WASHINGTON, September 28, 2014 – BAM! Once the boisterous, wildly popular master cooking guru of his own Food Network cooking show, and later the flash-in-the-pan star of a disastrously short-lived sitcom where he starred as himself, famed chef and restaurateur Emeril Lagasse returns to television this week as the “menu master” of TNT’s all-new “On the Menu.”
Hosted for some reason by design guru Ty Pennington (maybe because he’s cute?), TNT plugs its Friday, October 3 debut edition of “On the Menu” as TV’s “first cooking show to give viewers the chance to taste the winning dish after every episode, as well as give everyday cooks the chance to have their dish appear in dining institutions across the country.” The show will run each Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern on TNT.
In other words, amateur chefs will compete each week on the show for a unique prize. Each week’s winning dish will actually become part of the menu of a different chain restaurant. And, oh yeah, the winning chef will get a check for $25,000, presumably before taxes.
This week’s restaurant designee: Chili’s.
The new show’s concept is interesting. Rather than the endless but lucrative chain of reality show plotlines that string mind-numbed viewers along each week, each “On the Menu” show is self-contained, introducing the characters/chefs; setting up each week’s competition rules; following each chef through the agony and angst of concocting and preparing his or her potentially-winning entry; and concluding with the weekly payoff: a winning contestant, a winning dish, and a promised appearance (for however long) on the menu of each week’s starring restaurant.
For cooking aficionados, the new show could be fun. Pennington is an enthusiastic host and should give TNT’s new show some extra pizazz, in addition to the bigger-than-life Lagasse’s endless enthusiasm for taste bud tantalizing dishes.
The outspoken Lagasse recently stirred up a fresh batch of kitchen controversy this week, lambasting the Obama Administration and its relentless push to insert the Federal government into every facet of American life.
In a recent interview posted on TheWeek.com, Lagasse complained that this administration’s onslaught of difficult, complex and arguably needless rules and regulations for individuals and businesses are essentially forcing small entrepreneurs and family businesses to the edge of extinction.
Lagasse is particularly concerned about that small segment of mom and pop entrepreneurship where he got his own start: the distinctive family-owned-and -operated restaurant, many of which have become neighborhood anchors and institutions over the years across the country.
Lagasse made his mark and his money from humble beginnings himself, gradually growing into a cooking and dining out institution as his skills caught fire first in New Orleans and then on a national scale. But he’s not sure that the next Emeril will be able to make it in the restaurant biz, as he worried in his recent interview.
It’s becoming a very challenging industry to become a very successful average restaurateur,’ continued Lagasse. ‘I can’t charge $300 a person in my restaurant or I would not be in business. Am I using any different ingredients? Not really. Am I using any caliber of service staff? I don’t think so. I think our service is as good or better than most places.’
‘And then you add all the Obama nonsense to what it’s become in the last several years. I don’t have anything against Mr. Obama. I’m just saying the way that, you know… the government should stay out of things. […] Pretty soon, they’re going to wipe a lot of the middle restaurateurs and restaurant cooks. […] If it continues, then watch: you’re going to have high-end, and you’re going to have fast food, and you’re going to have chain restaurants.’
Lagasse is careful to pussyfoot around Obama himself, as this administration is now well known for its active and damaging persecution of critics big and little. But his point is still clear, paralleling the growing reality of middle class extinction in the U.S., hastened by the growing intrusiveness of government on a local, regional and national scale.
Now nearly 7 years after the quiet beginning of America’s still ongoing “Great Recession,” we are transfixed by the spectacle of a once vibrant country of achievers sliding rapidly toward a banana republic model of society. As in many a third-world country, it’s become clear even in the U.S. that a small, elite class—protectively walled off from harm by the government they now own—possesses nearly all the money, goods, and property this economy can still generate.
Meanwhile the impoverished masses struggle just to get by. And the fading middle class is now being forced to join them
This seemingly irresistible slide is reflected in Lagasse’s Futureworld restaurant business scenario where oppressive government regulations and punitive minimum wage requirements are forcing colorful and popular mom-and-pop restaurants to close their doors.
Lagasse fears what will be left of his business in the future will be a drearily homogenized dining-out menu limited to national family restaurant and fast-food chains, eliminating the current, wondrous diversity of dining choices while killing off yet another opportunity for budding entrepreneurs to make money on their own and employ local workers in the process.
Worse, if the deterioration of this over-regulated business continues, what families will be able to afford dining out at all when menus will have to price in $15-an-hour busboys and dishwashers? Future prospects are grim under the current regime.
In his telling interview, “Lagasse went on to lament that the areas in which he operates restaurants — including New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — have been hit particularly hard by the problems in the economy. “Somebody having a $12.99 meatball and pasta dish at my restaurant means a lot to them,” he said. “That’s like a special occasion.”
What will happen when all the local and massive minimum wage regulations like Seattle’s begin to kick in? Will today’s $12.99 meatball and pasta dish cost $19.99 tomorrow? How much of the restaurant business will survive when Harry Reid and the Administration finally succeed in essentially doubling the minimum wage on a national scale?
For now, Lagasse’s new show will promises to offer participating family restaurant chains some refreshing and unusual new items for their menus, giving those outlets a chance to benefit from the creativity of the would-be entrepreneurs appearing each week as “On the Menu” competitors. That’s at least one small way of keeping American entrepreneurs and American originality on the economic menu.
As for tomorrow, Emeril Lagasse is worried. So are we.