Tuesday, May 15, 2012

First Lady Michelle Obama To Appear On Food Network's 'Restaurant: Impossible'

Adding to her recent string of TV appearances, First Lady Michelle Obama will make a star turn on Food Network's Restaurant: Impossible, hosted by British celebrity chef Robert Irvine.  The episode will spotlight the Let's Move! campaign with a focus on healthy eating, cooking, and vegetable gardening.  It will air on June 13th, the network announced on Tuesday.  Irvine joined Mrs. Obama to film the show in Washington, DC in early March, and the air date is perfectly timed to build heat after the May 29th publication of Mrs. Obama's forthcoming book about the White House Kitchen Garden, American Grown.

Irvine (l) usually swoops in to retool a struggling restaurant for the popular series, but for the First Lady he did a rebuild of the community center run by Washington, DC non-profit Horton's Kids.  It's located in an apartment complex on Peyton Road in the Anacostia neighborhood, an historically African American part of Ward 8. Kids are served after-school meals at the center, and Mrs. Obama "challenges" Irvine to upgrade the space under tight budget and time constraints.  He expanded the kitchen and re-organized a dining area, and filming was also done at nearby Kipp Academy, a public charter school, which now has a lovely vegetable garden.

“The pressure is on as Robert has only two days to create a dining room, build a spacious kitchen, and plant a garden for Horton’s Kids to grow their own fruits and vegetables," noted the Food Network announcement.  Mrs. Obama appears at the end to give her approval, the network said.

Some "special guests" also joined the First Lady and Irvine to film the episode, and they were required to sign $1 million non-disclosure agreements to keep the project veiled in secrecy, a source from the production told Obama Foodorama.

Mrs. Obama previously cameo'd on a Food Network show in 2010, when White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford competed on a special episode of Iron Chef America. The "secret ingredient" for the cooking challenge was vegetables plucked from Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden.  Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass has also appeared on a Food Network show, starring as a guest judge in 2011 for a school lunch-themed episode  of Chopped.

Many other Food Network celeb chefs have visited the White House in the last three years, including Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse (who joined Comerford on Iron Chef), as well as Anne Burrell and Claire Robinson (a visit in March), Cat Cora, Guy Fieri, and Tyler Florence, to name a partial list.

Among her many recent TV outings, Mrs. Obama has appeared on iCarly, the Ellen DeGeneres show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, The Biggest Loser, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Top Chef: Dallas.

Irvine's been at the White House before...
Irvine's first series for Food Network, Dinner: Impossible was canceled in 2008 after his elaborate claims about his work as a chef at the White House (doing guest-chef stints for Presidents George W. Bush and George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan), and cooking for the British Royal Family--and being knighted--were proved false. Former White House Executive Chef Walter Scheib III (1994-2005) said at the time Irvine's fabrications were becoming public that Irvine had had no connection to US presidents during his time at the White House, but was rather working in the West Wing's Navy Mess.

A former member of the British Royal Navy, Irvine's current bio on the network's website mentions a more accurate version of his work at the White House: "During his time training U.S. Navy chefs as part of a guest chef program, Robert worked in the White House kitchens and his creations were served to high-ranking government officials."

*Top photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama; second courtesy of Food Network