Robert Irvine’s ‘Restaurant Express’ Drives Chefs to New Challenges

Nine chefs vie for the chance to open up a restaurant in Las Vegas by competing in challenges that take them to cities across the U.S., where their culinary and business skills are put to the test by host Robert Irvine. (Food Network)

Whether cooking for 6,000 servicemen on an aircraft carrier, battling the culinary world’s biggest names on “The Next Iron Chef,” or applying tough love to failing restaurants on his Food Network series “Restaurant Impossible,” muscular super chef Robert Irvine has never met a challenge he didn’t want to tackle head-on. His new Food Network series “Restaurant Express” drives that point home.

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The seven-episode competition series, which premieres November 3 but is available now with XFINITY On Demand, places nine aspiring chefs on a bus and takes them on a road trip across the western U.S. where they must prove to Irvine through a series of challenges that they have the necessary kitchen skills,  business savvy, and single-minded, unflinching determination to stay on the bus – and eventually win the right the launch a new restaurant in Las Vegas.

We recently caught up with the super friendly (and funny) Irvine on a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles between takes on a commercial for his new series. With the “Restaurant Express” bus parked behind him, Irvine gently passed an adorable baby pig (a prop for the ad) to its handler and joked with a cameraman.

You look like you’re having fun?  I am. Loads of it.

Tell us about your new series, “Restaurant Express.” The concept of the new show is really simple. It’s about giving people a chance to get their dream. These nine contestants have a dream of owning a restaurant, and through a series of challenges on the road in this bus behind me, one of them will get the prize of a lifetime.

Who are these nine people on the bus? The people competing on this show are from all walks of life. You’ve got a mom with six kids, you’ve got chefs, you’ve got a veteran…you’ve got just people from all walks of life. There isn’t one particular person. It’s nine contestants with a dream.

Watch the “Restaurant Express” premiere

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Do those who are already chefs have an advantage? Believe me, they have no edge, any way shape or form.

How does putting people on a bus and traveling from city to city figure in finding a great restaurateur? If you put nine people from all walks of life on a bus, away from their real home, they find out a lot about each other, including weak points, strong points, where they come from, their backgrounds; and, as you’ll see on the show, it helps them to compete against each other, in some cases to psyche each other out. Information is a great thing, and when you are in a competition, the more you know about your opponents, the better it is.

What kind of challenges will we see? You can expect challenges along this journey for these main contestants to be interesting. They’re here to win the chance of opening their own restaurant, so marketing, cooking, organizational skills, running P & L’s, a lot of things to do with running businesses.

So it’s not just time spent over a stove. Cooking is a small part of running a business. There is a whole gambit of experience that you need to run a restaurant, which is a business. You need people skills, the ability to deal with complaints,  marketing, costing and pricing out ingredients and plates. It’s very complex and demanding beyond just knowing how to cook, which is, of course, crucial to a successful restaurant. But there is so much more.

How does this show differ from your other series, “Restaurant Impossible?” This show is very unique in that we’re taking people from all walks of life, and I keep saying all walks of life, but they are. They have a dream. On “Restaurant Impossible,” I am fixing people’s dreams. On “Restaurant Express,” they’re getting an opportunity to live that dream.

How intense is the drama? From beginning to end of the whole season, there are moments that will have you on the end of your seat. There are moments of fear, frustration, anger. It’s just one of those nail biting experiences that you have to watch every episode to see what is happening.

You seem to specialize in stirring up a lot of emotion in people. I truly believe that people want to do well and they want to find themselves, and fortunately for me, God has given me a gift that I can drag out the best in people. I can motivate them. I can teach them. I can empathize, not very often, because I give this tough love. But at the end of the tough love, somebody emerges as a winner.

Earlier, you told me that you travel up to 340 days a year, if not more. How do you keep up with your favorite TV programs?  Really easy. I watch on my phone.  I have the XFINITY app, and when I have a few minute, or if I’m in bed, I click on my XFINITY and I’m not going to tell you what my password is, but it starts with “buff chef,” and I watch all of my favorite shows when I’m on the road.

When you’re home, who holds the remote control at night – you or your wife?  I can tell you I don’t very often get home in my own bed; I think it’s only been five times this year. But I’m always going to hold the remote. I’m in charge in my home. My wife tells me that.

Which shows are among your favorites?  I was very into “Breaking Bad,” and now I am  excited that “Homeland” is back. I love to watch Food Network shows, too. I love to watch Chopped. I love to watch Iron Chef. I tune into a lot of them.

Let’s talk about tuning into “Restaurant Express.” Who is this show for? What kind of person will like this? “Restaurant Express” is for everybody, for all ages, from four years old to 98 years old. There is something in it for everybody. You’ll be hooked from the start. It’s that good.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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