Volunteering for Chef Robert Irvine

Written by Brendan Dente
Sophomore, Chemical Engineering
Albert Dorman Honors College

20160108_115857We all know that, as Albert Dorman Honors College students, we have a responsibility to give of our free time (what little there may be, anyway) to give back to the communities that surround us.  However, the words “community service” should not be tied to images of long hours of boring, monotonous work.  Thanks to the Center for Leadership and Professional Development and its Assistant Director, Ms. Feghhi, you can find some very unique and interesting service opportunities.  Through one of Ms. Feghhi’s e-mails, I took the initiative to sign up for this incredible opportunity to give back to the community (not to mention meet celebrities and have a chance to get on TV.)  I’m talking about volunteering for Restaurant: Impossible.

Restaurant: Impossible is a television show that travels around the country to restaurants that have declined in popularity over the years to the point where they can no longer support themselves or are on the verge of closing.  Robert Irvine, the host and master chef on the show (hence being on the Food Network), tries to fix a restaurant’s problems, whether they be the food, the people in charge, or the overall quality of the restaurant.  He coordinates with his builders and designers to rebuild the restaurant from the bottom up and transform it into a better version of the owner’s original idea.  It was fortunate that his construction manager, Tom Bury, is an NJIT graduate from the School of Architecture (he was here when the “Archie” building first opened); Tom offered us the opportunity to work alongside him and his coworkers at the Starlite Italian Restaurant & Bar in West Orange, NJ.

20160107_180713As a volunteer, I dealt primarily with the builders and designers as they handed out tasks that needed to be completed.  At the start of the first day, we were tasked to build some of the new furniture that would go inside the restaurant based on a predetermined theme.  Once the work started to slow down and  eventually halt as things inside the restaurant were not progressing quickly, we had to wait before we were allowed inside the dark, basement-like restaurant.  After putting all the trinkets into a storage container, we moved the tables and chairs out to be cleaned and refurbished with new tabletops and upholstery.  This took up the majority of the volunteers’ time on the first day, but the day was not over for the builders as they worked until the early morning hours to get ahead of their 2-day time limit.

12513844_10208602343077938_4702638762973048243_oThe next day involved getting into the restaurant itself, following Chef Irvine’s orders, and cleaning the bar and the floors – specifically, the grout.  I spent the majority of my time on my hands and knees scrubbing with many other volunteers and workers.  While all of this was going on, new chefs were being hired, the kitchen was being cleaned, and new equipment was being brought in to replace the refrigerators and stoves that had been there since the restaurant opened.  When all of the work was finally completed, the restaurant looked brand new, bright, and like a modern Italian restaurant.

10580748_10208602345197991_8137148261143806481_oOn CCTV, we even had the opportunity to watch the “reveal” to the family in charge of the restaurant.  It was extremely satisfying to see the fruit of our labors fully blossom when we saw their faces light up with awe, shock, surprise, and delight at the sight of their new restaurant.  It made all of the back-breaking work we did really worth all of the pain and hardships we had to go through over those two days.  It was also nice to have a heart-to-heart about the work we did with all the other volunteers and workers.  It was humbling to see the gentler side of Robert Irvine when there was no more work left to do and no cameras around us.

If an opportunity like this ever comes up again, I’d highly suggest that you take it!  It was well worth the time and effort to see the new chance at life that you can offer someone simply by cleaning up some chairs and putting more lights up.  And don’t forget to watch the Food Network on March 9th to see all of our hard work in action and possibly see some of your NJIT peers for their less-than-thirty-seconds of fame.

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