Dishing with Dan’s GrillHampton Host Robert Irvine

He’s cooked in the White House and was the head chef for the 2006 Academy Awards. He’s served meals to thousands of troops aboard aircraft carriers and in such combat regions as Afghanistan. He’s competed on The Next Iron Chef and hosts Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible. He joined the British Royal Navy at 15 and worked aboard Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia, and was just honored by Gary Sinese at the 32nd Annual USO Metro Awards Dinner. For all that, celebrity chef Robert Irvine has never been to the Hamptons.

Until now. But it took being named host of the second annual Dan’s GrillHampton to get him here.

On his regular hosting gig with Restaurant: Impossible, Irvine uses plenty of tough love during each episode’s 36-hour, $10,000 challenge to save a troubled restaurant from failure. When he arrives for GrillHampton under the big tent in Bridgehampton on July 11, he’ll be looking forward to a little more love and a little less tough as the team of eight NYC chefs competes against eight Hamptons chefs during the grill-off/tasting event that kicks off Dan’s Taste of Summer weekend.

Irvine is no stranger to such fine food events, but he’s never seen one quite like Dan’s GrillHampton. As a host, “usually you watch, or you’re cooking,” the British chef points out. But “here you get to eat, you get to laugh and joke around with some people,” he says excitedly of the evening, when guests get to not only see the 16 chefs working up tasty dishes on the grill, but also get to taste that food and vote on the night’s best—all while beer and cocktails are flowing and live music is rocking. “It should be a really fun time.”

As Irvine prepares to descend upon Sayre Park, he takes a few moments from his 340-work-days-a-year schedule (no, that’s not a typo) to talk about how he entered the culinary world, his undying respect for our troops, the pressures of the kitchen and the power of ABBA (no, that’s not a typo, either).

Real men, despite claims to the contrary, eat quiche. They make it, too.
“When I was 11 years old, I joined a school home economics class, because it was 30 girls and me. And I thought my chances of getting a girlfriend were pretty good. I made my first quiche Lorraine and realized that eggs could sit in a pastry with milk, bacon and some cheese and make a meal, and from that point on it was all about cooking, and not about girls.”

Locavores are leading the way. Follow.
“I love that farm-to-table, port-to-table, whatever you want to call that, is now being backed by the restaurants. If you look at the way we used to farm, it’s changed dramatically, in that farmers are going to the chefs and saying, ‘What do you need,’ and then creating product around that need. And chefs are also going to farmers and saying, ‘Well, listen, what do you have that is really cool and unusual, that a lot of people don’t know about,’ because chefs want to be different, they want to use food in a unique way.”

Inspiration is where you find it.
“Inspiration for me comes in many forms. I just got back from Abu Dhabi with my team, we were out feeding the military folks there, we were in Afghanistan before that, Honduras before that. I get my strength from giving to other people. I feel that, when you wake up in the morning, you’d better have a great attitude and have a smile on your face, because there’s always somebody less fortunate than you. If each and every one of us does something for one person less fortunate than ourselves every day of our lives—it can be buying them a cup of coffee—these are the things that define us as human beings. Inspiration for me comes from little kids with cancer, inspiration for me comes from service men and women who’ve been injured in the line of duty and they have the most amazing attitude. It could be a book, a magazine. Inspiration comes in many forms, every minute of every day.”

You can’t say enough about supporting our troops
“Every moment I get, I talk about it. Every restaurant I talk to, every owner, on my shows, in my interviews, our warriors have given everything possible in their life, no matter where they are in the world, people are standing watch so we can have freedom, and we must never forget that. Something happens and everyone is aware, but then the country gets quiet again, and then people get frustrated because they have to wait at an airport because somebody is stopped to empty a bag, but the alternatives are not very pleasant.”

Nobody’s perfect…just close to it
“Every [episode of Restaurant: Impossible] in my mind is memorable for a different reason, whether it’s the guy who wanted to punch me or the guy who went from a bankrupt state to making millions. What’s cool about the show is, out of the first 100 episodes, we’re 78% successful—that’s pretty good odds.”

It’s a labor of love
“When we cook food, no matter where you’re a chef, you’re giving a piece of yourself in whatever you cook. It’s very emotional, being a cook, giving a piece of myself to somebody every day. It’s hard work; you don’t get paid a lot of money—at least not as much as people think.  It’s a labor of love, not a labor of getting rich quick. I’m still working to master the craft, but it’s the love of seeing people’s faces when they like what I cook, the fact that people are eating a full plate, almost licking their plate, that’s the biggest high-five you can get. That’s really special.”

Live the sweet life
“I believe that every meal should end in dessert, in some way, shape or form. Because it signifies to the brain that the meal is finished. It can be a square of chocolate cake at lunch or dinner, or jelly on toast in the morning.”

About that favorite meal…
“I would start with a roasted beet salad, a little feta cheese, red onion and a balsamic vinaigrette. Then I would go into a seared piece of salmon with a chilled salad with a lemon dressing and that piece of salmon on top, and then it would be an apple pie.”

Grilling rules. Just know the rules.
“The rules are very simple. Don’t take the meat out of the refrigerator and cook it—you have to bring the meat up to room temperature before you cook it. You’ve got to remember to let it sit on the side for 5 to 10 minutes after you cook it to let the juices to go back into it. And don’t have the grill up so high!”

You want more rules?
“People know how to barbecue nowadays—there have been 1,001 shows on it, there’s 200 million books about it, the internet is full of it. Just have fun, have a cold beer and be around back.”

If you want to be named one of the “25 Fittest Guys in America” by Men’s Fitness magazine, turn up the ABBA
“That is correct. I listen to ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and all these things, and I figured out that when I do my cardio in the morning, I do 20 minutes to get all warm and I listen to ABBA or Celine Dion or Pink, one of my new favorites, and that’s what I do.”

Famous last words…
“I give tough love, but I’m also a great motivator. I don’t apologize for being that tough guy on TV. In life, I expect everyone to have the same work ethic as me, and that means excellence has to be achieved and you have to give it all, every day.”

Meet Robert Irvine at Dan’s GrillHampton on Friday, July 11, 8 p.m. at Sayre Park, 156 Snake Hollow Road, Bridgehampton. For more information on Dan’s GrillHampton and Dan’s Taste of Two Forks, and to purchase tickets, visit DansTasteofSummer.com.

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