Chef Robert Irvine: Giving Back to the Military and Veteran Community

with Robert Irvine of the Robert Irvine Foundation

Robert Irvine, former British Royal Navy chef and host of Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible,” has focused his talents and culinary skills to provide support to the U.S. military community through his foundation.

Irvine joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss efforts to support the mental and physical well-being of service members and their families, veterans, and first responders through food, wellness, and community.

Posted on:

October 31, 2023

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: World-renowned chef and entrepreneur Robert Irvine went from being a cook in the British Royal Navy to a celebrity chef superstar. Hosting the long-running Food Network series "Restaurant: Impossible," Irvine has helped struggling entrepreneurs in the restaurant industry. He takes their failing businesses and turns them into successful enterprises. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I’m Tetiana Anderson. Having served in the British Royal Navy for 10 years, Chef Irvine understands the stresses that life after the military can present. So he started a foundation to give back and support the military community. Joining me is the man himself, founder of the Robert Irvine Foundation. Robert, thank you so much for being here.

Irvine: Oh, so, so welcome. Thank you for having me, Tetiana, I appreciate it.

Anderson: So you were, essentially, an essential personnel in the British Navy. How did you decide that you wanted to be in the kitchen?

Irvine: Well, it’s interesting. I started cooking at an early age of about 11 because there was 30 girls in the home-economics class and me, and I thought I’d get a girlfriend. I made my first Quiche Lorraine, and, all of a sudden, food was my passion. And here I am, 57 years old, still with that passion.

Anderson: It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? What did that whole experience, though, teach you about the connection between food and the physical and mental well-being of service members?

Irvine: Well, I think food is the integral part. I always say food is the international language of love and hope. You can have the hard conversations with people over a plate of food or a cup of coffee that you could never have. Whether it be race, religion, death, birth, it doesn’t matter. It all comes full circle around food.

Anderson: You launched your foundation in 2014, and one of the programs uses food to really reunite service members, to celebrate them, and, of course, to honor fallen heroes. Tell us a little bit more about the program, how it works, and what it does.

Irvine: So it’s interesting because 18 years of war in Afghanistan, in Iraq, Vietnam, World War II, World War I, folks have never been back together. So we started this program called Reuniting the Brave. And I can tell you, we just finished one. 750 of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines we took back to San Diego, and we fed them and their families for a week and really reconnected them, reigniting them, and celebrating throughout their lives, but nourishing their relationship to help in the future. And it’s really interesting because not only did we feed them and got to talk and chat over a plate of food, we actually erected a memorial two miles up a hill in Camp Pendleton. We all 750 of us marched up there. The memorial was dedicated by the commanding general and an amazing priest, and the grief that was relieved from the shoulders of these men and women from 1st Battalion, 5th Marines was unbelievable. I think I cried the whole way through it, but that’s what it is. It’s food and reconnecting, reigniting, nourishing, and reestablishing relationships. The Reuniting the Brave is a new program for us that will do 7 or 10 of those a year. But that’s only one of the programs. We have financial support. We have food programs that helps food insecurity. We have wellness programs, community programs, ambassador programs, service dogs.

Anderson: So you just named a whole host of services that you do provide to these veterans, and it’s amazing the range that you touch. But I’m wondering if there’s a specific example that comes to your mind about how some of these services have actually changed the life of one person? I don’t know if there’s someone you followed or someone you’ve interacted with.

Irvine: I can give you 1,000, but I’ll take one of the most famous people that you may have heard of, Greg Gadson. He was a double amputee, the first double amputee in the War on Terror, and the only army officer to continue serving, a Garrison, Fort Belvoir, actually, a hospital, after he had his injuries, and he was put in a wheelchair. You may remember the movie "Warship," or Battleship," I would say. He was in that movie, but one of his loves was photography and, obviously, his kids. But he couldn’t go into his garden because his wheelchair was -- thin wheels. If it got wet, he couldn’t do anything. Two years ago, I gave him an iBOT as a recipient, and he could do everything with his kids because this wheelchair goes across rough terrain up and down stairs, as I’ve mentioned, and now he’s in the garden. He’s an ambassador of mine now, but he also is a great photographer, and his love of photography after serving is making his living.

Anderson: I’m wondering if you can speak to the importance of food in a returning service member's ability to actually reconnect to civilian life.

Irvine: Well, it’s interesting you say, Tetiana, because food is integral in everything we do, right? So a service member that gets deployed -- and I said, I’ve just visited 17 bases in Poland, and we're living out of tents and we’re feeding -- we’re feeding our service members. Food ties us to home. When we return back home, there’s a distance between the families and the service member itself, and it gets reconnected through sitting down over a table with a plate of mashed potatoes or chicken or whatever it is, and that -- and that meal takes us back to before our deployment or even our childhood. So food has been really linked to post-traumatic stress and triggers of post-traumatic stress. So food is an integral part of not only feeding the body, mind, and soul, but also reconnecting with families when they come back.

Anderson: And you’ve already called a lot of attention to the needs of veterans by really using your platform as a celebrity chef, as a philanthropist, but you kind of don’t strike me as the type to ever stop. So I want you to tell us about your next mission in this space. I mean, what do you have planned for the future of the foundation?

Irvine: I’m going to tell you a quick story. I was at a golf tournament that we put on a couple of weeks ago, and a veteran came to me, and he said -- just before we kicked off the golf tournament, he said, "Thank you for doing this because I was waiting for this golf tournament before I committed suicide." That stopped that young man committing suicide, that golf tournament. Now moving into how do we put them on bicycles, how do we get them out of the house? How do we get them mixing not only with food, but also with other veterans to talk about those issues? And there’s a number that floats around there that says 22 members of our -- or veterans or members of our military, active duty and veterans commit suicide. It’s wrong. It’s actually double that. It’s 48 people a week are doing this. So we have to find a way to stop this. And food is a way. Exercise is a way. Health, fitness, mental health is all part of what our foundation is doing. So that’s our future.

Anderson: Robert, people are going to want to know a lot more about you, about your foundation’s work. What is your website? Where should they look?

Irvine: They can look at, and there’s lots of information about the programs. There’s impact videos. There’s testimonials. There’s everything you want to see. Alls I would say to the folks listening is, look, check it out, see what we’re doing. We’re really making a difference in the lives of the men and women that put on the cloth of our nation. And I think America has forgotten about them. Just because we pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq, we still have issues. We have 18 years of war to combat. We need to take care of our men and women that wear the cloth of our nation, our veterans, our Gold Star family members, and our Medal of Honor recipients.

Anderson: Well said. Robert Irvine, thank you so much for joining us.

Irvine: You are so welcome, Tetiana. I appreciate you.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, just visit I’m Tetiana Anderson. ♪♪

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