Chef Robert Irvine: Food is Very Personal Especially for the Military
U.S. Army Reserve Command - Fort Lee, VA
Editor’s Note: Chef Robert Irvine is no stranger to military food. As a former British Royal Navy chef and host of Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible,” Irvine uses his talents and culinary skills to not only help struggling restaurants but the U.S. military as well. Appearing as a guest chef at the 41st Annual Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event, March 7, 2016, Irvine shared his thoughts in an exclusive interview with the U.S. Army Reserve Command-Fort Bragg “Double Eagle” online publication staff on the importance of military culinary programs. Double Eagle: The U.S. Army Reserve Culinary Arts Program had it’s most successful year in 2010, placing fifth in the Installation of the Year category, and having three of its team members selected for the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team (USACAT) who competed in the Culinary World Cup that year. Since that time, participation in our program has been done and we are now in a rebuilding phase. Why is a unit culinary program important for our U.S. Army Reserve commanders? Chef Irvine: As a military guy myself, food is foremost on our thoughts. Whether we’re deployed or we’re at home with our families, food is always a frontrunner. Think of food in every facet of our lives – births, funerals, weddings, even divorces. Not only food to keep us fit but food to actually keep us alive. Food as a morale booster in the military is huge, and unless we focus on that, our military doesn’t perform to the best of their ability. We see that time and time again, not only in the reserve components, but also in the active Army. The Army is changing dramatically: the needs and the stretching of the resources we have and we have to put the best fighting force in the world out and it’s done through food. There’s the old saying, ‘The Army marches on its stomach.’ It’s actually true. If we don’t feed them and give them good food and nutritious food they don’t march. They can’t do their job. That’s why for field commanders it’s a huge morale-boosting part of the military. The culinary part is huge in not only are we feeding the troops great food but it’s like stuff our mothers used to make. It reminds us, it warms us, and it comforts us into where we are. A home-cooked meal is better than any meal that you can get from anywhere. Double Eagle: What would you tell young U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers about getting into the U.S. Army Reserve Culinary Arts Program? Chef Irvine: Food is very personal. But getting into a program that teaches you timing, excellence, components, how to make a dish work, how to season it, how to cook a dish correctly – they’re all paralleled in life lessons. What we learn in the kitchen is the same as what you learn in the real world. You know, how to work as a team, how to rely on somebody else, how to time things that happen together for a reason. So, for those that are thinking about getting into the program, it’s an amazing program to do because it literally mirrors what you do in life. In the culinary world, I look at it as the general in an army. There’s the head of the kitchen who puts out food – that is the same as a general commanding an army. Except we have more to lose because we have the morale of those folks to lose. A general is not going to make morale – a general is going to tell them what to do. The food makes the morale and the cooks run that. Double Eagle: If you had the opportunity to stand before U.S. Army Reserve commanders, what is the one thing you would tell them about the military culinary program? Chef Irvine: I would want them to come and see the faces of the cooks that participate in this competition. Because that’s the faces, when you look in the mirror, of every man and woman that wears the cloth of our nation that has to go into any war, any establishment, or any post or base, or submarine, or where ever, because that’s what food does. The culinary program in our military is huge. It’s not just the cooking part but it’s the Performance Triad. When we think about health and future health, the way the military is changing our food needs to change and the only ones to pioneer that are our cooks. Not generals, not admirals. They (cooks) are making the changes on the front lines to keep our men and women healthy. It begins in grassroots and that’s what all these folks are doing. Teaching these kids, and they are kids, how to cook and cook well, to make sure our Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard service members can do their jobs and do them well.