Review - Dinner: Impossible! LIVE at the Capitol Theater in Clearwater Florida with Chef Robert Irvine

Chef Robert Irvine debuts his new live show: Dinner: Impossible LIVE

April 13th, 2012 - Tampa, Florida: A familiar voice comes through the car radio one afternoon. It's Robert Irvine! My wife is stunned as she is on her way to lunch. Robert Irvine is on a local radio station promoting a live show in Clearwater, Florida. When is it? She thinks to herself. It's tonight, at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Tickets are still available, says the ever enthusiastic Irvine.

Huge Food Network, Dinner: Impossible, Restaurant: Impossible, and Chef Irvine fans, naturally we drop everything, find a babysitter (Thanks, Grammy!) and quickly book three tickets.

The show sold out shortly after our purchase. We have our tickets. We have out sitter. We are ready, and we are pumped! Having no clue what to expect, we start driving to the beautiful city of Clearwater. How was it? Was it amazing? What did he do? How do you do Dinner: Impossible Live? I'm going to discuss the show, the format, and everything you could want to know.

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The Dinner: Impossible LIVE formats

Dinner: Impossible LIVE is an ambitious project where celebrity Food Network Chef Robert Irvine faces cooking challenges on a stage in front of a live audience. The basic format is this:

  1. Robert Irvine's show is introduced by an MC and then a video introduction.
  2. Robert Irvine comes out on stage and cooks a quick appetizer plate to hip electronic dance music.
  3. Two different camera perspectives are displayed on a big screen behind, and the front of his cooking station.
  4. The appetizer is cooked and Irvine introduces himself and the show. He gives away the app to two lucky* crowd members.
  5. Irvine is given a series of challenges by various prerecorded videos. He then performs those challenges live.
  6. There is a brief Q&A session with the audience.
  7. A few more challenges wrap up the show.

How is the show billed? What are you expecting before the show starts?

The show is billed as being live, real, and unscripted. This sentiment is echoed in the advertisements, the MC who opens the show, and the video intro. To paraphrase, Chef Robert Irvine has no knowledge of the crowd, or the challenges he is about to face. This is going to be his most difficult challenge yet! Get ready, for Dinner: Impossible LIVE!

Ostensibly it sounds like a cool idea. So, did it work?

If you were there, rate the show.

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Chinks in the Knight's Armor

We're excited. Chef Robert Irvine has not even finished the first intro plate and the whole place smells awesome. It was the first time I've ever experienced a truly pleasant aroma at a live show (Ha!).

After he cooks the first plate and introduces himself the whole place is hopped up with excitement. Irvine feels this and feeds off of it. He riles the place up really successfully. Now we're all excited!

Unfortunately, and as much as it pains me to say it, it's pretty downhill from that point on.

Problems with the format

  1. It's inconsistent with what I expected.
    It felt overly scripted. That completely changed the way I perceived the whole thing. The idea that this was truly live felt like a flat out lie. Even the people he brought up on stage felt like hired help (the first guy and the first women he brought up). It felt so fake.
  2. It's impossible to actually see what he is doing.
    Obviously this is a live show, so he is on a stage. Well, Food Network fans are used to sizzling delicious close ups of the action, and the food. You don't get that here. Unless you're in one of the elevated seats, you have to rely on the video work to see anything. The video work at this show was downright unacceptable.
  3. You don't get to taste his food.
    How do you have a live cooking show and not let the audience taste what you're cooking? We'll talk more about this later.
  4. CHAD
    CHAD is an acronym that stands for something ridiculous, but basically it's supposed to be an artificial intelligence whose presence is communicated via a giant projection screen behind the stage. It's awful. We'll touch base on this below.
  5. It doesn't feel like a challenge.
    The challenges he is given is easy-mode compared to what you're used to seeing on Food Network, and even more specifically, Irvine's programs.
  6. Not enough commentary.
    Chef Robert Irvine barely commentated what he was doing. It was almost non-existent in the show. Most of the time he was talking he was "performing," and that came in the form of him trying to be funny, dancing, or nervously filling time by singing the chorus to that LMFAO song (I'm not kidding). It was his first live show. He was nervous. No big deal, but it needs to be mentioned.
  7. It ran long, really long.
    It's billed as a 90 minute show, but was over two hours long.
  8. I didn't learn anything.
    I expected to learn something.

Ruth Eckerd Hall

The show was originally scheduled at Ruth Eckerd Hall. The location changed to Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida.

This was probably a good move. Ruth Eckerd's stadium seating would have been MUCH better for seeing what he was doing on stage, but is much bigger than Capitol Theatre (Seats about 450 people). Ruth Eckerd, which can seat over 2,000 guests, is about five times bigger than Capitol Theater, which seats 475 guests max, and 433 comfortably.

I remember reading that the reason they changed venues from Ruth Eckard to Capitol Theatre had something to do with the kitchen at Ruth Eckerd, but I don't believe it. There was no real need for a kitchen, as is evident by the show (all the cooking is done on stage). I think the reason they moved is because they had only sold a few hundred tickets to a venue that seats 2000+. They wanted to sell out the first show, so they found a venue five times smaller. Good call.

Can this format work? I think it can but changes to the Dinner: Impossible LIVE format are necessary.

In our household we love Robert Irvine. His guns are ridiculously huge! His fitness, his cooking, and his personality are all incredibly enjoyable, and for a period of time, that comes through in his live show - but it quickly wears off. This is because the show suffers from some serious formatting issues. I want to elaborate them here but also offer some suggestions that we talked about on the way home.

