Robert Irvine is a celebrated television personality, former Royal British Navy chef, and successful restaurateur, but the part of his life he's most proud of is his dedication to social activism. We recently sat down with Irvine at the 2023 New York City Wine & Food Festival (NYCWFF) for an exclusive interview, where he shared his commitment to trying to make the world a better place through food. "It's the people I cook for that give me the most joy," he said. "It's taking care of the men and women who wear the cloth of our nation, first responders."
Irvine sees the relationship between cooking and activism as deeply intertwined. "The food world is such an amazing thing. Why? Because we're all different," he said. "Our military has 2.7 million people ... and we are from every nation around the world."
Irvine's vision for fostering connection between people is to have them share a meal. "If I could put every head of state in the free world around a table, bring their national dish, let somebody taste it, pass it to the right, and keep going until everybody's tried the food, we would not have the problems we have in this world, because we would understand the culture and the food of somebody different," he reflected.
Healing The World Through Food
You might better know him from his Food Network shows, but much of Robert Irvine's energy is focused on the Robert Irvine Foundation, which was created to support first responders and at-need veterans. But his favorite way to reach people at home and across the world continues to be through food.
"Food is the international language of hope and love," Irvine told us. "We can heal the world through food. José Andrés is doing it, bless him. [He's doing it] on the civilian side; I'm doing it on the military side." José Andrés' humanitarian work through his organization, World Central Kitchen, has been a driving force for good in the world during natural disasters and global health crises, providing aid for everything from regions impacted by earthquakes to refugees fleeing Ukraine. Irvine's work, meanwhile, is centered on supporting the military and helping people from diverse backgrounds better understand one another.
"Food is the way to do it. We can have differences, but we should be able to talk about differences," he said. "Sit down over ... a hot plate of food, and say: 'Hey, I believe this. What do you believe?' It doesn't matter if you disagree — we'll let the food do the talking."
Chefs Are The Diplomats Of The World
Robert Irvine's extensive travel around the world has given him a firsthand appreciation for the way food impacts people. He's visited diverse regions facing immense crises, and in each location, he's shared in the local cuisine and watched connections form through eating. "I have sat with tribal elders in Afghanistan and Iraq. I just came back from Poland, Ukraine, and Germany ... What I know is the love that goes into [each] dish and the person that cooks it for you," he told us. "That's why chefs are so special — they're the diplomats of the world."
Our discussion with Irvine at the NYCWFF was particularly fitting given that the festival is hosted by God's Love We Deliver, with 100% of the proceeds going toward the charitable organization that works to end food insecurity. Irvine believes that "It doesn't cost money to help people. It's helping them to cross the road, to open the car door — listening, hugging them, saying: 'It's okay' ... The more we do for each other, the better the world will become."
Read the original article on Tasting Table.