Robert Irvine is heading back to the Hub for the 2018 New England Food Show, which kicks off this weekend at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. The celebrity chef and "Restaurant: Impossible" star will join "Bar Rescue" host Jon Taffer and TripAdvisor co-founder Stephen Kaufer as a keynote speaker at this year's festivities. Ahead of his presentation on Feb. 26, we caught up with chef Irvine to get his thoughts on Boston's food scene, Tom Brady's foray into the culinary world and if he's a fan of avocado ice cream.
Are you pumped to be coming to town for this year's New England Food Show?
I've spent a lot of time in Boston. I do an awful lot of work there with Comcast. In fact, the last year, I spent a lot of time there. I've got a lot of friends in the restaurant business there, so I'm really excited. Hopefully I get to see a couple of those friends, have a great meal, meet new friends, do the demo and have some fun. Food shows are awesome anyways, but when they're in a town like Boston, hello, it's an amazing place.
Do you have any favorite spots to grab a bite when you're in Boston?
Ming Tsai, Ken Oringer, Jasper [White], they're all friends of mine. I've known them for years. Jody [Adams], Barbara [Lynch], I've known a lot of these guys for a long time. If I get a chance to say, "Hey, come over to the demo," or let's go out for a beer, let's go out for dinner, they normally pick where we go. I just love Boston as a food city. New England's food scene has become so good. You have some great young chefs, great places popping up. I just think it's great when people work somewhere else and then either migrated to Boston or they started in Boston and worked in great places and gone on their own. I get excited with the young talent that's coming up.
How has your approach to food evolved over the years?
Because I travel so much and learn so much—I'm 52 years old, I've come of age as it were—I really understand where I fit in the food world. It's basically taking classical dishes and twisting them with my travels. I find that my restaurants, I have one in the Pentagon and one in [Las] Vegas at Tropicana, and I find that the Tropicana has become my testing ground for classic dishes with twists. For example, I do a fish and chip, but I do it with a curry aioli, feta cheese and candied bacon. It's taking a classic dish and compounding that dish in all different flavors that actually go really well together. It's like drinking a beer. If you can taste what's in the beer, the chocolate, the blackberry or whatever, than the beer maker's done a great job. Each component can stand on it's own, but then when you eat it together, it's like a symphony of flavors in your mouth.
Considering America has such a big obesity problem and you also focus a lot on fitness, what are your thoughts on all the recent health food trends?
Fitness means different things to different people. I don't advocate that you go to a gym every day, lift 400 lbs. and sweat until you drop. What I say is moderation of food. If you look at Bobby Flay and all these guys now on TV—Bobby's now a marathon runner, his side of food has changed dramatically—all these other guys have changed. I think it's an education of health. The country as a whole and chefs in general are changing their ways in which they make dishes and they concoct dishes. It's happening, it's slow to happen, but it's happening in major cities a little quicker than most people think.
Speaking of fitness, what do you think of Tom Brady's cookbook?
I have not seen it but I laugh because I was in Senegal when the Super Bowl was on and one of my dear friends, Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams flipped the coin for the toss, and the Eagles won, and I'm an Eagles fan. I think when you see actors, actresses, sports folks—they're all into food TV now, they're all into restaurants. They figured out, "You know what, I've been doing this all my life, maybe somebody else can benefit or maybe I can make some money from it?" Chrissy Teigen just came out with a couple of cookbooks, he's coming out with a cookbook, and I wish him well. He's lived that regimen of healthy eating and working out, obviously to be at the top that he is, because he's an amazing player. Nobody can ever take that away from him. No matter what happens in his future, whether he's on food TV or an NFL analyst, we always fall back on food. I'm sure it's a good book too.
Would you try one of his avocado ice cream recipes?
I've had avocado ice cream before. I've had olive oil ice cream before—olive oil ice cream with vanilla is amazing. [A few years ago], I did 85 days of eating an avocado, ate a different way every day. So, I'm a lover of avocado. It's a good fat. You can do anything with it. It's like having a plain canvas, you can add and take away. I like all that stuff. It's an adventurous way to serve ice cream. Is it healthy? It's got healthy fat in it, but it's not necessarily healthy.