Tuesday, January 23, 2007

‘Dinner’ is served

Many of us, staring at a half-empty fridge when we arrive home from work, may feel preparing dinner really is impossible. But our challenges are nothing compared to those of Chef Robert Irvine.

Tonight, he becomes the Food Network’s newest star with the premiere of “Dinner: Impossible” (airing at 10) — which just may be the most difficult job on the cable channel.

Each week, the new 30-minute series will throw a different culinary curveball squarely aimed at Mr. Irvine and his two sous-chefs, George and George. One week he’s preparing a first-class dinner for passengers aboard a moving train, then another week he’s re-creating an 18th-century meal using only fire pits and authentic cooking tools.

Why take on such difficult tasks?

“Because I’m a masochist,” Mr. Irvine says with a laugh.

Speaking by phone the day after filming an episode, he doesn’t sound the least bit tired despite having prepared the food for Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell’s inaugural bash.

Mr. Irvine, an English native who has never shied away from a challenge, began culinary training when he joined the Royal Navy at age 15. He was eventually promoted to service aboard Brittania, the royal yacht, where he spent 10 years traveling the world preparing food for royalty, presidents and other dignitaries. He then made his way to the U.S.

“I wanted a different challenge,” says Mr. Irvine, who now lives in New Jersey. “England is not exactly the culinary capital of the world,” he adds, while noting that meeting local chefs Michel Richard of Citronelle and Roberto Donna of Galileo have been among his highlights since arriving stateside.

Though it’s unlikely most of us will repeat any of Mr. Irvine’s culinary feats, he says he thinks viewers can learn from his show. “These recipes are not from cookbooks, which is great, because it gives the viewers the understanding that it’s OK to substitute sour cream with creme fraiche. I’m the unmasking magician of the chef world,” says Mr. Irvine, who worked on Princess Diana’s wedding cake and has cooked for four U.S. presidents — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

“Presidents, kings, queens, celebrities, they all eat food like we do, based on mood swings,” Mr. Irvine says. “We have one of the incredible talents in that we can make people laugh or cry. We affect their day based on how we feed them. We are a definite impact immediately, whether good or bad.”

Football trumps ‘Idol’

Simon Cowell was impressive; Peyton Manning was even better.

Sunday’s gripping American Football Conference championship game between Mr. Manning’s Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots stole some of the thunder from “American Idol,” even enabling CBS to beat Fox in the ratings for the week, according to Nielsen Media Research.

For the week of Jan. 15 through 21, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: 1) “AFC Championship Post-Gun Show” , CBS, 47.7 million; 2 ) AFC Championship: New England at Indianapolis, CBS, 46.7 million; 3) “American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 37.4 million; 4) “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 36.9 million; and 5) “AFC Championship Post-Game Show,” CBS, 29.3 million.

Compiled by Kelly Jane Torrance and Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff and wire reports.

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