Casinos: ‘Restaurant: Impossible’ chef fired up for South Lake Tahoe Food and Wine Festival

“Restaurant: Impossible” chef Robert Irvine describes good eating as “time spent with family and friends with food prepared by a chef with love using the simplest ingredients prepared in the simplest way.”

He brings this earnest yet direct attitude to every project on his Food Network show, which features him attempting to save a struggling restaurant in two days while spending $10,000.

“We are in our third year, on our 91st episode and we have 21 coming,” Irvine said. “We have an 82 percent success rate. We are the restaurant’s last hope.”

Irvine’s can-do attitude will help energize the fourth annual South Lake Tahoe Food and Wine Festival this weekend at Harrah’s and Harveys.

The muscular Brit has four scheduled appearances: hanging out in the Grand Market (noon to 3 p.m. Saturday in Harrah’s Special Events Center), hosting a three-course dinner he’ll prepare in “Chef in the Kitchen” (5 to 7 p.m. Saturday in Harveys’ 19 Kitchen), relating experiences and demonstrating preparations in Harrah’s South Shore Room for “Chef on Stage” (8 p.m. Saturday), and hosting “Ultimate Tailgate: Blues, Brews and BBQ” (11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday in the Harveys Convention Center).

Irvine tends to downplay his status as a “celebrity chef,” but embraces the opportunities that being one affords him. He’s been a sponsor of the Gary Sinise Foundation, which provides assistance for veterans and first responders (“We entertained and fed 8,000 at Walter Reed, 4500 at Balboa Medical Center,” Irvine said), and support, research and care for children with cancer.

Of course, he also does what most celebrity chefs do, and that’s find new ways to expand the empire. He’s lending his name to a protein bar called Fit Crunch and contemplating setting up shop in Las Vegas, where restaurants headed by famous chefs are rapidly becoming the second-biggest profit generators in hotels (following nightclubs). “We’re looking into the Tropicana,” he said.

And then there’s the medium that served up the fame and fortune in the first place – television. He’s increased his small-screen presence with “Restaurant Express,” a Food Network series that premiered Nov. 3.

“(It’s) a cooking competition of nine contestants who dream of owning their own restaurant,” Irvine said. “Over a seven-week period, they take on challenges. One is dropped every week, and the winner gets to design, prepare the menu for, and be executive chef of a new restaurant at M, which I think is one of the most beautiful hotels in Vegas.”

The South Lake Tahoe Food and Wine Festival kicks off Saturday with its signature Grand Market event, featuring serving stations manned by the chefs of Harrah’s casinos across the country. Andy LoRusso, the “Singing Chef,” also will appear. (Full

schedule and tickets at