Ty Pennington hosts new TNT show 'On the Menu'

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Former Grant Park denizen Ty Pennington is known more as a contractor/builder/designer on former shows "Trading Spaces" and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Now he's trying his hand hosting a food show called "On the Menu" featuring Emeril Lagasse as a judge. Amateur chefs attempt to create the next great dish for national chain restaurants such as Chili's and Denny's. The twist: the winning dish will be available to eat the next day at that restaurant.

This is naturally possible since they taped this show months ago. NBC's "Fashion Star" tried a similar concept a couple of years ago with winning clothing designs available at places such as Sak's and Macy's. It lasted two seasons.

"I'm not building a kitchen on this show," Pennington joked in a phone interview last week. "It's not that much of a stretch. I really am to be honest the guy who tries to make dreams come true. Not everyone gets a chance to cook a dish that millions could try. I get to know the chefs, their passions, their personalities. There's a lot on the line."

This show is a bit of a stretch for TNT, which has had far more success with scripted dramas than reality shows. A wedding-themed reality show bombed a few years ago. An action reality competition show one Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson last year didn't do particularly well and wasn't renewed. The fact TNT is debuting it on a Friday night also indicates modest expectations.

Pennington considers himself an artist. "I work with my hands," he said. "We're all foodies these days. I'm a pretty good cook. Give me the right ingredients and I can create something."

At the same time, he likes that major chains are represented here because that's where most of Middle America eats, not the fancy five-star restaurants often featured on shows such as "Top Chef."

Ty tries to visit his brother Wynn, who still lives locally in the Castleberry neighborhood, most recently during the World Cup. (Ty left town more than a decade ago for the bright lights of Hollywood.)

"Chance are I will move back there at some point," he said. "It's always home to me. While I'm still in the crazy circus of entertainment, I'll probably be a bit of a nomad."

Plus, his mother, who lives just outside of Atlanta, is getting ready to retire near the Florida coast. Pennington has been focused on designing her house the past 18 months. "That's ironic," he mused, "because on 'Extreme Makeover,' we built a house in a week!"

TV preview

"On the Menu," 8 p.m. Fridays, starting October 3, TNT