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'Dinner: Impossible' chef Robert Irvine accused of cooking-up his past


By Christopher Rocchio and Steve Rogers, 02/19/2008 

Dinner: Impossible star Robert Irvine is in hot water after the Food Network chef reportedly cooked-up some lies touching upon numerous aspects of his life -- from his culinary education and experience to the identities of some of his more famous clientele.

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The author and television chef is accused of embellishing several of the facts presented in separate biographical profiles posted on both his own corporate website and the network's foodnetwork.com website, the St. Petersburg Times reported Sunday. 

Food Network subsequently removed the Irvine bio posted on the network's own website late Monday morning, however the version posted on Irvine's own website -- a different biography which features some claims that differ from the Food Network version -- still remains online as of Tuesday afternoon.

"It's unfortunate if Robert embellished the extent of his culinary experiences," a Food Network spokesperson said in a statement.  "We are investigating the matter and taking the necessary steps to ensure the accuracy of all representations of Robert on Food Network and foodnetwork.com."

Dinner: Impossible, a reality series that tests the culinary skills of Irvine as he tries to create a meal with little time, premiered on Food Network last January and is currently airing its third season.  When it premiered, the network billed Irvine as a "culinary James Bond."

According to Irvine's corporate website biography, he's been cooking since he joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15 and counts "a B.S. in food and nutrition from Leeds University," however the apparently aptly-abbreviated "B.S." initials don't reflect a bachelor of science degree.

"That was a program set up through the Royal Navy," Irvine told the Times during a phone interview from his home in Abescon, NJ.  "We don't call it a bachelor's of science."

Regardless of what Irvine or the Royal Navy calls it, the university was unable to connect the chef with their school.

"We cannot find any connection in our records between Robert and the university," Sarah Spiller, a University of Leeds' press officer, told the Times.

In addition, Irvine claims in his Mission: Cook! cookbook and autobiography, which was published by HarperCollins in 2007, that he worked on Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding caking, according to the Times.

"I was at the school when that was happening.  They made the cake at the school where I was," Irvine told the Times, which then specifically asked if he helped to make the cake. 

"Picking fruit and things like that," he replied.

When Irvine moved to the St. Petersburg area two years ago, the Times reported he also introduced himself to numerous people as "Sir Robert Irvine, Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order."

"He said there were five levels of knights, and KCVO is the highest level of knight you could be," St. Petersburg socialite Wendy LaTorre told the Times.  "The queen handpicks you."

"He is not a KCVO Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order and he wasn't given a castle by the queen of England," Buckingham palace press officer Jenn Stebbing told the Times, addressing another one of Irvine's claims that he owned a castle in Scotland.

Irvine admitted to the Times that he lied about his knighthood and it snowballed from there.

"When I first came down [to St. Petersburg] and I met people down there with all this money, it was like trying to keep up with the Joneses," he told the Times.  "I was sitting in a bar one night and that came out.  It was stupid."

Irvine's foodnetwork.com bio also stated he cooked for four U.S. Presidents -- Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush -- and the Times reported he has been identified in several newspapers as a White House chef.

"Irvine's ONLY connection with the White House is through the Navy Mess facility in the West Wing," Walter Scheib, the White House executive chef from 1994 to 2005, told the Times via email.  "Never in the period from 4/4/94 until 2/4/05 did he have ANYTHING to do with the preparation, planning, or service of any State Dinner or any other White House Executive Residence food function, private or public."

Irvine declined to tell the Times in what capacity he worked in the White House.

"I can't talk about it because it's the White House," he told the Times.

However as of Tuesday afternoon, Irvine's corporate website profile still appears to contain claims that directly conflict with Scheib's statements.

"Robert's greatest honor in 2001 was to be Chef at the Inaugural Dinner for President George W. Bush, as he did in previous years for President George H.W. Bush," states the bio.

Irvine's Food Network bio also touts him as having received the Chef's Five Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences from 1998 through 2006.  However the Times reported recipients pay for that honor, noting that -- as a trustee of the award himself -- Irvine has given out several of them.  He reportedly tried to present one to Scheib, who refused.

"His award seems to be available to anyone willing to post it on the wall," Scheib told the Times.

As if the numerous embellishments about his experience and accomplishments weren't enough, Irvine's side-by-side St. Petersburg restaurants -- Ooze and Schmooze -- were scheduled to open three months ago yet remain dormant, according to the Times

While the sign in front of the empty restaurants suggest they will open this spring, experts told the Times it will take "at least six months" before they are operational.

"[The misinformation] has nothing to do with him opening a restaurant," Irvine's business partner, J. Randall Williams, told the Times.  "All of these elements are unfortunate and irrelevant, but they're just noise."

In addition, St. Petersburg interior decorator Susan Nice claims Irvine breached a contract when he instead decided to use another designer for the establishments after hiring her, the Times reported.  She has since sued.

Monica Taylor, who helped plan websites for the restaurants, told the Times he owes her and her partner roughly $10,000.  LaTorre also claims Irvine owes her more than $100,000 for "marketing and promotions and for helping him find property," according to the Times.

"Robert is not interested in avoiding any obligations at all," Williams told the Times.  "What I'm trying to do is gather all of these claims and figure out what's real and what's not real, and it's difficult because everyone is claiming to have agreements with Robert."

The situation surrounding Irvine isn't the first time someone appearing on the Food Network has landed in trouble for lying about his past.

Following The Next Food Network Star's third-season premiere broadcast last June, allegations that one of the installment's two finalists -- Josh "Jag" Garcia -- had lied about his military background and education emerged.  Garcia subsequently decided to withdraw from the culinary competition. 

The Next Food Network Star judges and Food Network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson decided that rather than just calling off the home viewer voting and declaring his fellow finalist Rory Schepisi the victor by default, Amy Finley would replace Garcia during the show's live finals. 

Home viewer votes eventually crowned Finley the winner.

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