Saturday, June 9, 2012

Chef Robert Irvine talks avocados

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Food Network celebrity chef Robert Irvine with a fellow avocado lover in Universal City, CA

When I get an opportunity to chat with a celebrity chef, I grab it.

Yesterday Chef Robert Irvine, who stars in Food Network's completely addictive show Restaurant: Impossible, kicked off an 85-day "Add-vocado" campaign with Subway here in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the Subway where he was slinging subs was clear across town from my office. I couldn't get there on a work day, much as I would have liked to check out his legendary biceps in person.

But a polite request to Subway's public relations group got me an early morning phone call with the chef. I was bleary, but Chef Irvine, who had already finished his morning workout, was wide awake and firing on all cylinders. I asked him a slew of avocado-related questions, which I'd brainstormed the night before with Emery, my 13-year-old son and a huge Robert Irvine fan. Read on for Chef Irvine's answers, including off-the cuff recipes for an avocado martini and an avocado panna cotta.

A note to blogger friends about interviewing celebrities: You're only going to get a few minutes. Go in prepared. Know what you want to talk about and move the conversation there. Otherwise you'll get the prepared promotional comments from the press release - and that's boring for you, your audience and the celebrity.

(Interested in more of my celebrity chef encounters? Here you go: Giada De Laurentiis, Alice Waters, Curtis Stone, Scott Conant, Claire Robinson, Lucinda Scala Quinn)

That's one big avocado - almost as big as Robert Irvine's biceps

Erika: Why avocados?

Robert Irvine: Avocados are a great healthy food, with lots of vitamins and good fats. Why use mayonnaise on a sandwich when you can cream avocado with yogurt and spices and use that instead? Add avocado to a boring BLT and it's creamy and delicious.

Erika: You've pledged to eat avocado every day for 85 days. Do you have your menu planned out?

Robert Irvine: I don't. I travel 330 days a year and eat every two and a half hours - I'm a big guy. I always carry a fork, little bottles of spices, and Sriracha [hot sauce]. I eat what I feel like eating. I'll be documenting my 85 days of avocado on Twitter and recipes will be posted on the Subway Facebook page.

Chef Robert Irvine making "Add-vocado" sandwiches at Subway in Universal City, CA

Erika: You grew up in England. Did you ever have avocados as a boy?

Robert Irvine: No, never. I had my first avocado on a cruise ship; I was 14, traveling with the Sea Cadets, and I'd been raised on steak and kidney pie and fish and chips. I thought, what is this? The chef taught me about avocados and told me to add lime juice.

Erika: Have you ever climbed an avocado tree?

Robert Irvine: No.

Erika: Feel free to stop by my house and climb mine. My 10-year-old climbs it all the time. That's how we get the avocados at the top.

Robert Irvine: [Laughs] I'd love to!

Erika: What's your favorite way to eat an avocado?

Robert Irvine: Blend vanilla yogurt, mustard, sriracha, lime juice and paprika with avocado and layer it on bread. [I expressed skepticism about the vanilla yogurt.] Yes, vanilla yogurt. I make a sweet potato bread pudding with cinnamon Tabasco ice cream at my restaurant, and when people hear that they make the same noises you just did. Trust me. It's delicious.

Erika: What's the most gourmet avocado dish you've had?

Robert Irvine: Avocado souffle, served with onion chutney. It's the best thing I've ever had.

Erika: Where did you have that avocado souffle?

Robert Irvine: In my restaurant, of course.

Erika: Name your three favorite sandwiches with avocado.

Robert Irvine: BLT; chipotle steak; turkey with bacon. They're all on the Subway menu.

Erika: Any ideas for avocados in cocktails?

Robert Irvine: I'd make a cucumber avocado martini. Juice the cucumber and puree the avocado. Mix those together and make a martini. Add a little tabasco. Garnish with diced seedless cucumber and little Parisian balls of avocado.

Erika: If you were going to open a restaurant that served avocados in every dish, what would you call it?

Robert Irvine: Let's see....The Add-Vocado Pit. I think it would work! Someone asked me once about a restaurant that only does eggs - turns out there's one in Chicago that does $3 million a year in eggs. As long as you're creative and consistent, I truly believe you can succeed with a restaurant like that.

Erika: If you were competing on Chopped and got avocado in your dessert basket, what would you make?  
Robert Irvine: I'd do avocado panna cotta. Pureed avocado with eggs, cream and sugar, with gelatin added to form a mousse. I'd make a cold salad with diced avocados, fresh mint, kiwi, strawberries or cherries, and I'd serve that on top of the panna cotta sprinkled with a little black pepper. That's pretty good for off the cuff, hey? That actually sounds amazing. I'm going to make that next week for sure.

Erika: When you do, be sure to reference this conversation.

Robert Irvine: You know I will.

Erika: You were married last month [to professional wrestler Gail Kim]. Were avocados on the menu at your wedding reception?

Robert Irvine: Yes! There was avocado on Chef Morimoto's sushi and Michael Chiarello's salad. And also avocado with oysters: a blanched lettuce leaf wrapped around a raw oyster with avocado, onion and mignonette.

Erika: Guacamole: How do you make yours?

Robert Irvine: I score the avocado flesh and put in bowl. Then I add fresh tomatoes, skinned and seeded; red onion; cilantro; lime juice; Tabasco or Sriracha; and salt and pepper. That's it.

Erika: I have to ask. Do you read any food blogs?

Robert Irvine: I read anything where my name pops up. Even when someone says I'm mean, I like to respond - I like to educate people about what I do. There's a lot of great writing on blogs. I think a lot of blog writers should be syndicating and writing for bigger audiences.


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to the day when you find Chef Irvine in your avocado tree! Delightful interview, Erika.

Amy said...

Great interview! And I love his responses - how amazing! So happy you got to speak to him. I just found your blog looking for zucchini recipes and can't wait to try the 3 I pulled. Thanks for a wonderful post!

Erika Kerekes said...

@Anon - yes, that would be quite amusing, don't you think?

@Amy - I'm so glad you found your way here. Which zucchini recipes are you going to try? I just made the chocolate zucchini muffins this week....

Dorothy at Shockinglydelicious said...

What great energy he has! I love his panna cotta idea.

Amy said...

Well it is going to be the zucchini gratini and/or the zucchini squares! Then I can't wait to try the Mexican chilaquiles breakfast casserole recipe! So far, those are my favs of the ones I found. Looking forward to looking through the other recipes as well.

Marinda said...

I adore Chef Robert. He's a no nonsense guy that gets things done. Great interview. I'll be following your blog more closely now. :)

Gloria said...

Nice interview Erika! That avocado souflee with onion chutney sounds like something I'd like to try.

Betsy said...

I love Robert Irvine, and it seems like he was pretty cool "in person" too! Great interview! Can I come climb your avocado tree?

Erika Kerekes said...

@Amy please do come back and let me know which zucchini recipes you tried. I love that gratin...

@Marinda glad to see you here and looking forward to getting to know you!

@Gloria avocado souffle me too

@Betsy anytime, come on over!

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