Chef Robert Irvine says he became a chef because his mom was not a good cook: 'I should thank my mother, and I do every day'

·4 min read
Chef Robert Irvine's favorite cuisine? Indian.
Chef Robert Irvine's favorite cuisine? Indian. "My wife and I go out for Indian food at least twice a week," he says. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Because food connects us all, Yahoo Life is serving up a heaping plateful of table talk with people who are passionate about what's on their menu in Deglazed, a series about food.

Celebrity chef and philanthropist Robert Irvine has toured the globe eating and exploring dishes and ingredients from other cultures. But while the Food Network star's knowledge of food is vast, he says his passion for cuisine began in his childhood home, where most meals left something to be desired.

"Food played an integral part in me growing up," he tells Yahoo Life. "I started to cook because my mother was not a good cook, but here we are, 56 years old, doing what I do because of my mother. Some people would say I should thank my mother, and I do every day. She gave me not only a way to take care of myself, but a living."

Irvine, who currently stars in Discovery+ series Restaurant Rivals: Irvine vs. Taffer, recalls growing up on "boxes of cornflakes and gallons of milk." Still, though her talents didn't shine in the kitchen, Irvine's mother shared something that stuck — the simple tradition of enjoying meals with the ones you love.

Irvine's latest show, which airs on Discovery +, is about helping restaurants make the changes necessary to improve their business. (Photo: Ian Spanier)
Irvine's latest show, which airs on Discovery +, is about helping restaurants make the changes necessary to improve their business. (Photo: Ian Spanier)

"One thing she did that was amazing was that every Sunday we would have a family lunch," he recalls. "It was really the only time we sat down together, talked together — my mother, father, brother and two sisters. My mother would make roast beef, some type of roast ham, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, turnips and sweet [potatoes] and Brussels sprouts, so that became a big thing in my life."

This tradition of sharing a meal not because of what is on the table, but because of the people who are around it drives Irvine in almost every aspect of his life. From days abroad enjoying a meal with global leaders, to manning the grill on the road with the military, for Irvine, it's always about giving something to others.

"I wanted to do more, so we started the Robert Irvine Foundation to focus on mental and physical health," he explains. "We help build homes, we have a huge iBot [wheelchair] program which restores freedom to those who use a wheelchair and we purchase and train dogs for fire departments, police departments and individuals, to help with post-traumatic stress disorder."

Created in 2014, Irvine's foundation strives to bring health and wellness to veterans, first responders and their families, and is an irreplaceable part of the chef's life. The foundation also runs the Breaking Bread with Heroes program, where Irvine shares meals with the nation's defenders.

"We see these folks sitting around a table and they say, 'thank you,' or [I hear] a vet saying, 'thank you,' when I'm cooking a hot dog, hamburger or filet mignon — it doesn't matter what it is, their thanks and seeing their faces light up, it's amazing and that's why I do it," says Irvine.

Irvine says he spends a great deal of time away from home, traveling for work with his foundation or to shoot television shows. "Restaurant: Impossible has been running now for 13 years and we're pretty much once-a-week somewhere around the country saving a restaurant," Irvine says, "Restaurant Rival is a new show with Jon Taffer — we pick a restaurant side-by-side and basically turn them over in a day: a new menu and some touch ups in the restaurants, really focused on food and the change of the business for the owners."

While Irvine has spent more than the last decade mainly on the road, he has no plans to change that anytime soon. "It's a labor of love, everything we do," he says. "I travel all those 345 days a year because I want to and as long as food is the forefront of my life, that will continue. Food gives life and food changes life. Someone could be having the worst day of their life, including me, and then I eat something or make something and it changes that."

When it's time for Irvine to eat, he and his wife share a love of flavorful and exciting dishes inspired by some of his favorite childhood meals growing up in England. "I grew up next to an Indian family," Irvine recalls, "so I got the benefit of learning spice and eating curries and breads. I still have that love today. My wife and I go out for Indian food at least twice a week."

As a skilled fitness professional, well-rounded military man and philanthropist, Irvine says food somehow fits into every aspect of his life. "I could have done anything," he says, "but I chose to go into food because I love what food does to people."

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