“Time and tide wait for no man,” to me, is a great way of saying, “get over yourself and get on with it.” That pretty well describes the frame of mind I find myself in these days, having been through the mill of public opinion in the past few months, gone through the worst of it and come out the other side feeling good, refreshed in a way, definitely a bit wiser for the wear and ready- as always- to keep working and keep the momentum going.
One of the places I’ve decided to start is on this blog. My hope is that this provides a way for me to communicate with so many of you who have supported me with thousands of emails and letters and good wishes. I’d like to use it to talk about things that are important to me and may be informative to you, causes that I think are worth attention, my ideas about food, interesting stories and events, things like that. I’d also like to use it, at least in these early days, to set the record straight and correct some notions that have been circulating out there that need correction.
To begin with, it’s true that I have moved on from Dinner: Impossible in as amiable a fashion as possible. I had a great time working on the show and feel that the episodes with which I was involved, now running on Food Network, speak for themselves and I’m proud of the work. As for the manner in which I left the show, I will refrain from commenting publicly, except to say that in situations like these, you find out pretty quickly who your friends are.
There are some rumors and stories that have spread over the internet and in the papers, some containing only a grain of truth, most untrue, some wildly inaccurate. I’m not going to bore anyone by rehashing old tales or defending against every misinformed accusation. There are two that trouble me more than the others, though, and those concern my service in the British Royal Navy with the Royal Family and the time I’ve spent working at the White House in Washington, DC. I’ll try to keep it simple.
I joined the Royal Navy in my teens, signed up as a cook and was lucky enough to find my life’s calling early. There I met with a great opportunity, to cook for Prince Charles in the Officer’s Mess at RNAS Culdrose whilst he was reupping his flight certification. I was recommended shortly after meeting him for service on the Royal yacht, Britannia. I served as Leading Cook on the Britannia for many years, as attested by my military record and by the multiple passports I filled up with stamps from countries all over the world. I traveled with the Royals, learned a great deal about my profession in their service and was honored to prepare meals in many locales and under many circumstances for Her Majesty, the Queen, for Prince Charles, Princess Diana and many members of the Royal household as well as for their honored guests over the ensuing years.
When I left the military and came eventually to America, I was employed for a time as Executive Chef for Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal. I did a favor in the course of my work for a gentleman from the US Navy, a Commander of Naval Supply, through whom I met a great man and made a great friend, Clive “Tony” Powell, then Deputy Director for Presidential Food Service for the White House. He invited me to cook and train chefs that work in the Naval Mess at the White House under the Guest Chef program, not as “the White House Chef,” a title which I never claimed. I’ve been going to the White House since the 1990’s. I’ve cooked for heads of state, senior staff, senators and congressmen, celebrities and VIP guests, been aboard Air Force One, and yes, have served my food to US Presidents. I’ve made lifelong friends there and if you’ll permit me, and with their permission, I’ve lifted a couple of quotes from letters they’ve sent me over the years.
Michael H. Miller, Rear Admiral, Deputy Assistant to the President, Director, White House Military Office. Admiral Miller was the first active-duty officer to direct the White House Military Office, which includes all military support to the White House, including for Air Force One, Camp David and Presidential Food Service, from a letter dated 1/21/05: “… the White House Mess has always served good food; what it needed was a master’s touch to provide truly exceptional dining experiences. And that is precisely what you taught us… by lending your name, your time and your talents to the White House, you have helped us to literally recraft the image of this most exclusive mess. Your involvement and active support… created a revolution of sorts in the Presidential Food Service...”
Letter from F.X Fuller, Director, Presidential Food Service, June 14, 2002:
“Dear Robert, Thank you very much for volunteering your valuable time for coming to the White House to train our chefs. Your culinary skills and current cooking techniques you shared with our staff have enabled us to take our service to an even higher level. The fact that you are giving back to your community clearly demonstrates that you are a great mentor, true professional and above all, loyal citizen of the United States. You can be assured your efforts have already been recognized by President Bush and senior White House staff…”
I’m putting these out there not to be self-serving, but to get some sort of third party validation on the record. When you are fortunate enough to be of service to powerful people for whom you have the deepest respect, they rely on your discretion. I’m loath to put out anything further on either of these matters for public consumption and hope this puts them to rest.
Regarding resumes; I am a professional chef, trained by great chefs and instructors, some of whom are world-renowned. I think it is worth mentioning that, as an Executive Chef, I have been in charge of kitchens in the Navy, on cruise ships and in hotels and casinos and have hired and fired hundreds of chefs and I didn’t hire a single one of them based on what I might have read on their resume. I listened to personal recommendations about them from other chefs and then I found out for myself if they could cook. If they could cook and were willing to work hard, they got the job, case closed.
Interestingly, my resume is not what got me the job on Dinner: Impossible. The show was created by Brian O'Reilly, a writer and producer who became executive producer of the show, and was based on events from my life and on skills that I had developed over the course of my career that were unique to me: cooking at a high culinary level under pressure, often for large numbers of people, sometimes with limited resources and an ability to improvise with whatever I had on hand to get the job done. We arranged a date to fix a gourmet luncheon for the players and coaches of the NY Rangers and the NY Knicks at their training facility in New York (21 dishes served in a buffet line for 60 people in 3 hours) and from there produced a “sizzle” reel that demonstrated the concept for the show (which was originally called “Fit For A King”). Food Network saw the sizzle reel, loved it, added the element of keeping each “mission” a secret from me until I arrived on the scene, changed the name, bought the show, and the rest is history.
I had a great run on Dinner: Impossible and I know that there’s more excitement on the horizon, so stay tuned. My deep and heartfelt thanks goes out to Randall Williams, my business partner and friend, to Brian and Virginia O’Reilly and to my incredible family for their steadfast and unwavering support through all of this. Let’s all look to the future and get this party started!
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