Robert Irvine Talks All Things Steak And Whiskey At The New York City Food & Wine Festival - Exclusive Interview

Robert Irvine is known for being so much more than just a chef. The Food Network personality has dedicated his life and career not only to teaching people how to love and appreciate cooking, but also to committing acts of service through his platform. Whether it's the months he spends on the road every year meeting with military service members or the time and energy he spends on each establishment he hopes to help through "Restaurant: Impossible," Irvine is a chef with a purpose that extends far beyond the kitchen. Of course, in between all that, he's still producing delicious and wholesome recipes, which can be found in any of his published cookbooks.

Mashed got the chance to speak exclusively with Irvine at the Food Network New York City Wine and Food Festival presented by Capital One, where the chef hosted his signature steak and whiskey event once again. Irvine talked all things steak and cocktails, including sharing details about the newest additions to his line of spirits. He also opened up about the impact of "Restaurant: Impossible" after more than a decade, and the next chapter in Irvine's legacy — his new book, "Overcoming Impossible."

Robert Irvine improvises an easy fish recipe

Can you tell me a little bit about what you're going to be showcasing at the NYCWFF?

I have no idea [until] I literally walk up there. It will be fish. I don't know what we're going to do with the fish and ingredients. That's the way I like to do the festival. I don't like to know what I'm going to do because it's more fun and off the cuff when you talk about things that you don't know about.

Off the cuff right now, if you're going to make a fish, what would you do?

I'd take salmon and some cucumber, pickle the cucumber, and make some kind of red pepper sauce with apple juice. The reason we pickle the cucumber is to cut through the acidity of the fish. It's crunchy, it's salty, and it's fatty, and the apple juice gives a little sweetness.

How to make a steak that will impress Robert Irvine

You're also hosting a steak and whiskey tasting.

This is my second year doing it. Unlike all these other chefs that you see on these screens, our parties sell out fast because I'm really engaged. I love the fact that we get to grow with the festival, but also grow with the people that come to all my parties, not only here but in Miami also. I know the kids; I know the families. It's neat.

What's your favorite kind of steak?

I love a baseball steak or top sirloin. Why do I love that? Because it's inexpensive, it's flavorful, and you can do a lot with it. If you get a sirloin, yeah, okay — but you're paying through the nose for it and you've got to do this with it and you can put some sauces. But the baseball steak's what I call ambidextrous. You can do anything with it. When I do all my shows, I talk about the baseball steak or top sirloin a lot because it's a great cut of meat that nobody knows about or nobody uses.

What is the biggest mistake people make when they're cooking steak?

Overcooking it and under seasoning. An 8-ounce steak, no matter what it is, takes four minutes in a hot pan, flip it over for four minutes. Then turn the heat off and leave it in there and leave it for four minutes. [Use a] little bit of butter and baste it afterward. A 12-ounce steak [takes] five minutes [on each side], and so on.

People don't get their steak out — they're afraid of getting it to room temperature. Why would you be afraid to get stuff at room temperature? If it's at room temperature, and it's patted dry, and it goes in a hot pan, it cooks a lot faster. That's the biggest thing: seasoning and knowing how to cook. We're afraid to cook things.

I've heard that you can take a steak straight out of the freezer and cook it.

You can if you want a sh***y steak.

Why you need to try Robert Irvine's line of spirits

What about whiskey? Do you have a favorite everyday whiskey?

I've only just started to get into whiskey ... But we have a bourbon at Boardroom. I own Boardroom Spirits, but [I like] bourbon of any description.

I know that you have a new line of liquors out, Irvine vodka, Irvine gin. What are some of your favorite ways to enjoy that, or do you have favorite cocktails with those?

I created the gin with 13 botanicals that I cook with. The vodka is all about meats ... steaks, chickens, pork, because it's robust enough being a corn base that will go with anything. The gin, I'm really excited about, because I actually went to Sri Lanka to pick out the cinnamon. I lived with a family on an island, a little three-generational family — amazing folks.

