Food and philanthropy have put plenty on Chef Robert Irvine's plate, but he has room for more. Indeed, he appears to hunger for new insights and experiences - and he regards technology as an indispensible ingredient.
"Technology has changed the world, not just the food industry," said the British-born Food Network star, who came to Naperville Friday to discuss the impact of the digital world on the hospitality realm with employees at Comcast's business center on Diehl Road. "In a day, we travel more today than we've ever traveled before, (though) we actually dine out less."
Irvine has partnered with the communications giant to help bolster the connections between people with help from the instantaneous flow of data most of us carry around with us in smart phones and tablets.
Irvine, who taped the 109th episode of his hugely popular reality show,"Restaurant: Impossible" Thursday evening, has spent more than half of his life in the food industry. He was 15 when he enlisted in the British Royal Navy, where his culinary flair quickly caught the attention of his superiors. That led to work feeding British royals and American heads of state, and eventually to authoring cookbooks, opening restaurants and hosting numerous television shows.
He began, as many current cooks did, without the benefit of YouTube videos and TV tutorials. So how has technology helped the everyday cook?
"Information," said Irvine, who says technology has brought vast improvement over the days of clipping recipes and deciphering handwritten ingredients on food-splattered 3 by 5 index cards.
"Nowaday, people visit sites to get recipes. They have real-time instruction, videos and whatever else, and I think the information, the getting away from a 3 by 5 card or a newspaper, and being able to watch in real time while you're doing it, is amazing. ... Now you can learn one dish 500 ways, using one finger."
He sees no reason not to cook with at least a dash of technology, but acknowledges small businesses often fear it - both because they expect it to be costly and because it can be intimidating.
"They're afraid to change," he said, calling the crucial presence of technology in the restaurant industry "the way of the future."
Fit and lean, he's often asked how lush and rich dishes can be part of the healthy living he promotes. He advocates for balance, but notes there are options.
"You can eat clean all year round and die, because you do, or you can, take breaks and have special treat days," he said. "I eat sweets or desserts at the end of every meal.
So in the morning it's jelly, at lunchtime it could be a Snickers bar, and at night time it could be a piece of cheesecake."
As the conversation winds down, Irvine's omnipresent iPhone lights up. It's his 10-year-old, one of his two daughters, a gymnast. She's hurt her arm. He listens, reports that it looks like a sprain; no bones were broken.
The phrenetic pace of juggling family and myriad work and outreach projects seem to energize the chef, who by various accounts doesn't sleep much. He'll be turning 50 later this year, but entertains no thoughts of slowing his pace. He said he's just opened three new restaurants, has three pilot TV shows in the works and a new book coming out this summer, a new his-and-hers fitness clothing line, a line of low-sugar and low-sodium foods designed for school kids, and plans to continue his extensive involvement in advocating for military veterans.
"How do we make people better? Giving back. Doing more ... trying to change people's lives, one at a time, and doing the right thing," he said. "I love what I do. I have so much passion for the people that I work with, and for, that I don't have a 'job.'"
For a podcast of the full interview with Chef Irvine, visit napervillesun.suntimes.com.