There aren’t many places I haven’t cooked or challenges I haven’t had to cook my way out of. I grew up in the working town of Salisbury in Wiltshire, England. When I was 15 I joined the British Royal Navy and spent the following 10 years touring Europe aboard various naval ships including Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia. Although my desire to be a cook started a few years before that—home economics was a great way to meet girls—it was during my time in the Royal Navy that I began to explore and develop my culinary skills.
After the Royal Navy I continued to expand my culinary skills working in hotels, casinos and aboard cruise ships. Each assignment gave me an opportunity to learn more about marrying ingredients and the art of food preparation. Over time I grew from being the mentee to being the mentor. I earned the privilege of being the executive chef for many great establishments including the MS Crystal Harmony and Trump’s Taj Mahal. With each adventure I made an effort to get to know the people I worked with. I’ve been very grateful of these relationships as many of them have opened doors to some of the most unforgettable moments in my life; being the head chef for the 2006 Academy Awards, serving as a consultant for the US Navy, and my start in television.
It all started with a TV show very few have heard of called “Fit for a King.” “Fit for a King” was the pitch to Food Network that, after a few changes, became known as “Dinner: Impossible.” We filmed more than 100 episodes of “Dinner: Impossible” and every week presented a new and different challenge. The locations ranged from a deserted island to a hotel made of ice and beyond. I found myself preparing dinner for groups of thousands, from construction workers, athletes, weddings, marines and even a governor’s inauguration dinner. I enjoyed the rush of “Dinner: Impossible” challenges where I had to act fast, be creative and adapt. I never knew what to expect and the situation was constantly changing, an environment that I would become even more familiar with on “Restaurant: Impossible.”
I have a passion for cooking. I believe enjoying a good meal brings people together. However, being able to help people is what drives me. From helping families survive the stress of a failing restaurant on “Restaurant: Impossible” to honoring our service members for the service to our country, I believe one of the greatest things I can do with my success is to give back to those in need of a little guidance or to those who make sacrifices for us to enjoy our freedom.
Most people recognize “Restaurant: Impossible” as a 36 hour, $10,000 challenge to save a restaurant from impending failure. Since 2011 we have filmed seven seasons, just over 80 episodes, and have a success rate over 78 percent. What many people don’t know is that six months after filming we follow-up with the restaurant and, with many of the restaurants, we stay in touch even longer. I don’t pick the restaurants and I don’t know anything about the restaurant or it’s challenges until I show up. What I typically learn in the first meeting with the owners is that the restaurant is struggling on a deeper level; there is tension between family members and staff that is pushing the restaurant to the brink of failure. This is a problem that a fancy facelift and brand new menu won’t help. I consider an episode successful if by the end of the shoot I can bring the family (or staff) together. My ultimate goal is to help guide them in resolving their personal challenges that are keeping the restaurant from succeeding.
Although I’m very proud of the families I’ve had the opportunity to help on “Restaurant: Impossible,” I’m honored most by the many opportunities I’ve had to give back to our service men and women. From cooking aboard aircraft carriers to visiting the troops at overseas bases (often in war zones) to some of my most recent travels cooking for several thousand wounded warriors and their families; these experiences define how a well-cooked meal can bring us together. And, even if just for a brief moment, allow us to reflect on the good times and look past whatever challenging road lies ahead.
Another passion of mine is fitness. I was once named one of the “25 Fittest Guys in America” by Men’s Fitness magazine. Fitness and proper nutrition go hand-in-hand for living a healthy lifestyle. Despite spending more than 340 days on the road, I make fitness a priority. Many times that means waking up at 6am to hit the gym before a shoot or even squeezing in a 20-minute workout in a hotel room. Although fitness has always been a passion of mine (my dad was a former professional soccer player and in the British Royal Navy I competed in the Field Gun Competition) it wasn’t until recently that I started to find ways to share my passion with others. I’ve recently launched Fit Crunch™ baked protein bars and in early 2014 will be co-authoring a fitness and nutrition book. These are just the first steps of what I hope becomes another great adventure in my life.
My goal is simple; I want to empower people, through food and fitness, to thrive each day. I believe a little bit of fitness and a healthy meal is the foundation for taking on any challenge that may come up in a day. I want to help as many people as possible achieve their goals. Whether it’s a family running a restaurant that needs a few tips to make smarter business decisions; a wounded marine recovering from a roadside IED that can use a few words of encouragement and a good meal; or a single mom trying to stay fit and make healthy choices for herself and her children, I believe that I can help. Not every challenge can be solved in 36 hours with $10,000. Those are the challenges that I look forward to solving the most.