Mission Possible

Celebrity chef Robert Irvine gives tips on making healthy food taste good too.

The phrase “healthy cuisine” often conjures images of granola, tasteless tofu or vegetables boiled down to unrecognizable colors. People picture fish, chicken and vegetarian dishes that are often high on health but low on taste.

Chef Robert Irvine FINE magazine

Celebrity chef Robert Irvine, however, sees things differently.

Irvine, the star of Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible,” said he believes cooking with fresh ingredients results in healthy, flavorful food.
“Food is like fuel for the body,” he said. “It’s what you put in your body over time that helps you.”

Irvine knows a thing or two about healthy living. He eats every two hours and works out frequently in an effort to keep pace with his wife Gail Kim, a professional wrestler. The two share philosophies on healthy eating and exercise.

“She’s a great cook, too,” Irvine added.

According to Irvine, the key to a healthy diet is eating lots of protein and eliminating fats and butter. His go-to proteins are chicken, salmon and sea bass, which he prefers to grill and then top with various salsas of black beans, onions, tomatoes and “a little hot sauce.”

His secret weapon in the kitchen is using grapeseed oil, which has omega-3 fatty acids and no flavor. He uses it in place of cooking oil, which can overpower a dish’s flavor.

Keeping the pantry stocked with flavor-boosters is also essential in making healthy and tasty dishes, according to Irvine. His favorites are rice wine vinegar and ginger in sauces and dressings, and stone-ground mustard to emulsify dressings.  He uses fresh fruit such as mangoes and strawberries, and relies on red onions or olives for a more savory sauce.

When it comes to cooking, Irvine’s primary advice is to regulate the heat. Whether it’s a skillet, grill or oven, it should be pre-heated before adding the food, so that it spends the least possible amount of time in the heat, therefore retaining the most nutrients.

Chef Robert Irvine FINE magazine

Irvine’s healthy habits likely date back to his days in the British Royal Navy. The Salisbury native enlisted when he was 15, and refined his culinary skills until he was eventually selected to work aboard the royal family’s personal yacht. From there, he cooked his way across Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and the Americas. As part of a guest chef program training U.S. Navy chefs, Irvine worked in the White House cooking for former presidents including George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

He’s parlayed nearly three decades of cooking experience into a successful career as a professional chef. His show “Restaurant: Impossible,” in which he has two days to turn failing restaurants around, has been a ratings hit for the Food Network. He has two cookbooks—“Mission: Cook!” and “Impossible to Easy”—and two restaurants—Robert Irvine’s Eat! in Hilton Head, N.C. and Nosh in Bluffton, S.C.

But for all the success Irvine has received from cooking, it seems his biggest joy is giving back. This year, he will be touring America with his interactive show, “Robert Irvine LIVE.” The improvisational cooking show features Irvine completing a number of cooking challenges using audience suggestions and a robot named Chad.

Chef Robert Irvine FINE magazine salmon

“I didn’t want it to be just a cooking demonstration,” Irvine said. “I wanted everyone to be involved with it. People are going through such a hard time now with the economy. If I can provide a couple of hours of escapism that they enjoy, great.”

A number of Irvine’s appearances benefit charities for children and veterans. He’s teamed with actor Gary Sinise and his foundation, which helps veterans. In October, the two appeared at the San Diego Naval Medical Center’s Wounded Warrior and Staff Appreciation Day. Sinise performed with his band (Lt. Dan Band), while Irvine prepared meals for thousands of veterans and their families.
“I feel everyone has a gift, and mine is to bring joy to people who are going through a tough time.”

For more information on Irvine’s upcoming interactive shows, visit his website at chefirvine.com.