June 23--Even under the most benevolent interpretation, that the celebrity chef Robert Irvine was operating on about three hours of sleep and suffered from technical problems that caused three of four burners to fail repeatedly during his "Robert Irvine Live" cooking show at Proctors in Schenectady on Friday night, it was still terrible entertainment.
Anyone who paid the full price of $87.50 a ticket should ask for at least an $80 refund.
Irvine, at the end of a day of events to promote the national launch of the locally owned, food-centric, social-media platform ChefKey, was terse, unpleasant and boring during his two-plus-hour performance. I don't know how long it lasted because, after 120 minutes and for only the second time in 25 years of reviewing local stage shows of many forms, I walked out. I trailed a group of about 10 or so who took their leave prior to yet another "challenge" Irvine was about to undertake. We all felt it was safer to flee en masse because earlier departees had been subjected to insulting comments or physical pursuits from Irvine, who followed some people to the door of the GE Theatre or made remarks about their seeming need to relieve their bladders.
It's hard to overstate how tedious and amateurish the show was.
And it is flabbergasting to consider that Irvine, who has starred in more than 200 episodes of the Food Network shows "Restaurant: Impossible" and "Dinner: Impossible" and has said he does two dozen live shows a year, was so unprofessional and unpleasant. He insulted the Capital Region, his audience as a whole and some of its members as individuals. And for someone who makes live appearances regularly, it was startling how often Irvine reverted to stock phrases and base sexual innuendo. He said "This is sexy food" at least six times and, during a challenge in which he competed with cooks from the audience to prepare a poultry dish, he and one of his sous chefs made multiple references to "choking the chicken."
"How many people like salmon/spinach/(etc)?" Irvine asked by way of introducing ingredients, as if he had no other way to get the audience involved. He started by having everyone stand up, wave their hands in the air and cheer, and he brought people up to help, or compete with him, while cooking.
Audience interaction is a dangerous game, one best left to deft comedians who can come up with something entertaining to say even if the audience members prove to be duds.
Irvine got lucky a few times Friday night, including with an audience member named Sergei, who was chosen to make food during a "worst cooks" segment and proved an engaging presence, and a woman who winningly sang the National Anthem, a capella, in honor of U.S. troops.
But, often, Irvine's frequent guests had nothing entertaining to say, and he's not enough of a performer (or was simply in a truculent mood Friday night) to cover for them.
Further, he was erroneously glib with his facts: Discussing a recent trip to Afghanistan to cook for U.S. forces, he said there were 99,000 troops stationed there, when the current government figure is about 68,000; responding to a question from an audience member about gluten sensitivity, he said 45 percent of the population has a problem with gluten, but the most recent studies are sharply divided, putting the figure between 0.5 percent and 7 percent; and, in bafflingly out-of-the-blue jab at a Food Network colleague, Irvine presented a salmon dish and said, in a boastful, nonjoking manner, that it would cost $22 at his restaurant in South Carolina, but, "If you see it in one of Bobby's Flay's restaurants, it's $85." When the audience oooh'd at the diss, Irvine said, "Why? It's true." No, it's not. The salmon entree at Mesa Grill in Manhattan is $29.
But, mostly, the problem with the evening was that Irvine provided neither good entertainment nor much cooking instruction.
I've read, and shuddered at, descriptions of Food Network star Guy Fieri's arena shows because they're said to resemble a Van Halen concert.
I saw Van Halen in high school, which, I thought, was enough.
But watching Irvine muddle through cooking lobster after escaping from a straitjacket, I longed for a Van Halen-style understanding of true entertainment and the acknowledgement that people had paid a great deal to witness this event.
email@example.com, 518-454-5489, @Tablehopping -- http://facebook.com/SteveBarnesFoodCritic
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