Robert Irvine may be best known to Food Network audiences as the guy dispensing tough love to struggling restaurants on the hit series "Restaurant: Impossible," but his new Sunday series, "Restaurant Express," finds the chef exploring the flip side of that: searching for the best candidate to help launch and run a new eatery in a Las Vegas resort.
The series started out with nine aspiring restaurateurs who boarded Irvine's huge bus for a road trip across the West that tests not only their culinary skills but also their personal strengths and business acumen.
"These people are mothers, military people and chefs, and not one of them has an advantage over the others," Irvine tells Zap2it. "There are so many different tests and competition pieces that you have to be good at everything to be that person at the end. It's not like 'Food Network Star' and 'Chopped' and other programs like that. These are real people in a real environment - my rules, my bus, and no one tells me what to say or how to say it."
Each week a contestant is eliminated, but the candidate left standing at the end wins a dream gig.
"The M Hotel Casino and Resort will open a brand-new dining space with this person designing the restaurant and the menu and working there as the executive chef," Irvine says. "I mean, that's a prize I would want myself.
"I know you hear sometimes that the network picks someone because they like him. I can assure you, until the last person was standing, I never picked anyone who was not the best person for this job, because at the end of the day it's my reputation. I'm very proud of this show, and I'm very excited about it."
What catches new restaurant owners off guard the most?
"The hours spent at the job, the lack of time with family, the stress level of worry about whether the food is going to be good consistently and how to keep the service staff trained. And, of course, you have to look at how to get people to come in the door in the first place."
What's your favorite meal at home?
"We eat very healthy. My own personal favorite meal is roast chicken and mashed potatoes. But when my wife, Gail, and I eat at home, it's usually a hard-seared salmon or other piece of fish with a chilled salad, maybe beets with tomatoes and onions or haricots verts with onions and lemon vinaigrette."
Do you have a favorite spice?
"Not so much a spice, but I use a lot of rice wine vinegar and an awful lot of fresh herbs and citrus. I use low-sodium soy sauce and a hot spice like Sriracha, which I really love."
What are your favorite Thanksgiving foods?
"I'm a big lover of roasted turkey with crispy skin and juicy flesh. I am not a big sweet potato guy, but I love mashed potatoes and roasted potatoes. I also love Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce."
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