instincts to give back to their communities that I couldn’t stay crazy for long.

Courtesy of Robert Irvine

What is the hardest part of running a restaurant that people don’t realize?

I think most people who get into it are ignorant of the full extent of their consumption. Running any small business has a way of making it represent your whole life, but running a restaurant increases the stress exponentially.

People have such a wealth of food options that you simply cannot give them a single bad experience. Word of mouth is everything. Scream is everything. One day off can cost you a lot of money in repeat business. You go through a few bad days and suddenly the entire endeavor is in danger of unraveling. Your margin of error is very weak.

How was the Robert Irvine Foundation created?

I am an Englishman by birth, and an American by choice. I love this country and can’t imagine my life without it. Realizing that the freedoms we enjoy–to pursue whatever excites us and make us happy–could not have without our men and women in uniform, I felt I had to return the favor. I have also served in the military and realize how difficult this life is for both the individuals serving and their families. Even in peacetime.

There is a saying, “All family members serve,” and I think that is absolutely true. I needed to find a proper way to say thank you, so I went on long USO tours and helped the Gary Sinise Foundation with its charitable work, eventually creating my own.

Tell us a little about the many influences the establishment has had on the military community so far.

Currently, there are veteran homeless shelters that have been refurbished to serve more people thanks to grants from the foundation. There are veterans who have lost limbs or been paralyzed and are able to maintain an active outdoor life with their families thanks to the wheelchairs we were able to purchase for them.

Then there are the thousands of meals we’ve cooked and served to the troops and the countless protein bars we’ve donated. We’ve finally come to a place where we raise big money and can make an even bigger impact. I’m thrilled with where we are now, but even more excited about where we’re going.

What is the best part about giving?

From an altruistic standpoint, it’s simply the right thing to do. From a selfish point of view, it feels great! Of course, we are diligent in helping each other. Giving is a good feeling. Help looks good. This is how we evolved as a species. It is how we create society.

There is a slight rush of endorphins when you can give something to someone who needs it; This is a little incentive of nature for us to keep doing things like this. It shocks me every time I see a smile on the face of a veteran, first responder, or their family.

Courtesy of Robert Irvine

Courtesy of Robert Irvine

If someone wants to give back in their local community, what is the first step for the reader?

It doesn’t have to be big! Obviously you can give money to large organizations, but you may get more satisfaction – and form real and lasting connections – by working locally. You can volunteer at veteran shelters or hospitals, or just buy dinner or drinks for your local VFW hall. Don’t have the money or time for any of that? Just say thank you to a veteran. So many of these brave men and women struggle because they don’t know if their sacrifices mean something, or they’re worried they’ll go unnoticed. Pay attention and tell them. It can make a big difference.

If a reader wants to come up with their easy healthy recipe, where should they start?

You should start with what you love. I can sit here and talk about this fish and that fish is fresh and look at all the nutrients out there, but if you don’t really like fish, this is a tough sell. So what’s your thing? Taco? Burger? Pizza? Start small and make these things at home.

I think if you’re just starting out on a fitness journey, a great first step is making your own food. A simple home setup will make it healthier off the bat versus getting your fix from a fast food restaurant. It may not be healthy per se, but it’s healthier than you’ve ever experienced before. Then you can take the next step and replace the beef with chicken or turkey and start controlling portion sizes.

But in this country, I think the first step for most people is to break the habit of driving. Once you take control of it in your own kitchen, a lot will be possible.

What is your favorite nutritious meal that you can eat over and over again?

Love the grilled chicken with root vegetables and potatoes. It’s a simple thing and a little love really goes a long way. I put my favorite recipe for this in my cookbook, fuel fit.

What does a typical exercise routine look like to you?

For years, I was a partial old-school split type guy. This heart and steady state. I know. It’s not sexy or exciting, and it takes a long time, but it’s the truth. This has always been my default setup and always will be, although having a new coach—Steve and Rona out of Tampa—has made me do a lot in terms of conditioning, push skates, and all kinds of work I wouldn’t do if left to my own devices. This change of pace has worked wonders for me.

How can you make it fit into your hard working days?

I see it fits the other things around training. My day starts with her and everything is fueled by my interest in myself. If I’m traveling, I go online and pick my gym – although at this point I have a favorite in every big city. I’ll use the hotel gym in question, but I would prefer a proper weight room and the energy found in places like this.

When and how did fitness and nutrition become an integral part of your life?

I was always active. I’ve been sporting and lifting weights since I was a kid. I would say I really turned the corner when I met my wife Jill. I was a big guy but I ate what I wanted. Meanwhile, Gale is very meticulous about diet and has shown me how much potential I can unlock by cleaning up my diet. After that, I started trying to make restaurant-style dishes healthier (that’s when I wrote fuel fit), and I developed my own line of protein bars, Fit Crunch.

If a reader could only choose one – a healthy meal or exercise – what should they choose and why?

There’s an old adage among gym rats, “You can’t get past a bad diet,” and I’ve found this to be true over 100 percent of the time. When you’re young and training for hours and hours, there’s a lot you can throw away, but as you get older and start collecting pets, kids, and responsibilities, the time you spend in the gym gets less.

And there are times when your schedule dictates that you’ll miss a day at the gym. What I’ve learned is that if you can keep your diet on time, a missed training session isn’t that important. Meanwhile, having a poor day of eating and drinking can have a serious impact. Suddenly you don’t want to train the next day because you don’t have the energy or you’re hungry.

So, in general, diet is more important because it’s something you have to take care of for 24 hours a day versus one hour in the gym.

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