On April 7th, Savor, a celebration of wine, food and spirits will converge on the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.
Savor will kick off its second year with a brand new event: Savor the Legends presented by Plan b. The exclusive Thursday evening reception gives guests the opportunity to taste five years of the legendary Pappy Van Winkle bourbon while mingling with headlining Chef Robert Irvine and enjoying Plan b’s barbeque fare. The weekend continues with the “Sip, Savor, & Stroll Grand Tasting” that has sessions on Friday from 7-10:30pm and Saturday from 12-4pm. It includes the chance to try craft beers, quality wines, spirits, and food offerings from top Northeast restaurants as chefs show-off their recipes on Savor Culinary Demonstration Stage. The celebration concludes with a Charity Gala on Saturday. The champagne reception begins at 7:30pm and dinner goes from 8-11:30pm.
I had an amazing time at Savor’s inaugural celebration last year. In honor of this year’s event, I had the incredible opportunity to speak with Chef Robert Irvine. The celebrity chef, TV personality, and fitness guru is the face of Savor. In addition, his charity, the Robert Irvine Foundation, will receive proceeds from the event.
To say Robert Irvine is busy is an understatement! He has penned a fitness book, launched a line of healthy eats, started work on a new television series, undertaken a live show, and still filming current episodes. More importantly, he is an active philanthropist. How does such a multi-faceted individual explain what he does for a living?
“I change lives,” he explains. “I give hope. Whether I’m in a restaurant, visiting kids with cancer, doing work through my charity, or helping people be healthy- I’m changing lives.”
“When you have this notoriety, you have a responsibility to help those less fortunate,” he says.
He founded the Robert Irvine Foundation in 2014 to help him with his vision. Military families lie at the heart of the organization. He supports them in a variety of ways- from welcoming home troops to visiting with children to raising awareness.
“Half of the things I do you won’t hear about, because it’s not about us,” he emphasizes.
Irvine funds the foundation with his own money. All of the profits from his other endeavors, like his food line, go back to the foundation. Savor is also a huge fundraising opportunity. He estimates that last year Savor raised about $47,000.
“Every Christmas, 100% of the money is given away,” he states. “I will show everyone at Savor exactly where the money went last year.” I could hear emotion in his voice as he described how some of the money raised was able to provide for a life changing bone marrow transplant.
Irvine strives to better everyone’s overall quality of life. His own love of fitness coupled with his work with the military has led him to an appreciation of nutrition that he shared with others.
“I’ve loved fitness since I was 11 years old- my whole life,” he reveals. “At a young age you can eat anything and get away with it, but as you get older you realize you are what you eat! I did research with the Surgeon General and military men. What you put in your body has a huge effect on every part of your life.”
Irvine tries to “set the tone for future generations” by showing them that cooking is fun. Not only is it an engaging hobby, but also a “bonding component” for the whole family.
Furthermore, Irvine launched a line of food to make healthy choices more accessible. He summarizes the project by calling it “better for you products.” He has created a protein bar, crabcakes, cheesecake, and more.
“I made a 12” pizza and you can eat the whole thing for just 800 calories,” he told me. The secret? He used a whole wheat crust, but removed the grain’s brown color to make it resemble a regular pizza crust.
His version of cheesecake contains no calories from sugar and 50% less fat.
He promises all of the options are delicious. Diners agree. His Fit Crunch Protein Bar was named “best tasting” by the Bodybuilding.com community.
Of course, food alone does not dictate health. Exercise is important for overall fitness. Irvine loves physical activity and calls working out a “daily occurrence.”
“I was just working out with 20 year old military kids…. I’m 50!” he laughs. His typical workout consists of 45 minutes of cardio, usually completed on an elliptical. From there, he focuses on strengthening one body part each day.
How can we fit it in when we’re on the go?
“Work out early in the morning- it sets you up for the rest of the day,” he advises. “Eat breakfast and eat smaller meals every few hours.”
It seems odd that a Food Network chef surrounded by tasty cuisine can adopt such a healthy lifestyle.
“You can’t eat everything in sight,” he confirms. “I taste things with a spoon. I taste it and get rid of it or eat smaller portions.”
He’s altered his own cooking methods as well.
He explains, “Chefs are classically trained with butters and cream. I cut a lot of the butter out and replace them with fresh oils and juices. Grapeseed is my #1 oil.”
I couldn’t end my conversation with Irvine without asking him about one of his most legendary endeavors- beloved TV show Restaurant Impossible. When friends found out I was doing this interview, they wanted details on what happened to the restaurants after the cameras left and how restaurants that seemed doomed were able to succeed.
“74% of all of the restaurants we worked with are successful- across the board,” Irvine attests. “The ones that succeed listen to change and adapt quickly. These folks have gone though hardship. If they listen, they can be successful.”
He blames poor leadership skills for most restaurant failures.
“There has to be a leader, a focus, a goal,” he theorizes. “You have to hold people accountable. You give them the tools and the support, and then you make sure they do it.”
Additionally, he suggests that all restaurants “freshen up” every 3 years. This includes reviving the interior, cleaning, and integrating new trends. Menu changes should be more frequent- four times a year to be precise.
Prosperous restaurants embrace social media, too.
“Social media plays a huge part in restaurant. It’s how we tend to pick our restaurants. We take pictures of our food…. It’s kind of like bragging,” he reflects. “Social media is the way of the future. It’s easy to track. You know exactly where your business comes from.”
After sharing all of his secrets, I asked Irvine if he had any exciting additional announcements or words he’d like to leave us with.
“Big shout out to men and women in uniform,” he proclaimed. “And readers- you have the ability to change people’s lives today. It doesn’t have to be money. It can be a pat on the back, or a smile. We can all do that.”
See Chef Robert Irvine in person by buying your tickets for Savor: http://www.savorct.com/events.html. And, see him in Food Network’s All Start Academy on February 13!