It was Top Chef-meets-Lethal Weapon at Soho House during a recent promotional event for TNT's Mark Burnett-produced new series On the Menu, starring Emeril Lagasse and Ty Pennington, who generated buddy-cop movie sparks while whipping up tasty dishes.
Lagasse, wearing his trademark crisp chef whites, concocted a winning pasta dish from the show, in which four amateur chefs compete to have a winning dish featured on On the Menu one night and on a chain restaurant's table the next day, with the help of co-star Pennington.
The pair have an odd-couple chemistry – Lagasse, less prone to bust out a "bam!" these days, comes across as knowledgeable and seasoned from his decades running restaurant kitchens. Pennington is much chattier and displays the same upbeat charm that endeared him to TV viewers on ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Both men will act as judges for the series, along with executives from each restaurant, but Lagasse will mentor contestants and Pennington will take over hosting duties.
Lagasse saluted the professionalism of their restaurant partners on the show, who will liven up menus with each episode's winning item. "What was also impressive was to see their quality standards," he said. "They would come in with corporate chefs protecting their dough or their meat," Pennington cut in, "or their blooming onion?" getting laughs from the crowd.
The two poked fun at the daytime TV trope of finishing a cooking demonstration only to have the fully cooked product appear from under the table moments later.
"Oh my god, look at that!" exclaimed Pennington when Lagasse pulls out the finished dish.
Once the audience's oohs-and-aahs over the dish ended, Lagasse asked, "Any questions? Great, now we can have wine." Then Pennington, Lagasse, and executive producer Dean Houser made the rounds, stopping to eat at each table.
Houser explained how quickly the restaurants that partnered with the show needed to work. "From the moment when [their segment] finished shooting to when it airs, restaurants had to get all of their stores ready to serve on the menu," said Houser. "Some people were scared of that and some people stepped up to the challenge."
Looking forward, Houser hopes that chains with direct competitors who took part this season, including partners Planet Hollywood, Denny's, and Chili's, will want to join in for the next run.
All three men pointed to the importance of the show's winning dishes going straight from TV to a familiar table down the street for viewers country-wide.
"Well I don't really know so much about food," said Pennington who hosted Home Edition for nine seasons. "But what I am an expert on is traveling around the country and staying in small town building houses. You realize the restaurants you go to are these chains— that's what America is now. The idea of having something fresh come in is really genius."
Houser, a Nebraska native, said, "The fanciest restaurant we had out there was a Red Lobster. There was no Emeril's New Orleans, there was no Spago. So if you got to go to Denny's after church on Sunday or take your girlfriend to Red Lobster that was big."
Lagasse sees the On The Menu partners as the probable dominant dinning experience thanks to economic pressures, "If they continue what you're going to have is high-end [restaurants] and you're going to have chain restaurants. Because it's going to continue to be hard on the middle."
On The Menu, produced by Burnett's One Three Media, premieres Friday, Oct. 3 at 8 p.m.