The mere mention of Thanksgiving can strike fear into the heart of those tasked with preparing the holiday meal.

Robert Irvine - a chef and restaurateur who routinely makes the impossible possible - thinks that's nuts.

"We panic too much about getting everything done at the same time," he said during a recent phone interview. "I think first and foremost there has to be a plan of action. Write it down."

Some vegetables, stuffings and dressings can be prepared hours before the turkey goes into the oven. Arranging or setting up equipment like pots and pans can also reduce the stress of rooting around in drawers and cupboards. Trying to do too much at once is the recipe for disaster.

"Make it easy on yourself," he said. "Take a glass of wine and relax. Spend time with the family."

OK. How does a guy from England know so much about an American tradition?

The Turkey Day meal is similar to a traditional Christmas Day meal in England, Irvine said. Since the American palate mixes sweet and savory flavors, Thanksgiving staples like sweet potatoes and marshmallows and cranberry sauce were new to Irvine.

"It was interesting to learn the traditions behind it," he added. "Learning and understanding different cultures - that's what food is. It's all culturally driven."

Irvine's chef philosophy is preparing food the way he likes to eat, catering to regional ingredients and having fun. That's how he made the transition from the South of England to South Carolina, where he now calls home between his 330 days a year on the road.

"I do cook for myself on set," he said, but added that when he travels, it's usually hotels and restaurants.

And while he suggests that home cooks focus on preparation, that's the one area where he surrenders control. On his Food Network series "Dinner: Impossible," which aired from 2007 to 2010, Irvine and his team were thrown into crazy cooking scenarios.

The same is true during his live shows, like the event slated for Dec. 1 at York's Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center. Irvine lets the audience decide his culinary fate.

"I don't go near the place until we start," he said. "I have no knowledge of the food and the challenges. You work with what you get."

Irvine said attendees can expect two hours of sidesplitting laughter and a feast for all the senses. He tries to use local ingredients - scrapple and Tastykakes come to mind when he's in Pennsylvania - and teaches as he goes. But it's not all about cooking, he added.

"There are a lot of theatrical elements," he said. "I'm used to that on-the-fly thinking."

A straight jacket and handcuffs might or might not be on the menu. Irvine, a veteran of British Royal Navy kitchens and trainer of U.S. Navy chefs, is used to a challenge.

He recently visited the Naval Medical Center San Diego to cook for wounded warriors and their caregivers. He originally planned to make enough mahi mahi tacos, hamburgers, salads and desserts to feed about 2,000. More than 4,000 folks showed up.

Irvine might have broken a sweat, but he wasn't flustered. It was an honor, he said, to cook for such a crowd.

He gives his audience members a chance to give back when they purchase merchandise. All profits go to the Gary Sinise Foundation, which serves veterans, first responders, their families and those in need.

In light of the season, Irvine said that merchandise profits from upcoming shows, including York, will go to Philabunance, which fights hunger in the Delaware valley and recently experienced a critical dry food shortage. Through his restaurants, he's giving to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

Some fans are entertained. Some needy folks are well fed. But the next task on Irvine's to-do list might be more tricky - marriage.

Irvine, who recently wed wrestling star and entertainer Gail Kim, gives fans a look inside the planning during "Wedding: Impossible."

Cooking, he said, is something that can come between couples. He's seen it on this other "Impossible" shows. Many people think it's too much time or effort to prepare a meal for their spouse. 

"I'm giving them a little free marital advice," Irvine said with a laugh.

In his world, love - like dinner - doesn't have to be crazy or complicated to work.

- ERIN McCRACKEN,
FlipSide staff

About Robert Irvine

Restaurants

Robert Irvine's nosh, Bluffton, S.C.

Robert Irvine's eat!, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Books

"Mission: Cook!: My Life, My Recipes, and Making the Impossible Easy"

"Impossible to Easy: 111 Delicious Recipes to Help You Put Great Meals on the Table Every Day"

TV

"Dinner Impossible"

"Restaurant: Impossible"

"Worst Cooks in America"

"The Next Iron Chef"

"All-Star Family Cook-Off"

If you go

The interactive cooking show "Robert Irvine Live" comes to the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1. Tickets cost $42, $47 and $52. For details and tickets, call 717-846-1111 or visit mystrandcapitol.org.

Local 'Restaurant: Impossible' connection

Interior decorator Debra Eberly of the Dallastown-based business, D.W. Designs, has a connection to "Restaurant: Impossible." A friend recommended her to help with a redesign last year at Dodge City restaurant in Harrisburg. On the Food Network show, Chef Robert Irvine helps restore restaurants in just 48 hours with only $10,000.

The episode at Dodge City was taped in March and aired in July for the season two premiere. Eberly was also featured on "Restaurant Impossible" episodes at an Italian eatery in Philadelphia and at a sports bar in Wilmington, Del.

Online

Website: chefirvine.com

Twitter: @robertirvine1

Food Network: www.foodnetwork.com/robert-irvine

Gary Sinise Foundation: www.garysinisefoundation.org