Restaurant: Impossible is a cable television show about professional chef (and also, professional black shirt wearer) Robert Irvine, who takes abysmal, failing restaurants that exist in every city (come on, you know that one place in town, right?), makes over the menu, chews out the staff, guts the whole damn place, and reopens it, “saved,” to a packed house that adores the new décor and the revamped menu.
There are too many good things about this show to list, chief among them, the chef himself, Robert Irvine. When I think of black shirt wearing, British TV personalities known for their sharp tongues and basic ability to not suffer fools or tolerate bullshit, I am not alone in thinking of Simon Cowell. Well take Simon Cowell, put him on an extremely demanding weightlifting program, teach him how to cook, and shape a whole show around him. RI is sort of like that.
The show opens with what can only be described as a “barely above the quality of claymation” green screen depiction of Irvine crossing his arms and walking about while a black car and sparks are generated at cartoonish levels (spies and Mission Impossible, get it?).
And then one of the best and perhaps least known quarter hours of television unfolds upon us, as Irvine surveys the current condition of the restaurant. There will be blood.
|The only time I've seen him wearing not black.|
In the episode I’m randomly recapping, Irvine describes a stumpy-looking owner who has a “Country Fare” restaurant that is completely failing. The owner is 520k in debt, has no formal training as a chef or manager, and has generated one profitable month in the restaurant’s 5.5 year existence. This is akin to me opening a rocket science and cold fusion combo business tomorrow. I don’t know what it is about the food industry, but everyone thinks they can do it, and they usually go broke trying. Imagine “that place” again in your hometown (again, seriously, you know the one). How many times has it reopened under another name? How many owners fail and sell to a new owner that DEFFINITELY thinks if they just served, say, Mexican fare instead, it would be a smashing success? “The bottom line is, I don’t make good decisions,” says the owner, in a sort of understatement.
Observation: “Country Fare,” as a name, offers us insight into the creativity and “sizzle factor” that this particular owner can generate. I believe he chose this name over the others on his short list, including “Use Forks and Spoons to Eat” and “Menu of Things to Order.”
And just to note, I believe you have to sell a hell of a lot of hash browns to earn back 520k.
But our black clad hero rides to the rescue, but he enters through the kitchen, offering the beginning of what I call the “restaurant patron fantasy.” We have all had bad experiences at eating establishments, right? Bad service, bad food, rude employees, a hair in your taco, things of that nature. I don’t think a lot of us say much, we just bury it deep inside where our darkest pain resides, and decide to never eat there again.
Through Irvine, we fulfill the fantasy of stalking the restaurant, pointing out all the crap that’s wrong, and yelling at people about it. Maybe yelling isn’t the right word; he’s stern as hell, but you never get the feeling he’s trying to lambast anyone for drama’s sake. It’s a genuine frustration. The man truly expects more from these people. It’s sort of breathtaking.
In this episode, he enters through the kitchen and utters some combo of the following: “Yuck, dirt, flies, disgusting, smell, not hygienic, dirt, failure, abysmal, disgusting (again).” Talks to the owner: “Mess hall, cluster of crap, bland, dingy, yuck (again), drab.”
Now, onto his sampling of the menu. Something about hearing a guy order almost everything off the menu as a waitress scrawls it down is strangely entertaining. The funny thing is, the built-like-stone Irvine could eat it all. He interviews customers about the food as he waits. Customers (why are they there?) hate the food. He regards the food on his table. Sighs. Samples it all.
Here we have a professional chef eating “Pigs in a Blanket” and that itself is simply worth your time. The biscuits have the flavor and hardness of urinal pucks, if I am to believe the look on his face. As he samples the fried baloney (I refuse to spell it with a G) he simply . . . I don’t know . . . reacts. It looks like he’s having a stroke. On to the “Breakfast in a Cup.” (Interpolation: If this owner somehow originated the idea of putting as many disgusting foods as possible in one container, he could probably earn his money back by suing KFC since they stole his idea with their “famous bowls.”) Irvine tastes what appears to be a mixture of eggs, ham, and some sort of gravy-like product. I don’t know, it’s white, it looks like it wants to be gravy some day. He spits in the napkin. Now, this is television. You’re probably thinking, “He’s just being dramatic.” Look, I fucking believe this guy right now. He should simply walk out. He should say, “Yes, this is impossible” and get on with his life. That he is volunteering to spend 2 days dealing with this shit, he should get a medal. I’m completely serious.
