TV cooking show has Keuka connection

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
Garrett Zur ’09 will compete on TNT’s On the Menu

Next time you go to your favorite restaurant, you might want to take a second look at the menu. Thanks to On the Menu, a new reality series on TNT, original family recipes will soon be added to 10 different chain restaurants’ menus. On the Menu premiered Friday, Oct. 3, and the Oct. 24 episode will have a Keuka College connection.

Garrett Zur ’09, who is earning his master’s degree at Keuka College, will be one of four amateur home cooks featured on the new show’s fourth installment. He and his fellow cooks will compete to put their family’s recipes on the menus of such restaurant chains as Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, and The Cheesecake Factory, among others. One restaurant will be featured for each of the 10 episodes.

“I cannot share what was made, but the challenge for the episode was to create a new, decadent dessert for Planet Hollywood,” said Zur, who learned about the competition from Twitter. “I wanted to participate because it is my culinary passion to be on TV and with TNT having a new cooking show, why not be part of that? It is an awesome experience—one like no other. It was such an honor to have this opportunity.”

On the Menu, hosted by Ty Pennington and Chef Emeril Lagasse, who serves as Menu Master, bills itself as the first cooking competition show ever to give viewers at home the chance to taste the dishes they see on screen, as well as give everyday cooks the chance to have their dish appear in restaurants across the country.

Each episode of On the Menu opens on a set that looks like the featured chain restaurant. And like Zur’s favorite cooking show, Food Network’s Chopped, the four cooks must face a series of elimination challenges in order to make it to the final round.

“I like Chopped because it uses ingredients that I sometimes have in my house, and it tests my creativity on what I could make,” said Zur. “Plus, any food challenges are fun to watch.”

In the first round, Zur and his competition must demonstrate their understanding of all things Planet Hollywood through an intense preliminary challenge. In the second round, the three remaining cooks must each create their own new dish for the restaurant and serve it to a room full of hungry diners and super fans of the featured eatery whose votes will determine who moves on to the final round.

But the cooks don’t have to face the challenges alone. Pennington leads competitors through each of the elimination challenges, while Lagasse provides his expertise as a seasoned chef and industry insider, using his vast knowledge of cooking, branding, and sales to help the contestants shape their culinary creations.

After refining and perfecting their dishes based on the comments they receive from the diners in round two, the final two cooks serve their creations to Pennington, Lagasse, and representatives from the featured restaurant, in whose hands the final decision rests.

And if Zur wants his culinary creation on Planet Hollywood’s menu, he will need to rely on the skills he learned from his mother, one of his earliest influences in the kitchen.

“Ever since I was a kid, I have loved baking. I got my baking ‘gene’ from my mom who taught me the art of baking,” said Zur. “The best lesson my mom taught me was to lick the beaters. She would always say ‘if the batter tastes good, then the cake or dessert will taste good.’”

The hardest part of baking, said Zur, is knowing that it is chemistry. “You have to precisely measure each ingredient or it will not work, unlike cooking where you can eyeball. The easiest part? There are so many simple recipes out there.”

Zur also credits such television chefs as Chef Pasquale Carpino, Rachael Ray, and Debbie Fields—of Mrs. Fields Cookies fame—as impacting his culinary aspirations.

“At age 14, I started watching Rachael Ray. She is my culinary idol—I love watching and learning from her,” said Zur. “She has so many different books, tips, and tricks. I love her cookware and her daytime show. She truly taught me how to cook without needing a lot of direction. Her Cookin’ Round the Clock was the first cookbook I ever got. She didn’t attend culinary school, so she also taught me that you don’t need a culinary degree to pursue the passion of food.”

Armed with that knowledge, and the confidence he gained from making his culinary television debut, Zur is one step closer to making his dream come true.

Added Zur: “One day, I want my own cooking show, but my next step is to complete my master’s degree. Then hopefully, I will appear on more TV shows for cooking. For now, I will spread my ‘fooditude’ to anyone interested.”

Zur’s episode of On the Menu airs Friday, Oct. 24 at 8 p.m. on TNT.