America Supports You: Marines Give Chef His Marching Orders
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 15, 2007 When Chef Robert Irvine discovered his “mission” was to feed 850 Marines after they’d completed 30 days of desert warfare training at Camp Pendleton, Calif., his reaction was what one might expect.
Chef Robert Irvine, host of Food Network’s “Dinner Impossible” and a former chief petty officer cook in the British Royal Navy, shows he can keep up with the 850 Marines he faced at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Photo Courtesy of Food Network
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Shock and, gasp, horror,” Irvine, host of Food Network’s “Dinner Impossible,” and a former chief petty officer cook in the British Royal Navy, said.
Part of the shock came from the fact that Irvine, who also spent 10 years cooking for the royal family, didn’t really realize where he was or why he was there.
“The reason I don’t know is because they don’t tell me anything. The premise of this show is so secretive,” he said. “I didn’t even know what the challenge was until I literally met the master gunnery sergeant and then he actually gave me the mission, which was to cook the warrior dinner for 850 Marines.”
Irvine accepted the challenge, which gave him seven hours to prepare a meal for the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, which was preparing to deploy to the Middle East. He was provided a field kitchen with an oven he was told had the power of a jet fighter’s engine. He quickly discovered that Marines have a sense of humor.
“Let me tell you this, if any Marine or air service person is flying a jet with that on it, they’re not going very far,” Irvine said. “It took me 45 minutes to sauté an onion!”
The meal he prepared required 104 pounds of onions.
The ill-equipped kitchen was just part of the challenge, however. He was provided no food, and had six Marines trained in combat, but not in cuisine, as assistants.
“I had three things stacked against me: No food, terrible equipment and no trained staff,” Irvine said. “I had two of my guys, one of which went shopping to the local commissary, which was on another base.”
The only alternative to the commissary was two hours away, and not an option with so many to cook for and so little time.
To work around the less-than-professional kitchen equipment, Irvine had to fire up a grill. As for the help, he put their skills to good use, as well.
“They showed me what they normally had (for) their steaks. (They) were nine-ounce strip steaks that were good enough to put on the bottom of your shoe and walk for three weeks,” he said. “I had these two Marines, a young lady and a young man, beating the (steaks) with cans to tenderize them.
“It was funny and ridiculous at the same time,” he said with a chuckle.
Finally, the clock ticked off the last seconds of the challenge, and Irvine stepped out of the kitchen to address the Marines, who were still decked out in full “battle rattle.” As he offered his greetings to the battalion and asked if they were hungry, he said he got an overwhelming response.
“Of course all I heard was this tremendous, ‘Ooh Rah!’” he said. “I said, ‘First of all, as a non-American service guy, I want to tell you how proud I am of what you do every day for the country.’”
Then it was time to dig in, and just for comparison, Irvine made two of the Marines’ typical “warrior dinners” and gave the Marines a choice between his and theirs. There was no hesitation as they passed up the usual and went for the fresh fare.
“It’s very hard to put into words, but I was so proud of being there to give them their meal, and it was so personal to me,” he said. “When you’re a serviceman -- I don’t care what branch you’re in, what navy, what army, what marine corps, whatever it is -- there’s a brotherhood. It just resonates.”
The experience resonated so strongly with Irvine that he’s promised to cook the battalion a welcome home dinner when it returns from its overseas tour.
The episode, which is the “Dinner Impossible” season finale, will premiere tomorrow at 10:30 p.m. EDT on Food Network.
Editor's Note: To find out about more individuals, groups and organizations that are helping support the troops, visit www.AmericaSupportsYou.mil. America Supports You is a Defense Department program that directly connects military members to the support of the America people and offers a tool to the general public in their quest to find meaningful ways to support the military community.