Think about Hendrick's, which is juniper-forward; this is not. This is more citrusy. Yes, you get a hint of juniper. Of course you do; it's gin. But I wanted something different. It's an American-style gin that goes with scallops and shrimp and all kinds of stuff, because it pairs great. You hear of wine and food pairings; I wanted chef-curated vodka and gin to go with chef-curated food.

It sounds like it would be great straight up with a lemon twist.

It is. Or lime.

The impact of Restaurant: Impossible

I want to ask you about "Restaurant: Impossible." Did you ever think that it would endure for this many seasons the way it has?

We're actually in our 23rd season, and when we started it years ago, I was in your face a lot. I'm still in there a little bit, but I've learned to listen a little bit more, which helps me help them more. That's the change in me, the hiatus that we've been running.

This is the only show on Food Network, on Discovery, of this type. They've tried to do many rip-offs of it, and it's never worked, because you have to understand the people you are working for. [It's] not a TV show — this is about real people, real problems, real solutions. I can give you a litany of restaurants that are put on ... 96% in the last three years [have succeeded]. I can't go pre-COVID because so many have closed from COVID. But in the last three years, we're 96% successful.

The largest amount of debt — $1.1 million. They now do $3.4 million in Cerritos, California. I've got one in Rhode Island that does $2.5 million. I've got so many success stories, [and] I keep in touch with them all the time because they're my family. They're the RI, Robert Irvine "Restaurant: Impossible" family.

How often did you have moments where you're like, "Guys, I don't know if this is going to work"?

Every day and every restaurant I'm in. You know what the old saying is: "You can lead a horse to water. You can't make it drink." Some people that fail go back because they worry about splitting a meal with a couple. That's old-style thinking. [But the] older generation dies — it's inevitable — and we need to bring in new people, so the menu changes and all the things that I put in are there for a reason.

The inspiration behind Robert Irvine's new memoir

Can you talk about your upcoming book, "Overcoming Impossible"?

I am so excited about it because it's the first entry into business. I run major companies. I have 11 companies on my own that do ... I'm talking in excess of a billion a year. I've worked with Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart. I've worked with Doug Parker from American Airlines, Sysco Foods, Cisco Computers.

No matter what business you are in, it's scalable. That's the problem. There are a thousand writers, a thousand bloggers, a thousand chefs ... What makes you different is to be able to go somewhere, assess something quickly, and suggest changes. This book is all about experiences and my own failures, my successes, other people at different levels — Dave Watson at Comcast NBC — all those kinds of people that have learned lessons. We've been able to take those lessons and be successful.

It's okay to fail. It's okay to build a great team. You're going to fail, and you've got to know how to deal with failure. That's the biggest problem businesses have — they don't have a vision, they don't hold people accountable, they don't set expectations, all those kinds of things that I do. I'm really excited about [the book]. We put it out for pre-sale a couple of days ago. It comes out in February, and there'll be a huge tour. I'm excited about it.

What would you say is the most impossible thing you've overcome?

Learning how to deal with fame. I'm very abrupt and very direct on television, but in real life, I'm not. I hide. I'm not an outgoing person. When you go on a plane and somebody wakes you up to take a picture ... I'm not a Guy Fieri or a Tim Allen or a Jay Leno. They're born for this. I'm a chef and I'm a business owner, and I believe that I'm put on this planet to help people. No matter that, whether it be the show, whether it be our military ... I spend 150 days a year on the road just with the military, 345 days a year on the road generally.

My life is about people. The biggest thing for me is having people hang on everything you say and knowing that they're changing their lives because you are telling them to. With that comes a lot of ... There's the saying, right? "With great power comes great responsibility." I think about that every day when I wake up. If I'm going to walk in and say, "I'm going to change your life today," I've got to give you the tools that you need to change that. I worry about it every day.

For the latest from chef Robert Irvine, follow him on Instagram. Plus, click here to learn more about the annual Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival Presented by Capital One, and be sure to check out the highlights from this year's event.

This interview was edited for clarity.