Winning a cooking competition helped turn Robbie Myers’ life around.
But officials at Disabled American Veterans say his advocacy work on behalf of his fellow wounded warriors is even more impressive than his cooking skills.
The former sergeant first class, medically discharged from the Army in 2012, was honored Aug. 8 as the organization’s Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year. Since then, he has gone from almost homeless to producing his own television show, all the while fighting stigmas surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder.
Myers served two combat tours before his injury, and admits that he had little idea how to move on from the military when he was medically discharged. The former Army chef struggled to support his family until he was invited on a special military-themed edition of Food Network’s “Chopped,” where he won bragging rights and $10,000.
The win led to a second competition appearance on the network and an invitation from a television production group to put together his own military-themed cooking series. He has already promised a quarter of the profits from that effort will go toward helping veterans with PTSD.
DAV officials said that commitment to his fellow veterans — and his willingness to seek help for his own injuries — make him a worthy role model for a generation of troops returning from the recent wars.
Myers said he wants to prove that he and his fellow veterans still have a lot to offer to their country.
Q.What’s the idea behind your new show, “Come and Get It”?
A. It’s for veterans by veterans. It’s going to involving cooking, starting and running a business, pretty much anything that revolves around food. And we want to do as much as we can veterans-only, in front of and behind the cameras.
We’re going to highlight veteran-owned businesses, show all the great things that veterans are doing out there. Too often you’re only hearing the bad stuff, the stigma out there about veterans.
Right now we’re in the production phase, but we have a (pitching video) that we’re showing around. We’re hoping we can make that public soon too. We’re pretty confident in what we’ve pulled together already.
Q.What’s the difference between military cooking and gourmet cooking?
A. When you’re in the military, you’re always striving to be better at any job you’re given. And you’ll see military chefs in competitions, you’ll see them working toward new certificates. Some of the finest chefs I’ve come across have been in the military.
But I think many people still have the idea of a military chef stirring a giant pot of something as their only idea of what these guys can do. There are a lot of people working really hard to make a great meal for their other service members. It contributes to morale. For some guys in combat zones, it could be the last warm meal they get.
I know (other chefs) worry that they get looked down on, especially from the combat infantry. But my guys always looked at me like one of their own. And serving them helps affect their will and morale.
Q.You had a lot of trouble transitioning from the Army. What pushed you to go to VA for help?
A. I wouldn’t have gone for help if not for my family. I just wouldn’t have asked for help. I’m still not doing great all the time, but I have my wife and (six) kids. So I always try to push myself to do good by them. I’m lucky to have them.
I don’t think I really understood the stigma that comes with having PTSD (when I came home). It wasn’t clear to me until I tried to find work. I wasn’t getting calls back, and when I did, the question would always come up. I was always direct … but I couldn’t even get a job bagging groceries.
That’s what I want to work against. It dawned on me that I could help fight that by showing what veterans can do.
Q.What was your reaction when you got the DAV award?
A. I was shocked when I heard I was nominated, and I didn’t think I had a shot at the award. I know some of the other nominees, and there are so many others who deserve this kind of honor too.
So, when they told me, I was very humbled and realized I need to step up my game. I’ve always been passionate about helping my fellow veterans, but this is a reminder that I can still do more. Maybe there’s a buddy I can help find a place to sleep, or get a hot meal. I have to do everything I can to help them out.
Q.What’s your go-to dish to impress your wife?
A. When I’m really in trouble, I’d probably go with the chocolate souffle. And she really like my roasted pork tenderloin, or even more than that my mushroom risotto. Risottos aren’t hard; that’s something (your readers) can impress their (spouses) with.
We’ve got a Facebook page for the show, and we’re going to start putting some recipes up there. And I want to do a cookbook of some of the best military and veterans recipes with all this effort, to help share those secrets.