Celebrity Chef Robert Irvine entertained the crowd during a recent visit to Wild Horse Pass Hotel.
Kelly Athena/Special to AFN

Celebrity Chef Robert Irvine burst into the Classics with a Twist lounge bar at Wild Horse Pass Hotel-Casino recently with his signature high-powered energy.

Forty Valley food writers waited to meet him. They had tasted some of his elevated pub food, such as fried macaroni and cheese with truffle oil.

Irvine started by asking, “What’s your favorite food?” Then the writers peppered him with questions of their own.

Asked if he’d ever made dishes with wild desert foods – such as our local barrel cactus fruits and seeds – he proved he knew just how to cook barrel cactus seeds: medium-low heat is the key to making them taste like crunchy popcorn. If the heat is too high, the seeds pop and taste like burnt popcorn.

When asked how he used the elusive elephant tree berries (found in southern Arizona, Mexico, and locally in certain canyons of South Mountain and the White Tanks), he said to blend the berries in a drink with citrus to balance the flavor.

He gave a few more tips: Shake Patron tequila slowly to get the right yellow color, put citrus fruit in the microwave for 30 seconds to warm it before squeezing it into a drink, grind fresh peppercorns in a coffee grinder and use sea salt instead of iodized salt.

After the intimate meet-and-greet, he opened his show to an audience of 500 people in the Ovations Live! Showroom downstairs at the Wild Horse Pass Casino.

“Put your hands in the air. Now jump to your feet like you’ve won $50 million,” he urged attendees.

The audience obeyed enthusiastically.

Irvine said he grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Manchester, England.

His mother made mushy meals. He joined the British Navy at age 15, and failing the math and English tests, he was assigned being a cook.

He served for 10 years and eventually became an American citizen. His passion is supporting those who serve in the military.

Irvine is excited about the restaurant he just opened in Vegas, his five books, his TV food shows, his magazine and his fitness products.

But his deepest passion is in supporting those who serve in the military. He entertains the troops abroad and formed a foundation which helps heroes and their families.

He asked all veterans and those serving our country in the military to stand. Then he asked them each to shout out what branch of the military they served.

“All the success I have I owe to the fact that I live in a free society in the greatest nation on Earth. That freedom is made possible by the selfless sacrifice of our men and women in uniform,” he said.

His emcee, Justin, started off a challenge similar to the competitive and loony “Dinner: Impossible” show.

Justin chose people from the audience to come to the stage and compete against Chef Irvine.

One challenge was for Irvine to direct four of the most inept cooks in the audience in making a dish exactly as he was creating on the opposite side of the stage.

The challenge was heightened when Justin added the condition that Irvine must wear a dental lip retractor so no one could understand what he said.

Another 15-minute competition pitted two restaurant chefs from the audience against Irvine and the worst cook from the audience.

The competition became more dramatic when Justin directed Irvine to have both hands handcuffed to the hands of the audience volunteer, Tom. A hilarious and dangerous-looking 15 minutes followed.

Irvine ended the evening with this challenge to the audience: “If you have the chance to help someone, do it!”

-Kelly Athena is a local desert foraging educator/garage sale enthusiast/master gardener. More details and photos about this article at kellyathena.com.

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