Robert Irvine Reveals his Strategy for Competing in the Chopped: Impossible Finale
In the new tournament Chopped: Impossible, 12 chefs entered the competition hoping to make it to the last round to face off against Mr. Impossible himself, Robert Irvine. Until now Robert has judged each of the three preliminary rounds, but on finale day he will compete against one of the three finalists: Marc, James or Emily. The challenge is real, and as we've seen so far, the ingredients have been quite impossible, so the final basket will make it anyone's game.
FN Dish caught up with Robert on the set of the tournament to find out his strategy for the wild-card round. He reveals his competitive strengths and the way he plans to approach the basket. He also talks about how it was judging the chefs and what it's been like mentoring them to bring out their best in competition.
How would you describe the difference between Chopped: Impossible and regular Chopped?
Robert Irvine: [On Chopped] the baskets are somewhat, you know, you can make some nice food, and the chefs can be creative. [With] Chopped: Impossible, the ingredients are ridiculously impossible. They don't go together, they don't form an alliance, and you have to really think out of the box completely to utilize those ingredients and find a common denominator that brings them together.
And I've got to tell you, the Chopped: Impossible team, the culinary team, have really gone above and beyond ridiculous on these things. In a good way. It really challenges the chefs, and it's going to challenge me shortly, to think about how can they produce a dish, from already cooked food, for example, or, you know, a box of cereal. So, I think they're very different. Chopped: Impossible is a lot tougher than regular Chopped, hands down, and we've seen that with the Chopped champions coming in and departing one by one.
How has it been judging the three preliminary parts? Have you gotten any ideas of what you want to bring to the final wild-card round?
RI: You know, the judging for me over the last few days has been incredible, because it's a very new thing for me. To watch the competitors compete one by one has been interesting, but I'm not taking anything from them except the way they work and the way their minds think. I've got to stay true to who I am, and the style of food that I do, and incorporate those foods into my style, and then hopefully the judges will pick and choose, and off we go. I just have that much more admiration for the judges that have to sit through, you know, good food, bad food, indifferent food, which I don't have to do. I taste bad food on Restaurant: Impossible, then I change it. They have to sit there and critique it and hope that it gets better in the next round.
Are you playing a bit of a mind game with the competitors? It looks like you've been analyzing them pretty well, sometimes trying to psych them out.
RI: I was in the military, and that's what we do. We look at an opponent, or an "enemy," and see where their weaknesses lie, and it's easy to just either say something, or say nothing, to make them fearful, to [let them] know that I'm unpredictable. But I think that worked the first couple of episodes; I don't think it's working now, because I give them pep talks along the way to bring them out of their skin, to help them with confidence, to elevate their food, and that, at the end of the day, is my job — to make sure that we help somebody get better than where they were when they walked in the door.
Do you have any tips for the chefs competing against you?
RI: You know, chefs are always going to be chefs. [A tip] for people, or chefs, going against me, especially in this competition [is] just make sure that you stay in your lanes, you know. I don't know what's in the ingredient basket, nor do they, and ... it doesn't matter how good a chef you are, or how bad a chef you are, if you've got the right idea, and the right key for the ingredients for success, you're going to win, and if you don't, you're not. So, my game plan is not to worry about whoever wins what they're doing; it's me focusing on four plates of amazing food, with whatever ingredients I get.
What does it take to beat you? Is there anything that can beat you?
RI: Oh, I've been beaten thousands of times. You know, again, it's on the day, it's on the judges. Mistakes happen. I don't care how good a chef you are. Mistakes happen, and you know they happen when you've done it. ... Thirty minutes is not a lot of time, and in fact, in this case the competitors have the advantage, because they know the kitchen. They know where everything is in the kitchen. I'm going in, and I'm just going to go cold. I haven't walked the pantry. I haven't walked the refrigerator. So, for me it's, you know, it's going to be as tough as it is for them.
Now you've done Chopped All-Stars, where you reached the final round. Do you think that has given you an advantage — or the winning mindset?
RI: Even though I've done Chopped [All-Stars], that was, I mean, two or three years ago. So, for me, my daily life is like that, and that's given me the mindset of "I can produce anything from anything in anywhere." No matter what it is, I can produce good food, so I'm going with that mindset. In my live show, the audience picks the food, the audience picks the heat source, whether I have knives or not, and it's pretty much like Dinner: Impossible used to be. So, you know, just live experiences is hopefully gonna give me the edge.
Is there any basket ingredient, or any ingredient in general, that you hate to work with or you dislike?
RI: I hate red peppers, and I hate cinnamon. They're the only two things I hate to work with. I'm not worried about what the basket ingredients are going to be.
What are your strengths when it comes to competitive cooking?
RI: Being able to think on my feet, move fast, multitask and actually finish dishes quickly with flavor. You know, the key to winning something in a short period of time is to figure out what goes with what and how. Is it acid? Is it salt? Is it spice? Is it crunchiness? And I have that innate ability to do that really quickly and make the plates look pretty.
Watch the finale on Thursday at 8|7c to see which chef battles Robert, and find out who wins.