A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that On the Menu is a competition series featuring amateur cooks trying to get their dishes featured on the menu of a national restaurant chain. Each episode is a promotional vehicle for popular eateries such as Denny's, Chili's, and others; the competition kitchen features lots of Breville appliances, too. There are a few strong words ("crap") and bleeped curses, as well as some occasional mild sexual innuendo that will go over the heads of younger viewers. Drinking is sometimes visible.
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What's the story?
Hosted by Extreme Makeover: Home Edition's Ty Pennington, ON THE MENU is a competition series featuring everyday cooks competing for money and a chance to have their dishes featured on a popular eatery's menu. Four amateur cooks face off in the kitchen, where they adapt and cook up recipes designed to match the flavor and style of the foods served in that episode's featured chain restaurant. Chef Emeril Lagasse mentors them during the process. Their finished dishes must impress a panel of corporate executives who are serving as judges. During elimination rounds, some of their dishes are served to the restaurant's clientele, during which hidden cameras capture their candid reactions. The winning cook gets $25,000, and a modified version of their dish is featured on the restaurant's menu the day after the episode airs. Throughout the competition, information about the featured restaurants, their menu items, and their flavor profiles are offered.
Is it any good?
Showing dishes from jalapeño-potato-patty-topped hamburgers to sweet and savory French toast, the series highlights the logistics that go into conceptualizing and executing recipes for restaurants. It also shows how challenging it is to introduce a new and creative dish to a menu when trying to meet loyal customers' expectations. The way dishes must be constructed to be properly prepared by line cooks also is discussed.
Outside of revealing some key ingredients for a few popular chain restaurant dishes, as well as a few tips offered by Lagasse and the judges, there's not a whole lot of focus on cooking technique. But folks interested in understanding more about how recipes evolve into menu items that can be replicated for mass consumption will learn a thing or two. They may also find themselves getting hungry while watching.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the process by which recipes are adapted to be cooked and served in restaurants. Is there a favorite dish you've created that you think would be good on a restaurant menu? What things do you need to think about in addition to how good the dish tastes? What kinds of recipes aren't good for restaurant menus? Why?
Are cooking competition shows designed to teach you more about cooking? Do you think they offer a realistic look into what it's like to cook in a restaurant kitchen?