Dan Coudreaut knows some things. He knows the $1 billion McDonald's announced this week that it would spend on a fancy makeover of its nearly 15,000 locations won't make people pick his new "Asian" salad over a Big Mac. "I don't think that now that this restaurant's cool and contemporary, that now I'm going to create contemporary food," the chain's executive chef and director of culinary innovation told us on Wednesday. "I'm just going to create the food we've been creating."
Except he is creating things - that oatmeal, for one; smoothies, too - and you can't forget that Chef Dan still cooks at home. "I don't know if I know the secret. All I know is a really good burger will keep people coming back." Like we said, he knows things. It's why we invited him to talk about The State of the Hamburger with Daniel Boulud and the Shake Shack guy and the DeBragga Meats guy and Josh Ozersky to kick off our new cookbook. And it's why, even if you haven't had a Big Mac since your last family road trip - or your first - surely the man who serves 62 million people a day can teach us all a thing or two. Or eight.
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1. A good burger is not just about good meat.
"You have to focus on the bread - good cheese, good sauces. Make sure that you're treating those ingredients correctly. I have really good meat, but if I don't season it well, I overseason it, or I cook it too much, or I don't cook it enough - if you're the chef of your house, you're the first line of defense."
2. Your burger is not a Big Mac. Your centerpiece can evolve.
"I don't think a recipe's ever done. I've been working on pizza at my house for fifteen years, and I'm always finding new little techniques to fix it. That's at home. At McDonald's, when you're trying to be consistent in 14,000 restaurants, I don't have the luxury to change something around every five minutes."
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3. But feel free to dish it out as McDonald's does.
"Take the familiar and serve it in an unfamiliar way. Maybe you're taking meatloaf - and it's usually this big loaf and their slices - maybe you do individual, little small meatloaves and everyone gets one. Or you say, 'I want to do a southwestern style meatloaf,' or, 'I want to add a cheese to the meatloaf.'"
4. When making your own secret sauce, do some math.
"You want to have certain building blocks. If you're making a creamy sauce, you might want to have mayonnaise and you might want to have sour cream. You'll want to mix those together proportionally. Then you accent that base with different ingredients. If you like something spicy, you might want to put a little bit of chili garlic sauce into that base - then practice it."
5. When in charge of a gathering, take some notes.
"If I'm doing a lot of cooking, I don't go at it without a plan - a prep sheet on a piece of paper. Exactly when I'm going to buy it, where I'm going to buy it, when I'm going to prep it, when I'm going to cook it, and then I'll do a timing sheet. You have to take five minutes, get your head together, and then go after cooking."
6. Feel free to listen to the health-conscious.
"If we start seeing more people wanting whole grains in their menu, I'm then going to start talking about a new bun. People are talking about lower sodium, are we going to consider reducing sodium in our menu? These are things we start talking about. People want to have a say in what they're eating - important, especially if you're cooking at home."
7. But frying is not a bad thing.
"It's what you're frying in: Is it lard or is it tallow or is it canola oil, which is a very good, helpful oil that our bodies actually need? And it's what are you frying in it: Are you frying foie gras or are you frying something that's maybe high in saturated fat - which is not a bad thing, either? It's how hot the temperature of the oil is, too: If it's too low, you're going to soak up some of the oil. It's all of those different things, and then a fry - it's crispy on the outside, it's fluffy on the inside. It's a wonderful thing."
8. And above all else...
"If it's not good, don't serve it. Unless it's your brother and - who cares? - he'll eat anything."
Photo Credit: Jason DeCrow/AP
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