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Food, fitness, philanthropy: Chef Robert Irvine chews the fat

Amanda Abney / For The Lantern

Robert Irvine looks pretty intimidating on TV. He wants things done his way, and only his way. On his show “Restaurant: Impossible,” he’s often seen swinging a sledgehammer and arguing with the owners of the restaurant as well as his own interior decorators.

In real life, he’s a jovial, soft-spoken chef who cares about wholesome and healthy food, as well as the people he works with.

“I believe that the good Lord put me on this planet to do something good for people, and that’s what I’m doing,” Irvine said in an interview with The Lantern.

Irvine spoke at the Ohio Union Friday night, to a crowd packed with eager students and their families. The event was the kickoff for Parent and Family Weekend.

In two of his Food Network shows, “Dinner: Impossible” and “Restaurant: Impossible,” Irvine works under tight deadlines and with limited resources, and he usually meets the challenges he takes on.

He is proud that all of the restaurants he has worked with on “Restaurant: Impossible” are still up and turning a profit since his departure.

“I thrive on stress,” Irvine said. “When they get to me, I’m their last hope, and I take that pretty personally. And the fact that this really means something … ‘Restaurant’ is changing people’s lives. It’s saving homes and businesses. It’s a real show and there are real consequences.”

There were also consequences to being in the audience on Friday night. Irvine walked through the crowd, asking them questions and giving Ramen and canned soup he had used as an example of unhealthy food to a few hungry students. He even pulled a mom up on stage because she had yawned during his talk. But it was all in good fun, as he also gave away T-shirts and posed for photographs with his many fans.

Sammi Devenport, a first-year in biology, and Arthur Rotnov, a fourth-year in electrical and computer engineering, both agreed that they enjoy “Restaurant: Impossible” and that “the show is pretty intense.”

Elizabeth Harelik, grad student in theatre, went to the event because she’s seen Irvine’s TV shows.

“I watch his show, ‘Restaurant: Impossible’ and ‘Worst Cooks (in America),'” she said.

Irvine has won multiple fitness awards and it’s easy to see why. In his fitted blue T-shirt and jeans, Irvine was a hulking presence as he told the crowd about his dedication to fitness and his completion of the Ironman Triathlon.

The chef says he stays in shape by working out every day.

“No matter where we are, I work out every day,” he said. “Whether it’s pushups and sit-ups or tricep dips. I think it’s important to maintain balance.”

He also stressed that students should plan out their meals for the week in order to eat healthier and exercise 20 minutes a day. He even brought six students who claimed they were “fit” onto the stage and made them do pushups and sit-ups.

He then asked the students what they had eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When several of the students admitted they hadn’t eaten breakfast, or consumed a lot of carbs, Irvine was not impressed.

While many performers brought to the university do not discuss their finances, Irvine invited the audience to guess at his salary. He said he makes $4,000 dollars per show, but most of his other earnings went to charities, such as organizations for cancer research and veterans. He said he endorses “paying it forward” and that is why he likes to do “Restaurant: Impossible.”

“The most important thing to me is when you become successful in a career, no matter what career it is, is to pay it forward,” he said.

“Restaurant: Impossible” receives around 700 applications a week from desperate restaurateurs. So far the show has helped 26 restaurants, with 39 more episodes to be taped soon.

Irvine’s passion resonates with some viewers, many of whom were thrilled he would be speaking. During the Q&A portion of his talk, fans asked for his autograph and cooking advice, and one even asked if Irvine would set her up with Prince Harry. Irvine responded, “You don’t want to be in that family.”

When OUAB staffers informed the audience that they were out of time, Irvine told them that he was in charge and anyone who wanted to ask him a question or get a picture could come up. Even after the microphones were shut off and the AV department was preparing to leave, many members of the audience rushed up to meet the man who appeared so dominating on television, but was telling them which oil he preferred to cook with, and what he enjoyed eating most: chicken and mashed potatoes.

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