Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Meet the new boss

When I was in 11th grade I missed the AP US History field trip to the William Penn Museum ("You can go look at the dinosaurs when you've finished your packet."), so Audrey Stern and I had to complete a makeup assignment in which we designed our own museum of American History. We came up with the Stern-Maurer Memorial Museum. I don't really remember what she wrote about but I contributed two major ideas: 1) the Hall of Presidents, which took up the entire third floor of the museum and featured a wax replica of William Henry Harrison's corpse; and 2) the food court, which featured Monopoly Burger, a nod to unfair business practices of the late nineteenth century. Monopoly Burger served Wendy's chicken sandwiches and Frosties, Burger King's Whoppers and fries, and McDonald's apple pies. The food court also had a Chick-Fil-A and an Orange Julius because, well, duh.

Today I found out that Wendy's debuted a new recipe for their fries and a $25 million campaign promoting those fries as a natural food. The skins are left on the potatoes, they're sprinkled lightly with sea salt, they're sitting there in front of an image of a field of potatoes. If you know me, you know that I am probably more excited about this than any other restaurant news in San Francisco this year. Oh God. Yes. Wendy's with good fries is probably the best fast food there could ever be this side of In-N-Out.

Fries are one of those things like pizza that you can either do really simply or obsess over to no end until you are taking six days to make comfort food. The difference is that artisan pizza keeps getting more and more like "slow food", where you're collecting a sourdough starter from your favorite bakery and canning your own garden-fresh tomatoes and pulling your own mozzarella. With artisan fries, it gets to a point where you're really toeing the line between cooking and industrial food production.

In-N-Out just cuts up potatoes and fries them once, which is really fresh but not exactly everyone's conception of a french fry. That's what most people do at home, though--just frying them once. Well, you can also fry them twice. You can blanch them in vinegar and freeze them and then fry them once. You can soak them in Pectinex SP-L and vacuum pack them and blanch them in vinegar then fry them twice, freezing in between. At this point you're getting kind of similar to the process McDonald's uses to create its fries. And as one commenter on the last blog post notes, "The cold reality is that McDonalds has forgotten more about french fries than any of us will ever know. They’ve spent millions and their product is the gold standard in this area." Yes. McDonald's is the Judge Judy of fries.

So that's what I was hoping for--that this new $25 million campaign was backing a hundred-million-dollar french fry research and development project that would improve their fries beyond all human comprehension. This evening I tricked Jeff into going to Wendy's with me to have some fries dipped into Frosty. I was pretty excited, not only for the new fries but because while looking at the address I found this yelp review that said, "How to get a $4 Burger for $0.99. Just order!!! NO ONE SPEAKS ENGLISH!!!"

So how did it go? First of all, they asked me if I wanted a chocolate or vanilla frosty. Seriously? A vanilla frosty? That should not even exist at all, nor should the "Frosty-cino". Second, they got my order right and I had to pay full price, which was only $3.17, so I guess that wasn't a big deal. But the fries? Well, they're pretty much the same as the old fries except the skins are on. It was kind of a letdown. Jeff had not been to Wendy's in a while and was actually impressed. I noticed that they also had spicy chicken nuggets, which sound like they should be outstanding, but I was too disheartened to try them.

Sorry Wendy's, but there are way better things you could have spent $25 million on--for example, Dave Thomas's gubernatorial campaign.

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