Drop the "LIVE and Unscripted" billing.

"The elements that we have planned are so unique, this is not just a cooking show. This is going to blow your mind," said Irvine in an interview leading up to the show.

I kind of wish it was just a cooking show ... We felt exceptionally misled by the expectation that this was off the cuff crazy challenges being thrown at the deft culinary hand of Robert Irvine. Everything is scripted! Even if Irvine didn't know exactly what was coming, it didn't come through to the audience at all. All the ingredients he needs are obviously there, on hand, and often time prepared by his sous-chef.

Needing to keep up the act that he is being challenged takes away from the show in a big way. The time could be better spent explaining what he is doing and educating the crowd. This can't really happening if he's keeping up the facade that his is being challenged on the spot. This is a recurring theme. Your audience all love cooking, and they love you - Teach them!

Fix the camera work. It was awful.

I hope Robert Irvine and his staff sit down and watch the recording of that show. If you're sitting on the floor level, which the majority of us were, you cannot see anything. An elevated stage, plus the height of the table, makes is impossible to physically see his actions. So you have to rely on the screen. There are several problems with this!

The table is improperly lit. You need bright, white light flooding that table. Spot lights are not going to cut it. Bring some pole lamps, or something, and flood that table with light so the cameras can actually pick up the color and movement detail. The colored lights were also making the footage on the screen look terrible. The cameras were necessarily far away, but also were not high definition.

Even if the lighting was perfect, and the cameras were high definition, it wouldn't have mattered. The vast majority of the time the camera men were actually just missing the action, or framing it so badly all you see is an empty stage and a tiny corner of the table. Other times it was just a blank screen, or a filler graphic. Robert - Fix this! The camera work was super, super bad.

CHAD - The On Screen Challenge initiation system

After a long and thorough conversation we determined that this entire aspect of the show could, and should be scrapped. It doesn't add anything to the show. The video looks terrible, and because it's prerecorded and they have to account for Irvine's remarks, they "screw up" the image to make it look like a labored connection to buy time for Robert to talk. It's just ... bad.

Have an MC, or another personality, or something, come out on stage, with a mic, and present your challenge.

I get it. It's Dinner: Impossible, like Mission: Impossible, so you're playing off of that and using a prerecorded message to communicate the mission to the secret agent, Robert Irvine. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work. It feels, looks, and ends up being cheesy.

It doesn't feel like a challenge. And it doesn't taste like a challenge.

Chef Irvine is a masters level chef. None of those challenges appeared even slightly difficult for him. And you know what? In a live performance it might be hard to actually achieve a true surprise challenge mainly because you have to plan your resources in advance. But I thought of one challenge right away that would have been ultra-impressive: Cook enough food for everyone to at least try one bite!

I cannot even explain how disappointing it was to not taste a single dish he cooked. I realize that would truly be a feat to even serve one bite of what you're doing to an entire live audience. I get it. But having a live cooking show with no tasting element is just a bad idea. Unless you make it very clear: Pay $150 for the VIP seats or you will not get to taste any of the food. And even if you are in the VIP section, it's not guaranteed that you will taste the food.

A few ideas:

  • Put a pantry and fridge on stage so we get the sensation that he has to make ingredient choices.
  • Have a team of line cooks in the kitchen multiplying what you're doing live so we can all taste it!
  • Time every challenge and show us the timer. This will help invest the crowd and create a scenario that is believably more difficult (if you choose to keep the live unscripted challenge theme going).

I've saved my most powerful comments for last

Robert - great idea! If you can pull this off, you'll have done something truly special. But you're not there yet. The show needs some serious work. Here are a few closing thoughts to consider.

We came to see you. You.

Keep the guests off the stage. I didn't come to watch some clown from the audience pretend he doesn't know how to cut a scallion. The guests have no business on that stage. I don't want to see them, challenge them, or learn from them, at all. Maybe put some people on the spot for some testing, or judging, but that's it.

The last thing you did, the timed mystery basket challenge, was by far the most enjoyable part of the whole show. Unfortunately, I was already so "spent" that I had trouble enjoying it like I should have. You were lively, talkative, and you were commentating what you were doing. That is what we want.

You could drop the whole CHAD skit, drop the whole Wrestler cameo, drop ever audience interaction, and just live commentate while you're cooking the dishes/challenges. Everyone would love it. They would love it even more if they got to taste it. Your fans are food nuts. They want to cook like you. They want your knowledge! Share it. You've such a likable personality, use it to educate, not to entertain.

Conclusion

It became obvious that Chef Irvine was a little nervous. He kept filling time by singing a line from the LMFAO "Everybody's gonna have a good time ..." and it started grated on my nerves, badly. I'm not exaggerating when I say that in combination with that video clip (that included that line) and Robert filling nervous space with it, that I probably heard that chorus two, three dozen times. Wow. Just wow.

The Q&A was really, really cool. The Q&A and the timed live-commentated dish at the end were the most successful elements of the show by far. I would seriously reconsider everything else. I feel like without a tasting element that the $53 price tag is a little high. The $150 VIP price tag is ultra-high. I would have been very upset had I $300 for me and my Wife to watch that show.

You've the potential to have a great show, and I hope it works out! Try out some new things, and let your audience tell you what they like and what they don't. It was a cool experience for me, my brother, and my wife and while we were admittedly a little disappointed, we are still happy that we got to see your debut performance of Dinner: Impossible LIVE at the Capital Theatre in Clearwater, Florida.

Thanks, Robert Irvine and Staff!
Time_Spiraling

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