Recipe for disaster: Channel axes celebrity chef
For an American TV audience, he had all the credentials to be a successful celebrity chef. Robert Irvine was a Briton, apparently with royal connections, a knighthood and experience that included cooking for four United States presidents. His show Dinner: Impossible quickly became a favourite on the cable channel Food Network.
On Sunday, however, Irvine’s popularity was deflating as fast as an undercooked soufflé after he confessed to telling tall tales about his past; the channel announced it would not be renewing his contract, saying it had discovered “embellishments and inaccuracies” in his résumé.
The 42-year-old, who was raised in Salisbury, Wiltshire, is not, it turns out, Sir Robert. Buckingham Palace confirmed on Sunday that he had not been made a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order as he had claimed. Nor was he given a castle by the Queen.
Irvine admitted these claims had slipped out because of social pressure. “When I first came down there and I met people with all this money, it was like trying to keep up with the Joneses. I was sitting in a bar one night and that came out. It was stupid,” Irvine told the St Petersburg Times in Florida.
His claim to have helped make side panels for Charles and Diana’s wedding cake also appeared to be cooked up. “He most certainly was not involved with me in making or baking the cake,” said its creator Dave Avery.
Irvine also told the St Petersburg Times he had trained military cooks at the White House. In his cookbook-cum-autobiography Mission:Cook! he writes of spending 16 weekends there training chefs, servers and staff. He also claims he cooked as a guest chef for both the current president and his father, for Bill Clinton, and for Ronald Reagan’s birthday on the royal yacht Britannia. But Walter Scheib, the White House executive chef from 1994 to 2005, said Irvine had had no connection to US presidents during his time there, but was rather working in the West Wing’s navy mess facility.
Asked if he served presidents and heads of state, Irvine, who has lived with his wife Karen in Absecon, New Jersey, for more than 10 years, said he could not talk about it “because it’s the White House”.
In his book, Irvine recounts growing up in Wiltshire with his father, a former professional footballer from Belfast, who made his living as a painter and decorator, and mother Patricia, who worked in a wallpaper shop. His “epiphany” came after joining the sea cadets and ending up in the kitchens on the SS Uganda, a cruise ship converted for a “school to work” programme. At 15, by Irvine’s account, he joined the Royal Navy. It was there that he was “discovered by Prince Charles” and sent to work on Britannia.
He claimed he had worked in Buckingham Palace and as part of Charles and Diana’s travelling entourage during a 10-year stint as chef to the royal household. Clarence House was unable to validate those claims on Sunday night.
The Food Network and Irvine could not be reached for comment on Sunday. However, its president, Brooke Johnson, has said that old shows and a series in production would continue to air but Irvine’s contract would not be renewed for future seasons. “We rely on the trust that our viewers have in the accuracy of the information we present, and Robert challenged that trust,” Johnson said. “We appreciate Robert’s remorse about his actions, and we can revisit this decision at the end of the production cycle, but for now we will be looking for a replacement host.”
In a statement released by the network, Irvine said: “I was wrong to exaggerate in statements related to my experiences regarding the royal family. I am proud of my work while serving in the Royal Navy and on board the royal yacht Britannia, also as part of the guest chef programme in the White House with the United States navy, in addition to my culinary accomplishments. I should have stood on those accomplishments alone, without embellishment ... I am truly sorry for the errors in my judgement.”
The other pork pies
Jeffrey Archer: The former Tory party chairperson was not qualified to attend Oxford University, but he got in and took a one-year diploma course at the Oxford Department of Education. He went on to earn an athletics blue and ran for Great Britain. Archer has always claimed he did not mislead the university.
Trevor Howard: The star of the 1945 movie Brief Encounter earned the respect of his peers recounting his brave military past, parachuting into Nazi-occupied Norway and taking part in the Allied invasion of Sicily. After his death, Public Record Office files revealed that he had been invalided out of the army and judged to be mentally unstable with a “psychopathic personality”.
Ali Dia: As a student, he bluffed his way into the Premiership by convincing Southampton he was a top international striker, carrying a recommendation from the former World Footballer of the year George Weah. Dia’s professional career in English football lasted just 53 minutes as he was quickly substituted in a game against Leeds. - Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008