It looks like the Food Network and some of their personalities might be in a bit of trouble.
The first item involves Chef Robert Irvine, host of the popular show Dinner: Impossible. As the show’s introduction notes, Irvine claims to have cooked for the British royal family, several presidents, and onboard Air Force One. He claims to have a degree in food and nutrition from the University of Leeds, claims to own a castle in Scotland and also claims to own the honorific “Sir Robert Irvine, Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order”. These are, apparently, all lies.
It all started with some reporters in St. Petersburg, Florida. Irvine came to town promising to open not one, but two new restaurants. It’s now three months past the date the restaurants were supposed to open, yet the properties still have dirt floors and exposed pipes. From the looks of it, no one has even been inside the space in ages, much less done any work on it. The reporters started asking around, only to find a lot of people with nothing nice to say about Irvine. According to this article, Irvine’s web site consultant claims he owes her thousands, his restaurant designer has backed out, his interior decorator is suing him, and St. Petersburg socialite Wendy LaTorre, “says Irvine owes her more than $100,000 for marketing and promotions and for helping him find property”.
The reporters then decided to scratch a little more. They called Irvine and asked him about his degree from the University of Leeds. Irvine replied that “[it] was a program set up through the Royal Navy. We don’t call it a bachelor’s of science”. The reporters called the University of Leeds, only to have press officer Sarah Spiller tell them that “[they] cannot find any connection in our records between Robert and the university”.
Irvine has mentioned “making the cake for the Royal Wedding” several times on Dinner: Impossible; when asked by reporters about it, Irvine said that “I was at the school when that was happening. They made the cake at the school where I was”. Pressed further, Irvine admitted that he had helped by “[p]icking fruit and things like that” (the alleged cake was a 360 pound fruitcake).
When asked about Irvine’s knighthood, Jenn Stebbing, a press officer at Buckingham Palace said that “he is not a KCVO, Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order”. Irvine himself admits that the knighthood was a straight-up lie: “[w]hen I first came down there and I met people down there with all this money, it was like trying to keep up with the Joneses. I was sitting in a bar one night and that came out. It was stupid”.
When it comes to the White House, Irvine apparently keeps up the lies. Walter Scheib, the White House executive chef from 1994 to 2005, said via email that “Irvine’s ONLY connection with the White House is through the Navy Mess facility in the West Wing … never in the period from 4/4/94 until 2/4/05 did he have ANYTHING to do with the preparation, planning, or service of any State Dinner or any other White House Executive Residence food function, public or private”.
But wait – there’s more! Irvine claims to have received a “Five Star Diamond Award” from the “American Academy of Hospitality Sciences” for several consecutive years. Apparently, the award is a sham – according to this article at Radar Magazine, anyone can receive the award… with the appropriate contribution to the “academy”, which is run by Joseph Cinque out of his Columbus Circle apartment in New York City.
It’s all kind of sad. I don’t think I’ll stop watching Dinner: Impossible, but after reading the article about Irvine, I sure as hell have a lot less respect for him.
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The second item is from Village Voice reporter Robert Sietsema. Sietsema claims in this rather lengthy article that Iron Chef America is a complete scam. Fortunately for Food Network, Sietsema seems woefully ignorant about how television programs are made. He also seems confused about the original Japanese Iron Chef show. One of the first things Sietsema wrote that set off my BS meter was this: “[i]n the original series, [the character of “The Chairman”] made more sense: Wasn’t he the rich guy sponsoring the gladiatorial game show? The current Chairman – Mark Dacascos – is a minor martial-arts actor who claims to be a nephew of the original Chairman on the Japanese show, an assertion that’s not difficult to disprove”. Huh? Is this guy being serious? He does know that “Chairman Kaga” was a character, right? He wasn’t really a rich Japanese guy that just decided to build Kitchen Stadium for giggles… he was just an actor… like Dacascos.
He then goes on about how the show uses (gasp!) stand-ins for the Iron Chefs that don’t appear in the episode. Ya see, at the beginning of the show there’s a dramatic reveal, where each of the three Iron Chefs are shown to the audience. The challenger then picks an Iron Chef to challenge. The Iron Chef then walks down some steps to meet his challenger. What shocks Sietsema is that the challenger is known in advance, so Food Network pays a couple of guys that vaguely resemble the other Iron Chefs to stand in the shadows as the challenger announces which Iron Chef he (or she) is going to challenge. With clever editing, it appears that Bobby Flay and Mario Batali are standing there as Masaharu Morimoto’s name is called, when in fact only Morimoto is in the studio. Personally, I’d be more shocked if Flay and Batali showed up just to stand there for five minutes while the “challenge” scene is filmed. And besides, this is not new. In the original Iron Chef show that Sietsema seems to love so much, the “reveal” was just as staged. If you watch closely, you’ll notice that the hats the Iron Chefs wear seem to be huge – coming down past their ears and well into their foreheads. This was done so that the production studio only needed to film the “reveal” one time; the big hats covered the Iron Chef’s hairstyles, so if one of them got a radically different haircut or lost a bunch of hair, they wouldn’t have to reshoot the reveal.
Then there’s the issue of the “secret ingredient”. Sietsema seems convinced that the chefs know what the “secret ingredient” is well in advance of taping. It’s an open secret that the producers of both Iron Chef shows give\gave the chefs a short list of four or five possible “secret” ingredients around a week before the show tapes. It’s a mystery to me why Sietsema is so shocked that a professional chef like Mario Batali could act cool and collected when he’s known for a week that he’ll need to make several dishes using one of (at most) five ingredients. Hell, I’m not a professional chef, but if you told me that I’d need to make as many dishes as I could one week from today using pork loin, lobster, quail’s eggs, venison or tofu… well, I’m almost certain that I could pull that off… especially if I had two sous chefs, as each contestant on the show does.
Eh, I could go on, but I won’t. I find Sietsema’s arguments to be full of weak sauce, but that’s just me.