Opening a new restaurant in the very competitive Las Vegas market is a difficult endeavor that takes unshakable stamina, and surviving that first year, with its ups and downs, is a feat. Chef Robert Irvine’s stalwart character and dedication to excellence are what propel his Robert Irvine’s Public House at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino. We caught up with the Food Network star for an intimate conversation about the challenges, victories and goals that lie ahead.
You made quite an entrance in Las Vegas by rappelling down the side of the Tropicana Hotel, landing a helicopter in the parking lot and arriving in a military convoy. Has it paid off?
I think anyone worth their salt in the food industry knows if you haven’t opened a restaurant in Las Vegas, you are not playing with the big boys. So I say yes. We have a great local following. The restaurant has done well this past year and has gotten stronger and stronger. We have made some changes going along, seeing what the locals like and what the visitors like. But a thousand times yes, way above expectations.
What has surprised you about Las Vegas?
When I got into this market, I did not just want to be a face on the side of a building. I wanted the locals to come in as well as the visitors. So, I have been surprised by the [number] of locals who do come in. That has been my biggest surprise. I have tried to be involved in the community with Three Square and the USO here.
You have been a big supporter of the military. What are you doing to continue your outreach to our troops?
I was recently in Houston and Biloxi, Mississippi, with my Robert Irvine Live show. We are scheduled for a USO show in England, Germany and Iraq at Christmas.
You are surrounded by some of the best chefs in the world here in Las Vegas. Have you gotten a chance to collaborate with any of them?
It is interesting because they have their own worlds and their own businesses, but I can categorically state that I am the one who spends the most time here.
Aside from your lovely wife Gail, are there people here that you would like to personally acknowledge, or has it been a team effort?
As you are aware, there is a high turnover rate in the industry. But I can tell you this: We are 98 percent of the staff that we started with a year ago. We reward loyalty with loyalty, and we do acknowledge that and that is why 98 percent are still here. I wanted my staff not only to know me but my wife, Gail, and my two daughters.
You thrive on challenges and your fitness/cookbook, Fit Fuel, is an example of that. Tell us more about what drives you.
It’s interesting that you bring up Fit Fuel because we are working on a book, Fit Family, that is all about health, family and cooking. We need to take time at the table because we don’t get that while on the devices or playing video games. For me, exercise creates a great personal image and gives you strength of character and makes you feel good. Whether you get up and go for a run in the morning or play ball with your kids, those are the moments that will define you when you get older. I am a big proponent in that you can have fun, and you can occasionally eat indulgent foods along with healthy foods. But for me, exercise and eating healthy equal fun.
We have a crisis in our country—people are not as healthy as they should be. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start being healthier and needs a jump-start?
This for all of you out there! By the year 2020, there will be nobody in any of our states who can join our military because they will be considered obese by our standards. That is a true number. I am working on those numbers now with some high-up experts. I say you owe it to yourself to think about what you are eating, to exercise and encourage other people to help you. Find someone to go to the gym with or take that walk every day or play with your kids every day. Believe me, as you get older, heart disease, high cholesterol and all those other things will creep up and, along with stress, will kill you.
To end on a positive note, we are excited to see that you and Chef Anne Burrell are hosting Worst Cooks in America.
It is billed as the feistiest season ever. Anne and I were together for Season 2. We have 13 of America’s worst cooks, and we are taking them on a journey of hope, fulfillment, anger, frustration, sometimes sadness—and at the end of all that, one person will go on to win $25,000. I can’t tell you who wins, but I can say it is FEISTY!