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'Not a boring cooking show': Celebrity chef Irvine comes to Fargo

Celebrity chef Robert Irvine passes up the party lifestyle to focus on fitness, but fesses up to a sweet tooth for cheese cake and a fondness for tequila, in moderation. Special to The Forum

FARGO — Robert Irvine rarely seems to be speechless. The celebrity chef is often seen barking out orders and delivering his no-nonsense opinions.

But ask him to describe "Robert Irvine Live," his appearance at the Fargo Theatre on Thursday night, Aug. 9, and he's at a loss for words.

"After seven years of doing this show around the world, I don't know," he said over the phone earlier this week. "Because the audience picks the challenge. The audience picks the food ... All I can tell you is that it's not a boring cooking show."

Irvine has never been accused of being boring. The former cook in the British Royal Navy became an American household name in 2007 with the Food Network's "Dinner: Impossible," which presented different challenges to feeding large groups of people.

In 2011, he started the similarly themed show "Restaurant: Impossible," in which he tries to revive a failing eatery.

Keep calm and carry on isn't always his M.O. He is direct and confrontational with those working with or for him.

"I am known as an intense guy, especially when your business or your livelihood is at stake. I've got no time for playing around," he says, matter of fact. "There's a mission, there's a goal and to reach that goal, there are steps to get there. So I start with that goal in mind."

Local fans can see for themselves at his Fargo Theatre event, where the audience challenges Irvine to make certain dishes with certain limitations, like taking away his knives or cookware or putting him in handcuffs.

He's unfazed by obstacles, but less certain of regional delicacies like Jell-O salad, cookie salad, lefse and others.

"I have some knowledge of it," he says when asked about his competency with Tater Tot hotdish.

"Listen, if they pick it, I'll figure it," he says. "They seem to think because I do 'Dinner: Impossible' and 'Worst Cooks in America' that I've gotten the nickname MacGyver, and they think they can mess with me and, hey, I'm up for the challenge."

You can take his knives, but not taking care of knives is one of his kitchen pet peeves, along with a dirty workspace or people not being safe.

Reputation of Irvine's ire precedes him, similar to his fellow English chef, Gordon Ramsay.

"I don't think he's that way in real life. I think that's TV Gordon," Irvine says. "Me, I want the best out of you, so you better give me your best. I teach you through pushing yourself. ... Confidence grows from fear."

As the two chefs show on TV, things can get pretty heated in the kitchen and tempers can flare. How does that jibe with the movement towards greater sensitivity in the workplace?

"I grew up in a kitchen where things are thrown at you and there was abusive language, but I think we've changed that behavior," Irvine says. "When you've got a restaurant of 400 people and things aren't clicking right, it's intense. But I think there's a fine balance between teaching intensity and creativity and being able to do your job, as opposed to being abusive and bullyish... The kitchen is not for the faint-hearted, that's for sure."

The darker side of kitchen culture was explored — or exposed, for some — by the late chef and author Anthony Bourdain, whose death stunned Irvine, who had been with him a few months earlier at an event.

"The world lost a great statesman for food and travel," Irvine says. "You talk about me being straight-up and in your face; Anthony was intense his whole life."

Bourdain often told stories of late nights out drinking or doing drugs after work. While some kitchen crews go out drinking to blow off steam, Irvine's outlet is a workout. He posts his exercise tips and healthy recipes on his website, chefirvine.com.

"My escapism is the gym. It's my time," he says at the end of the interview, informing me he's been exercising as we speak. "It's my one hour to do whatever I need to do to become me."

If you go

What: "Robert Irvine Live"

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway

Info: Tickets are $39.50, $59.50 and $150 for VIP seating, which includes a private cooking seminar, food tasting and meet-and-greet with Irvine; https://jadepresents.com or 866-300-8300.

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