Fundamental Transformation, Robert Irvine Style 7 min read

Executive Chef Robert Irvine is a former Royal Navy officer, where his initial culinary training started. Perhaps that’s also where he learned values such as honor, discipline and loyalty.


Many late nights when the sleep fairy gets lost on her way to my bedroom I become an avid Food Network fan. Cooking has become my sport of sorts, so watching chefs compete is both entertaining and educational. “Restaurant: Impossible” combines two things I am passionate about—cooking and business/marketing acumen.


While attending the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival, I had a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with one of my favorite TV Chefs, Robert Irvine. Watching him “get real” with folks whose lives he is tasked with transforming in 48 hours can be somewhat intimidating. I was a little nervous but mostly excited. It turned out to be the most meaningful conversation I have had all weekend and perhaps will have this year.


Robert Irvine is a former Royal Navy officer, where his initial culinary training started. Perhaps that’s also where he learned values such as honor, discipline and loyalty.


He then became an Executive Chef on a number of luxury cruise lines and subsequently was asked to host a TV show called “Dinner: Impossible,” which quickly found an audience with Food Network fans. Several restaurant, product lines, and cookbook launches later, having earned multiple awards for excellence, as well as multiple appearances of “Iron Chef” and the “Next Iron Chef”, Robert Irvine is a celebrated host of “Restaurant: Impossible.” The show just taped its 105th episode. It is based around the premise where Chef Irvine swoops into a failing business and in the span of 48 hours, with a budget of $10K, oversees the physical renovation of a failing restaurant as well as changing the psychological landscape of its proprietors. Robert steps into an a complete unknown and takes charge of fundamentally transforming minds and hearts. He has to figure out a winning strategy to help business owners get back into profitability and lasting personal and commercial success.


The tell-it-like-it-is, no-nonsense approach yields astounding results. Robert’s success rate is a staggering 78%.


Imagine for a moment that we gave Robert and his team a budget of 16 trillion, 48 months (instead of 48 hours) and a country to restore? We would wake up to not just to a “Morning in America” but more like “Renaissance in America” scope of restoration. That would be really something.


Robert shared that if he wasn’t a professional chef he would be a firefighter. In a way, that makes perfect sense, given that’s what he actually does. His pal Guy Fieri jokingly refers to Irvine as “Obi Wan’s Last Hope”. He is the failing business’s “last hope,” entering a wasteland, putting out emotional fires that are destroying lives and scorching prosperity out of existence. Wise observation it is.


What gives the individual the confidence to take on a seemingly impossible task and pull it off seamlessly and gracefully? It has a lot to do with caring, faith in yourself and others and a deep, genuine desire to help.


I asked Robert if he ever felt helpless, if his mission felt “impossible” to him. His answer was simple. Sometimes there is literally nothing you can do but actively listen, and just be there for someone.


What helps him restore his own emotional state after he walked thru the proverbial fire of human tragedy and observed people in a great deal of pain? Faith that what he does is worthwhile, that his hard work makes a meaningful difference in people’s lives. It turns out that he gets up every day and goes to bed with the same thought—helping someone in need.


Speaking of faith, Robert, by his own admission, is a “God-fearing” man and his actions clearly reflect his values. He is humble, unassuming and true to himself. His mission is to help people help themselves, carried out with care and compassion. I say Amen to that.


Watching him interact with his team of sous chefs, cooks and various staff was pretty instructive in understanding his formula for success. He rallies folks, leads by example. In a sportsman-like fashion he huddles with his team, invigorates and encourages them and is quite paternal. Shouts of “Yes, Chef!” were heard throughout the huddles, and the enthusiasm was electric.


The entire time I watched him he hadn’t stood still. It was a dance of sorts, with Robert being in constant motion, his energy contagious to everyone around him. Guests clearly felt trepidation in the presence of celebrity, and Robert broke right through that wall, hugging folks, smiling, talking to them, and answering questions with sincerity. He has great fun with life, people that he meets, with anything that he does personally and professionally, and it shows.


Physical fitness is clearly one of Robert’s values, according to him, he works out daily. His physique is indeed, impressive, yet I didn’t get a whiff of vanity from him. I never take photos with celebrities. Out of the blue, for the first time in my life (I suspect due to his warmth and humanity being so darn compelling!) I found myself wanting a picture with Robert.


I suspect one of his core beliefs is that fit mind resides in a fit body. That philosophy would explain how phenomenal his mind is along with his toned muscles.


He seems to have struck a perfect balance between the two, something we all strive for. Add a large doze of heart and there is a healthy dish that I would happily consume daily.


By all appearances, with Chef Irvine what you see is what you get. By his own admission, he’s made mistakes, but which one of us hadn’t? The difference between him and some of us is that he learns from his.


It’s impossible to write about Irvine without mentioning his love for our military men and women. During dinner, he requested that anyone who served would stand up, followed by asking the crowd to applaud our heroes. Very touching moment.


Robert spends much time with our active duty military. He is also active with a number of charities and dedicates a great deal of time as well as quietly, without fanfare. He also transfers large amounts of personal wealth to several charitable causes.


As a Dad to two girls, he knows all about responsibilities that come with fatherhood, being an entrepreneur, a businessperson, a community leader. Many folks count on and look up to Irvine. He stated that his children are no strangers to the soup kitchens and homeless shelters, where he takes them to teach values of humility, empathy and gratitude.


Love your children, your family, your community, do the right thing. Simple, right? Imagine if we all did just one thing every single day to help one another, to pay it forward, what a real paradise we would all live in…


Last but not least, it’s important to talk about Robert’s cooking skills. By now I could be accused of bias towards Chef Irvine, and I will happily own up to being entirely impressed with what I saw and heard. However, as a card-carrying foodie, I would never break the honor code. If I wasn’t enamored with his food, I would have simply stayed mum on the subject.


His duck rendition was nothing short of magnificent, one of the most exciting bites I have had in months. His velvety scallop was a highlight of the event—balanced, brilliant food.


I would never watch “Restaurant: Impossible” the same way again. It’s mission has become a metaphor for life for me. Nothing is impossible if you lead with love and compassion. Thanks, Chef.


You can learn more about Robert and his passion for life, health, food and fitness at

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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