The friendship between “Restaurant: Impossible” chef Robert Irvine and Twin Cities restaurant creator Steve Schussler has flexed big muscles after just a few months.
They met in Orlando when Irvine’s daughter selected Schussler’s Boathouse restaurant at Disney World as the site of her graduation dinner.
“It’s not a matter of if I’ll do business with Robert, it’s a matter of when,” Schussler told me last week. Earlier this month Irvine and his director of operations Justin Leonard diverted a Philly-to-Chicago trip to spend a day touring Schussler’s Twin Cities’ properties.
“We’ve been to his main office, the warehouse and lunch here,” Irvine said, when I caught up with them at St. Louis Park’s Galaxy Drive In. The Food Network chef was very impressed with the straw through which he was enjoying a malt. “I love they don’t give me some pissy little straw I can’t drink through. It drives me crazy when you get these little ones,” said Irvine, a man of definite opinions. The last stop on the Schussler tour was Green Acres Event Center, a barn in Eden Prairie that he has transformed into one of the state’s most lavish wedding venues.
There Irvine had some definite opinions about the abstract bovine pop art, up high enough on the walls to be ignored: “Get rid of them.” Schussler laughed and said “It talks to you!” Irvine didn’t want to hear it; the art isn’t as classy as the venue in his opinion.
The two clearly have found areas of agreement, as Schussler told me, “We talk on the phone every other day.”
Whatever they are cooking up business-wise, I expect the restaurant to be high-concept and low-sodium.
I was complaining to Irvine that TV chefs frequently add too much salt to dishes.
“You would love a product we are bringing to the market,” said Irvine. “Gives you the mouthfeel like you’ve had salt but it’s all natural. We care about that with our men and women in uniform; same with the fat and the sugar.”
“Eating healthy, working out and spending time with your kids” are Irvine’s priorities. He just released his latest book, “Fit Fuel.”
“Food, fitness and family — that’s it. The three Fs,” said Irvine, who could add a fourth: Flexing. A bit of that goes on when these weightlifting fans get together. Irvine calls his trusty biceps “Casualty” and “Cemetery.” They flex off with Schussler unnamed upper arm muscles on my startribune.com/video and elsewhere in the metro.
Q: Tell readers three things they can use instead of sodium.
A: Right down my alley. To make sure you get rid of salt and sugar, you can use fresh herbs, lemon juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice, orange juice, vinegars. They actually alter the protein makeup but also the flavor profiles. Get rid of sodium; you don’t need it.
Q: Tell me about this body. How many hours a week do you spend on it? Jeremy Borash, host of “Impact Wrestling” on Destination America and Minnesota guy, told me you make people exercise when they roll with you.
A: My whole team has the mantra, “You have to work out every day.” Justin, just before we left Philadelphia this morning, we went to the gym today at 7 o’clock. Justin recently got married and he lost 25 pounds. I’m a big advocate of getting kids to cook, kids to work out and families together. And food and fitness is one of those things that go naturally. I don’t mean you have to go to a gym and work out.
Q: A Jeremy Borash story, please?
A: Yes. I actually watched him fall off a stage in Pennsylvania. And if you go on YouTube folks, it’s really good. All of a sudden he falls into the audience. He just lost his footing and I almost wet myself. It was that funny. [Less hysterical for Borash who told me via a direct Twitter message “I got bruised up pretty good!”]
Q: You’ll work people out anywhere, I’ve heard.
A: We were in Afghanistan and we did a circuit with Air Force guys. Three laps, carrying tires. Crazy. If you work out, you can eat these amazing shakes here.
Q: You’re married to a pro wrestler?
A: Gail Kim. She works with JB [Borash] at “Impact Wrestling.” She’s pretty awesome.
Q: What is the strangest place you’ve ever wrestled with her?
A: Made whoopee?
Q: I was trying to be subtle.
A: No weird places. Nothing exciting.
Q: Was talking to a friend whose husband came home and when she kissed him she said, You’ve been eating chocolate and you’re not supposed to eat that. Do you ever avoid kissing your wife because of what you’ve been eating?
A: No, because I eat anything with anything and she’s the same. Sometimes she’ll eat a lot more Sriracha than I will. She’s a Sriracha Queen. She loves spice more than I do.
Q: Three celebrities you’d like to be in a band with some day?
A: Oh my God, look at that, on the spot. Brannon Braga from the real Star Trek, Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise. Now THAT’S a band! Oh yeah, and I could be the singer. I would suck at it but they’d be good with music.
Q: What chef doesn’t return your phone calls?
A: There is not a chef who won’t return my phone calls. I’m lucky, I get to do my show around the country. I cook with our military 150 days a year, traveling the globe so when I ask … I just asked Rachael Ray if she would do something with me and she’s like, Whatever you want. Military and kids, she’s big into that.
Q: What’s something in the kitchen you wait until the last minute to do because you hate it?
A: I would say do dishes. A chef cooks and cleans as they go. But there’s always the end piece, when you’ve [decided to eat the meal] relax and then go back afterward [to clean] Sometimes afterward [becomes] ‘til tomorrow morning.
Q: Who talks faster, you, Steve or “Bizarre” food authority Andrew Zimmern?
A: Steve. Steven Schussler. Absolutely. He buries me literally 5 words to my 1. And he never comes up for air. I think that has to do with his creativity. It’s not his age. Creative people go [and he’s making a noise like a garbage disposal].
Q: I don’t think you’re as grumpy as Gordon …
A: Ramsey? No. I think his is somewhat of an act.
Q: That was my next question.
A: I don’t think he’s always grumpy because I’ve heard great stories about his people staying with him forever. I know “Restaurant: Impossible” is successful as a show. I don’t know what his numbers are.
Q: OK, I need you guys to flex so I can see whose muscles are bigger.
A: That’s the weak arm. Look at that arm. You want Casualty or Cemetery?
Interviews are edited. The contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch Fox 9’s “Jason Show.”