First Lady Michelle Obama examines a fig tree in the White House garden. (AP Photos )
When Robert Irvine normally shows up at a restaurant, he’s confronting tacky décor or a snarly wait staff or badly prepared food. Or all three. And in a whirlwind, the host of “Restaurant: Impossible” turns a failing business into an appealing place for a meal.
His Food Network show does a wizard-quick rehab on the food, the staff and the surroundings – sometimes with tears and a little yelling, always with lots of elbow grease. This week, Irvine faces what he says was his biggest challenge: Put a garden and a kitchen and dining area into a Washington after-school program good enough to get Michelle Obama’s endorsement.
The first lady has made a priority of working to halt childhood obesity -- planting a garden on the White House lawn and appearing many times to promote healthful eating and active lifestyles. About 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese in this country.
Irvine, a muscular English native, said in a telephone interview last week that he and his team planted peas, lettuce and tomatoes, among other vegetables, at Horton’s Kids, a children’s community center in one of Washington’s neediest neighborhoods. The idea is that the children in the program will tend the garden.
“Normally these young children are not getting the best nutrients they can,” Irvine says. “It’s our job to educate them on nutrition and health.”
The project, he said, “is one of the toughest things we’ve ever done.” Before Irvine’s arrival, the 100 children at Horton’s Kids ate outside on a basketball court in all weather conditions.
“This was one of the hardest jobs. It’s heartwarming, all about children, not about politics,” Irvine says.
The first lady appears on the “Restaurant: Impossible” episode, which airs at 10 p.m. Wednesday on the Food Network.
Irvine also is promoting Subway sandwich shops with a plan to eat avocadoes every day for 85 days, coming up with recipes each day. The menus of casual and fast-food restaurants are changing, he says, to help families eat quickly without overdoing.