Wednesday, January 23, 2013

5Qs on Wednesday: Robert Irvine

Robert Irvine is a Chef on a Mission

Watch just one episode of Food Network's super-addictive Restaurant: Impossible (9pm) and you can't help but wonder what becomes of the restaurants (and their owners) once host Chef Robert Irvine leaves.

As it turns out, Robert wants to know, too. So, unlike the rest of us, he regularly just picks up the phone to check in on all but one of the five dozen or so restaurants he has helped on the show.

Tonight, Robert will add another restaurant to his list, Sapori D'Italia, a family-owned restaurant in the stunningly beautiful town of Fountain Hills, Arizona.

Chef Robert spoke with TVFirstLook about keeping tabs on Sapori, the bare-bones team who remake R.I.'s restaurants and what it feels like to be a cottage industry.

TVFirstLook: On tonight's episode, you make over Sapori D'Italia in Arizona. What happens on this episode?

Chef Robert Irvine: They're doing amazing. When I walked in, you had a family who was at odds. They couldn't even be in the same room with each other. By the time I left, and to this day, the family is working well together and the business is thriving. Sales are up 68%.

The first eight hours of being with me, they hated me. But afterwards, they realized what we were there to do. Now, they can see it.

You could not help but fall in love with this family. They are a good, good family who didn't know how to run their business. At the end of the day, it's a small business in the United States who we helped stay in business.

TVFirstLook: OK, so going back a bit. How did you become a celebrity chef?

Chef Robert: Well, I am a well-known chef. You have to know how to cook. I created a show called Dinner: Impossible for Food Network. It was a new style of program for the network. It was a success, but it takes time to create a TV persona. People either like you or they don't or they grow to like you.

TVFirstLook: So, what is it about Restaurant: Impossible and Dinner: Impossible before it that make these shows successful?

Chef Robert: It's real people with real-life situations that everyone can relate to, like having issues with money or divorce. It's a lifestyle story with every emotion, from anger to frustration to happiness.

It's real. We don't edit anything out. When I'm angry, you see it. When I'm upset, you see it. When I'm gentle, you see it. When I'm in people's faces, you see it.

But, ultimately, it's about a real family with real issues. Restaurant: Impossible comes in with real solutions. Just look at our success rate. We've done 58 restaurants. We lost five of them. About six or seven shows were community-based shows. So, we have a 94% success rate.

TVFirstLook: So, we happened to be at the taping of tonight's episode at Sapori D'Italia. We were amazed by how many people were on the crew and by the number of trucks that were filled with equipment. How many people work on the show?

Chef Robert: There are only five of us working in the restaurant. All the rest of the crew is filming. They have to capture every moment. We always have four cameras going, sound guys and all that stuff.

I just show up. I don't know how things like cameras and sound work. I choose not to know anything about the family until I show up. I just show up and off we go. The crew captures everything.

TVFirstLook: OK, last thing. You have TV shows, you write books, you have product lines and you perform live. So, you're an industry, not just a person. What does that feel like?

Chef Robert: I always said that if I became famous or successful in the public eye, I would use that to benefit others. Last year, I helped 79 charities. That's what I like to do.

Last night, I left at 2 a.m. for a $2,000-per-plate dinner to help kids' charities. Fame is about helping people. That's not a story, it's just who I am. I try to motivate people. If someone is down, we help them out and then move on.

Food Network gives me a platform to do that.

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