Why Robert Irvine does TV’s best restaurant makeovers

For 11 seasons now, Robert Irvine has hosted Food Network's “Restaurant Impossible.” From its inception, the show followed a familiar format: a chef goes in to a failing restaurant, criticizes things, yells a lot, makes over the place, and leaves.

That format was first popularized by Gordon Ramsay in “Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares,” and then destroyed by Fox with its Americanized version. Since then, it seems every cable network needs to have their own version, sometimes with a twist (“Bar Rescue,” “Tabatha's Salon Takeover”).

While those shows can be light, predictable, formulaic fun, “Restaurant: Impossible” rises to the top of that heap. Here's why Robert rules.

Robert Irvine asks simple questions that people can't answer.
Robert Irvine is the best at calmly asking questions that get right to the core of the problem and tell us everything we need to know about why a restaurant is failing. For example, almost every episode, he asks restaurant owners some version of, Why did you think you could run a restaurant? They rarely have a compelling answer, even though you'd think by now that they'd be prepared for such a question.

He has an expressive face that says more than screaming does.
Robert Irvine is making a TV show, and he does mug for the cameras.Irvine isn't beyond screaming or yelling, though he constantly — and sometimes annoyingly — reminds us that it's because he cares. Sometimes his reactions, like to gross food, seem to be overreactions.  But it's his face that says the most. You can definitely see that when he tastes terrible food, or when he's amazed by an owner's lack of knowledge about their own business. He communicates disappointment and confusion, and that's far more interesting than feigned anger.

His thing is a sledgehammer.
Gordon Ramsay's signature was his chef's jacket, which he'd change into when it was time to get down to business. Robert Irvine's is a sledgehammer, which he often slams into walls he doesn't like.

His biceps are insane.
Seriously, look at his biceps. They're massive. He could crush Gordon Ramsay between them.

Robert can work a metaphor.
To illustrate problems and/or discover the source of those problems, Irvine — and most likely the production staff of the show — create activities that allow restaurant owners to see why they're failing. It's usually some kind of vivid illustration, such as having a mother and daughter sit in a rowboat and remove corks to flood the boat. With the corks representing decisions they were making, Robert showed them how their decisions affected each other and the whole business.

He actually does work.
Robert introduces “my designer” and “my builder” at the end of each episode, and he often orders them around. The work they do while he does other things is impressive–they're usually complete, thoughtful transformations–but it's also impressive that Robert occasionally pitches in. The montage of the restaurant being put back together often shows him pitching in. Whether he's cleaning or carrying a table, he's down in the trenches, not in his trailer, waiting for the next scene.

He's overcome his own obstacles.
Irvine was essentially fired by Food Network in 2008, when his contract on “Dinner: Impossible” wasn't renewed after some “some embellishments and inaccuracies in his resume” were discovered. Food Network said in a statement at the time that “We rely on the trust that our viewers have in the accuracy of the information we present, and Robert challenged that trust.”

At the same time, Irvine released a statement saying, in part, “I was wrong to exaggerate in statements related to my experiences in the White House and the Royal Family.” He also said, “I will work tirelessly to regain your trust and continue to use my show and life to benefit the less fortunate.”