Lunchtime options at the Pentagon are about to change, drastically.
Celebrity chef Robert Irvine, host of the popular Food Network program "Restaurant: Impossible," is days away from opening his "Fresh Kitchen" inside the U.S. military's massive headquarters complex in Arlington, Virginia. And it may be just the start of the food and fitness expert's effort to reshape how American troops eat wherever they are stationed or deployed.
Irvine's restaurant, located in the Pentagon's main concourse, will stand out among the building's other food options, which include fast-food chains like McDonald's, Burger King and Popeye's Chicken.
"Anybody who comes in here is going to get whatever they want to eat. It can be low-fat; it can be vegan; it can be gluten-free; it can be anything you wish," Irvine told Military Times during an exclusive interview at the restaurant while construction crews finalize a project that's been in the works for more than a year. "We have chefs from the Four Seasons working here, so it's not like we've hired people off the streets to cook. We have the best of the best here.
"It's very unique in that everything is done 'a la minute' — last minute — instead of like most places with steam tables, putting food in and holding it for hours," he said.
Irvine said he hopes to have the restaurant open by Aug. 29.
Irvine, who hosts several shows on the Food Network, is a restaurateur and entrepreneur. He sees his Pentagon venture as the beginning of a broader partnership with the U.S. military.
His views on nutrition were shaped by 10 years as a sailor and chef in the British Royal Navy, where he helped transform canned, frozen and dehydrated food into meals that would maintain good morale.
"If you have good morale on a ship, it does well, if you don’t, it doesn’t do well," he said. "That changed my whole outlook when I came out into the civilian world of how do we use nutrients to change the feelings of people?"
For the past several years, he — now a U.S. citizen — has traveled extensively to U.S. military bases overseas. And today he's drafting a proposal to fundamentally reshape eating options for troops across the force.
"We get a chance to see what the offerings are, what’s there. I have a definite thought process on how we can change that without costing any money," he said. "I have an idea to present to them about how I think the modern military should be fed."
"We take people off the street and spend all this money training them and we’ve always forgotten about the food," he said.
Some proceeds from the Pentagon restaurant will go to the Robert Irvine Foundation, which donates money to veterans advocacy groups across the country.
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.