Chef Robert Irvine is cooking things up in Philadelphia. He’d love to open a restaurant in nearby Atlantic City, where he became a culinary star.
The chef, a Food Network star and former executive chef and consultant for several Atlantic City casinos, is bringing his well-traveled “Dining Experience” to Live! Casino Philadelphia on Dec. 18, just in time for a special holiday meal.
The event will treat guests to an interactive holiday cooking demonstration with Irvine as emcee.
For $175, guests can enjoy a delicious three-course dinner at the new Live! Casino Philadelphia event center.
Food and casinos a great combo
As Irvine proved working at the former Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City where he served well-done steak to owner and 45th President Donald Trump, high-quality food melds readily with all sorts of gambling.
When done right, quality food becomes a profit center, he learned in Atlantic City.
Quality food events can, in turn, bump up the gambling action on a casino’s floor when there is a popular signature event.
Live cooking shows are a staple in his pantry
The Live! Casino Philadelphia event begins with Irvine’s take on a wedge salad, then slow-braised short ribs done as a French stew with deeply concentrated flavors, and ends with a spiced apple cheesecake.
Noting the season, Irvine said:
“It would be a great Christmas present! It’s a lot of fun just before Christmas.”
He does about thirty such shows a year, “around the world.”
Even a case of COVID-19 and six days of hospitalization in July 2020 barely slowed him down.
His team and Live!’s staff will cook while Irvine oversees and entertains.
“I’m not cooking. It’s my day off!”
And while there is a basic format, each demonstration is different because members of the audience are called on to participate and interact.
The chef, known for his buff physique, buzzcut and a broad grin, explained:
“I don’t know for sure what’s going to happen. The food for sure will be great. The conversation is no-holds barred. There’s no rhyme or rhythm.”
While he’s in Philadelphia, he’ll likely squeeze in a visit to his co-owned micro-distillery Boardroom Spirits in Lansdale, north of the city.
TV remains a mainstay for Irvine
The chef is squeezing in the Live! event during a hectic December schedule of filming new installments for Season 19 of Restaurant Impossible. His signature TV cooking show aims at turning around a struggling restaurant.
Many of the make-over locations in the early years were in Pennsylvania, not too far from his then-home in the bayside town of Absecon, across the water from Atlantic City. He only recently sold that home.
Not too shabby for a lad whose non-traditional route to the top echelon of the celebrity chef pantheon began when he dropped out of school at the age of 15 to join the Royal Navy in his native United Kingdom.
Chef Irvine joined Royal Navy as a teenager
The budding chef began cooking at just 11-years-old, but his bad habits as a student threw a curve.
“I was not a good student. I rarely went to school. My dad came home one afternoon and there I was drinking,” from his father’s stash, he recalled during a half-hour interview.
Irvine’s parents were none too happy, which explains his decade-long Navy stint.
The young Irvine joined a junior leader program with his parents’ signatures in hand. Then came the regular Royal Navy at 16, where he served a decade.
Irvine went straight into culinary training, cooking aboard ships and military bases.
“I didn’t have an endgame,” he said of his younger self.
But his military service has led to discipline and a continuing affinity for veterans.
The US Navy has made him an honorary chief petty officer. Irvine regularly appears at USO events. One of his companies even operates a full-service restaurant in the Pentagon.
He is also a philanthropic supporter of veterans and first-responders through his self-named foundation.
Irvine is now a serial food and drink entrepreneur through personal evolution and the organization he learned in the military.
That grew after the Navy by cooking aboard cruise ships, eventually landing him in Jamaica as an executive sous chef at a resort. He caught a recruiter’s attention, which is how he ended up cooking for Trump.
The chef audibly shudders about taking “expensive meat and killing it” by overcooking steak to Trump’s well-done preference. Irvine oversaw the food at many private events hosted by Trump.
His first TV appearance began and continued on that medium as he moved on to work for Caesars Atlantic City and then finally as a consultant at Resorts Casino Hotel.
The chef learned turning up the quality of casino food also meant turning up the profit in the food and beverage sector of the business and also that F&B could spur “large drops” on the casino floor.
“Food has changed the casino business and traveling,” said Irvine, mentioning that Las Vegas is now as much a food mecca as a gambling destination.
Irvine is nostalgic for Atlantic City
The chef who first came to fame down the shore would like to add an Atlantic City restaurant to his business portfolio. He has a gastropub in Las Vegas, Robert Irvine’s Public House.
But he’s thinking bigger about returning to Atlantic City.
He fondly recalls chef Emeril Lagasse, the king of New Orleans-style cuisine, who currently operates a PA restaurant at Wind Creek Bethlehem Resort, “creating a great revenue night,” when he visited Irvine for a food event.
Southern cooking queen Paula Deen surprised crowds at Resorts by playing slots for hours before a meet-and-greet.
He would like to recreate that sort of magic back where he made his bones.
“AC is special,” he said.
Lead photo c/o Robert Irvine