Completely awesome bonus moment: Irvine forces the owner to taste the breakfast in a cup. Irvine says it’s almost pure salt. The owner takes a greedy bite, says that he tastes sausage gravy, sausage, and ham. Irvine mentions the salt. “My sense of smell and taste were completely destroyed in an oil fire,” is the owner’s response. It’s a sad moment, in a way, since he is a former Marine. But, I have to get this straight: they were destroyed just enough for you to taste the sausage and the gravy and the ham, but not the salt? Selective destruction? I’m sure there is a scientific reason for this. I’m not looking it up. And just to note, yes, a guy with no restaurant experience, no tastebuds, and no sense of smell decided to get into the business of selling people superior food. Okay then. Moving on.
Now comes the impossible part, the rebuild of the restaurant. Having seen this show at least twice before, I’m absolutely sure this “impossible” mission is truly mission “one hundred percent happening.” How much drama can they plug into this show when we know the ending? Well for one, the impossible is sort of a voluntary impossible, since the 2 day deadline is self-imposed to create drama. They schedule a “grand reopening” and work to meet the deadline. The budget is similarly constrained, capped at ten grand. If our owner could somehow borrow 520k, I’m pretty sure he could come up with an extra two grand if it came to that, right? Not on this show. Irvine treats that budget like a mom from one of those couponing shows.
We get a half hour of our black-clad hero stalking about, instilling a sense of motivational panic in his designer, his home improvement expert, and the restaurant staff. At no point does he sound forced. Either he’s the world’s best actor or the guy literally gives the ultimate shit about the places he’s trying to save.
Highlight: When Irvine shows the overmatched kitchen staff how to cook some new menu items. I imagine if I shot around with Michael Jordan, it would be sort of like this, only with cooking. The look in the kitchen staff’s face says, “How in the hell am I supposed to make this when you’re gone?” Our “breakfast in a can” crew is now staring at him as he makes bananas foster French toast at blinding speed with precision skill. I want to eat my TV at this point. He shows them how to cook a hamburger and how to bake an apple pie. Like anyone who’s the best at what they do, they make the difficult look easy and the easy look impressive. It’s not watching a pro cook a few basics that’s engrossing, it’s watching someone who will literally go broke if they don’t learn to cook watching a pro cook that’s engrossing. When they taste it, their face says “Oh my God this is actual food, now I remember.”
He forces them to call him “Chef,” as if it’s a military rank. In the culinary industry, I think it is. I hope so. The cries of “Yes, Chef!” bring a smile to my face.
Day 2 unfolds. He arrives in the morning, and it must be cold because instead of a black polo shirt he’s wearing a black fleece. This guy is taking the Johnny Cash dress code to the next level.
Of course everything is behind schedule. Of course things aren’t going right with the remodel. Of course we are shown how the kitchen staff completely fails at recreating his menu items as he cries out “This is garbage, do it again!” Yes, Chef. Of course there’s no way they’re going to be ready for the grand reopening. I wonder, will they somehow pull it all together at the last minute and save the place? Does a bear shit in the woods?
He explains the concept of a taster. Since the owner isn’t exactly good to go in that department, he tests the kitchen staff to see who has the best palette. He gives them a vinegarette. What do they taste? “Vinegar.” Brilliant. Shockingly, the gal who runs the kitchen is an idiot savant at food tasting. She picks up capers at one point. I’m not sure I could identify a caper if you gave me capers to eat and told me they were capers.
Robert’s big marketing hook is to implement a pie eating contest for the restaurant. Eat the whole pie in 5 minutes, get your name on a wall. Can’t eat it? Pay for the whole thing. He calls it a win-win. I agree, since I’d be eating pie either way. Say what you will about snooty cooks from Britain, they know how to appeal to middle America.
By some miracle of television editing, the diner goes from 30 percent complete to 100 percent perfect within minutes of the opening.
The owners are literally blown away by the remodel. You can tell when someone’s shitting you, and they’re not. Just like the staff was blown away by real food, this guy’s shocked that his diner now looks like an actual diner.
The line is out the door. Something tells me this is less about the Country Fare reopening and more about the fact that Irvine is inside and they might get on television.
Do I really have to mention that everyone loves the remodel, loves the food, would come here again, et al?
But what happens after Irvine leaves the restaurant in the owner’s hands again? A white-lettered crawl updates us. County Fare is still open and is moving in a positive direction, a footnote happy ending that is about as vague as you can get. I should call Country Fare right now and ask for Breakfast in a Can, just to see if they bite.
The bottom line is, America is addicted to reality television, most of which isn’t real. Chef Robert Irvine is about the most genuine reality TV star you’re ever going to encounter, and in today’s cultural landscape, that means something.