Jasmine’s rises to the challenge of catering for Food Network show

An ‘Impossible’ task

When the cast and crew of Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible” took over Baton Rouge’s Mama Della’s N.Y. City Pizzeria last week for a renovation, the show’s foodies and chefs called on a local restaurant to feed them.

Jasmine’s on the Bayou, a family-run cafe and catering service on Jones Creek Road, was hired to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for two days and one morning.

Famously surly show host Robert Irvine even paid them the highest compliment a cook can receive — going back for seconds and thirds during a meal.

“It’s definitely stressful, but it’s a challenge we were glad to accept,” said Michael Taranto, assistant manager of Jasmine’s. “It’s one you don’t really think about while you’re doing it, but after you say, ‘Wow, I just cooked for the cast and crew of “Restaurant Impossible.’’’ That’s pretty intense. Usually you get yelled at if you do that.”

Mama Della’s, 8190 Jefferson Highway, which serves New York-style pizza and salads, received the “Restaurant Impossible” treatment Jan. 9-10. The show features Irvine attempting to save foundering businesses in two days on a $10,000 budget.

Before the show came to town in the second week of January, the production company hired Jasmine’s on the Bayou based on online reviews from the Yelp! and Urban Spoon websites, which invite diners to rate restaurants, Taranto said.

Every meal Jasmine’s cooked served 35 to 40 people. They created made-to-order omelets for three breakfasts, adding crawfish and alligator sausage for a south Louisiana touch. Producers requested chicken marsala for one dinner, and the cooks added a vegetarian option for every meal.

Irvine, known for his tough, blunt critiques of cuisine and restaurant management on the “Restaurant Impossible” show, had nothing bad to say to Taranto and his brother-in-law, restaurant owner Herb Fong. Irvine especially enjoyed the debris po-boy and a messy pot roast sandwich, going back for a second and third helping, Taranto said.

“He warmed up over time,” Taranto said. “When we first met him he was just arriving and had to get into the mood. He was nice to us.”

However, the mercurial host did live up to his reputation.

“He’s just like he is on TV, in my opinion,” Taranto said. “He could be just preparing himself for the show.”

After Mama Della’s grand re-opening Jan. 10, the restaurant stopped selling individual slices of pizza and sandwiches, instead focusing on whole pizzas and salads, according to staff.

“Restaurant Impossible” airs Wednesday nights on Food Network. The episode featuring Mama Della’s is slated to run in the fall.