His Burlington City, N.J. bakery became the setting for an installment of “Dinner: Impossible,” the Food Network’s reality show starring celebrity chef Robert Irvine.
“Irvine is a chef that’s known the world over, and he’s a guy that has a lot of experience behind him,” Simon said. “He’s cooked for American presidents and British royalty, so we trusted that he’d be able to figure it out.”
Each episode of Dinner: Imposssible introduces Irvine and two assisting sous chefs to a new and unique culinary situation. He is challenged to draw upon his experience and skills in the kitchen to produce whatever food items the situation calls for while meeting or surpassing house standards. A twist in the format dictates that Irvine isn’t warned ahead of time what he is going to be doing.
Simon remembered Irvine’s reaction when it was revealed to him that he’d be baking. “He’s so used to cooking, the producers of the show wanted to throw him a curve ball,” Simon said. “When they saw it was a bakery, they were shaking their heads because they knew it would be hard. Irvine hates baking.”
JB Bakery, a full-line retail operation, has been in business for 55 years. “We wanted to use an older bakery that has been around for a while, a really classic bakery, to make sure it wasn’t too easy on Robert,” said producer Sara Finne.
On the morning of June 12, the regular employees at JB Bakery took the day off, and the camera crew set up camp. Simon gave Irvine a half-hour briefing on where things were, what machines did what, and a list of orders for the next day before turning the chef loose in the bakery. The task included producing 1,200 donuts, 30 pies, 120 muffins and 120 miniature pastries, not to mention a few cookies and birthday cakes.
Elizabeth Conway, store manager and Simon’s sister, made sure the orders went out in the morning. She pushed Irvine, who himself looks like a military drill instructor, to keep him on track. Simon said there was a lot of friction between the two throughout the night.
“Usually, he’s able to talk a lot about what he’s doing, tell the audience stories and tips,” Simon said. “He didn’t really know much about baking, though, so the interplay between him and my sister kept it pretty interesting.”
The night had it’s minor disasters. A full rack of donuts spilled, a sous chef burned his arm on the fry oil and a preschool sent back a decorated cake that wasn’t up to snuff. The donuts and pastries that survived didn’t look quite as appetizing as they normally would, but Simon said that customers didn’t seem to mind.
“They weren’t pretty, but they still tasted good,” he said.
Dinner: Impossible is in its second season and airs on the Food Network at 10 p.m. Wednesdays EST. The episode featuring JB Bakery begins airing this month.