The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

iNG Unveils 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' Menu And First Episode of 'CookING Under Pressure'

By Anthony Todd in Food on Nov 15, 2012 4:00PM

On Tuesday night, the much-anticipated first episode of CookING Under Pressure, Homaro Cantu's new show, was released. That same night, we got a first look at The Nightmare Before Christmas menu at iNG on which the episode is based. We sat down with Chef Cantu to talk about the production process, the food, and how he plans to change the face of television in America.

"The first TV show i did was The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter," Cantu remembered. "I grew up glued to a TV, I love television, but after I saw Kitchen Sessions, I realized that 'Boy, this stuff really isn't real.' There's all this work in the background, it's not just Charlie making all this stuff. So then we got to Future Food and I'm like 'Wow, only 30 percent of that was real.' The other stuff is the other 50 people in the room. What I want to do here is real."

The new show is about as far from Future Food, Cantu's more traditional cooking show, as it could possibly be. Rather than a cooking show, it's a reality TV/food hybrid that tracks Cantu, GM Trevor Rose-Hamblin and their crew as they create each new menu for iNG. It's all being made in house and distributed for free.

"Over the past nine months I've been buying camera equipment, microphones—we could remake any motion picture," Cantu explained. "From CGI to the real shots. We're even using a phantom flex camera, a $300,000 camera, to shoot high speed." iNG is the perfect testbed for this kind of show, because the menu changes so often. "We're not using the studio—this is going on as service happens. iNG is probably the most difficult food menu to create, because the desserts have to be sugar free and the menu changes so often. But that makes it perfect for a TV show. This experience has to be relatable—it can't just be weird food. People relate through Martin Scorcese or The Nightmare Before Christmas."

Why bother to create a TV show? It's expensive and time-consuming, but Cantu believes that it can build their brand and contribute to their social mission of eliminating sugar like nothing else. And making it free and sharable on social media will make it even more powerful. "It's very simple. In the Middle East, you've got people taking over governments with phones. You have an ability to communicate a message super fast, and if that message is worthy to repeat, it spreads. This is all free. You have invest in the hardware, but your message is clear."

What message is that? Cantu has huge dreams of changing the entire food industry and moving the American diet away from its heavy reliance on sugar by using the miracle berry, Cantu's signature ingredient that makes sour things taste sweet. He's already spent tons of his own money donating doses of miracle berries to chemotherapy patients—it allows them to taste food again—and now he's moving into the world of diet cookbooks with his Miracle Berry Cookbook, coming in January.

The show is just another piece of the picture. "What I want to do here is real. Real in the sense that there is a social mission. We're not tapping into that too much in the show, because people don't want to hear about cancer and starvation. As long as they see fun shit, and as long as we give them a good package, they're going to buy into it, they're going to buy the product, and it's gonna ripple effect."

What's next for the show? The next menu for iNG hasn't been revealed yet, but Cantu has visions of a sort of meta-show, one that morphs from genre to genre along with the food. "Have you ever seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi? Imagine a show where you're watching and we decide to do a dish that's sushi-related. That one dish will be Japanese, so the show slips right into Japan. It looks like Jiro Dreams of Sushi—the scene where he's massaging the octopus. It's like Mr. Show, but about other shows! You've got all of these different layers of television, and that can only exist if it's free."

For now, take a look at the first episode of CookING Under Pressure. It's definitely a first attempt with a new crew: occasionally the pacing is off; some jokes fall flat; and Cantu is a little bit too in love with his fancy high-speed camera. But we guarantee you'll laugh out loud often, fixate on Cantu's constant carrot chomping and probably want to head in and taste the food. The menu is still being tweaked, but some preliminary dish descriptions are in the photo captions. The menu is being served now at iNG.