Last week, chef Neal Fraser invited 40 of Los Angeles' most influential food writers and bloggers to a five-course meal made using "experimental" and "fresh" ingredients.
Those ingredients were, in fact, sourced completely from McDonald's. Of course, the slick invitations included no mention of where the food was from and no suggestion of any sneaky goings-on, simply reading: "One night only. A culinary exploration with chef Neal Fraser."
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Head chef at critically acclaimed LA restaurant Redbird, Fraser usually makes dishes like Wagyu beef tartare and braised goat gemelli, and has had his food described as "divine" by Los Angeles Times critic Jonathan Gold. A far cry from egg muffins and Chicken McNuggets, then.
But the courses on offer at Fraser's dinner—from chilled avocado soup and green salad to spicy meatballs and bacon wrapped chicken—were all sourced from McDonald's. Even the coffee and blueberry dessert came via the Golden Arches. I caught up with Fraser to find out how the evening went. MUNCHIES: Hi Neal, what made you want to put on this event? Neal Fraser: I enjoy a good challenge, and this presented the challenge of elevating guests' experience by presenting a specific set of ingredients in a new way. Similar to challenges on Top Chef and Top Chef Masters! How did you plan your menu? Were the ingredients restrictive or particularly different from what you're used to using? They're quite different from what I would use in my kitchens. The products provided by McDonald's for this particular event weren't seasoned, making it easier for me to transform them. So at the end of the dinner, you told the guests the truth. How did they react? Most seemed surprised. Like holy-fuck-what-is-this? surprised. I wanted guests to see that a good chef can transform something that is perceived as not tasting good—to take another look. I didn't mean to embarrass anyone. It was supposed to be fun. What do you think of fast food, honestly? There's something for everyone. I acknowledge that there are a lot of people who need a quick meal and sometimes, it's a burger or salad from a fast food restaurant. I actually don't eat fast food, nor does anyone in my family. I realise I'm in a different and hugely fortunate position than most, and sourcing has always been important to me. But I understand that there are many ways people eat.
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Can inexpensive food ever be as good as expensive food? Taste is subjective. I think the goal is to try to enjoy more whole foods and become more educated. How much do you think presentation affects our perception of food? I am a believer that you eat first with your eyes. That being said, I would prefer for food to taste good rather than just look good. What do you think about people Instagramming their dinner? Does it annoy you to see people photographing their food? No, I think it's great that food is centre stage. No longer is dinner just a stopover before the movies. It's become entertainment. If you had to eat only one dish for the rest of your life, what would you choose? Spit roast chicken. That certainly beats a Big Mac. Thanks for talking with me, Neal!