How a Foodie Got Duped and Seduced By Mass-Market Produced Fast Food
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On a snowy, yet moon-driven New Year’s Eve, we drove south along two streams to our friends’ house for a late buffet supper and holiday celebration. The house was warm with a fire roaring in the grate, guests mingling casually between several rooms, and glass after glass of champagne to ring in the new decade. A few of the guests had gotten together to provide the dinner for all of us. There was a cave-aged Gruyere fondue, pate, deviled eggs and baked ham. There was a green salad, beets. There was fried chicken. There were fluffer-nutters, little elegant tea sandwiches with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. This was a down-home buffet, a cozy and rather self-satisfied scene.
All the dishes were delicious, but it was the fried chicken that had everyone buzzing. "This is the best fried chicken I’ve ever had!" could be heard through the halls and bouncing off the corners of rooms. And it was true. It was the best fried chicken any of us had ever had. Spicy with plenty of black pepper and salt, maybe a dash of white pepper, it was juicy and crisp at the same time without being heavy. I grew up in a part of the country where fried chicken is served as part of the local cuisine. This was better than the chicken at the Hornet’s Nest, or Horsketters Tavern, or the Darmstadt Inn. It had umami, that elusive element that somehow makes flavor three-dimensional.
Our culinary hostess smiled, a bit wickedly and deliciously I might add. "It’s an old Kentucky recipe," she said. Earnest questions and exclamations followed. "Are you from Kentucky?" "Is your grandmother from Kentucky?" "This is delicious!" "You outdid yourself!" "Where did you learn to do this?"
"Oh, it’s just a little old thing I picked up," she said. "It’s Kentucky Fried Chicken, Original Recipe."
Sometimes it’s worth doing something for the shock value, to wake people up, to get them to think and respond. This revelation had a good-natured shock value among all the guests. While some were truly dumbfounded, others, myself included, laughed, and said, "I can’t wait to get my next bucket!"
But this clever party trick has caused some personal angst and questioning. I’m a restaurateur with a fierce devotion to local provisioning. We even grow a goodly amount of our own produce. I’m a sommelier of sorts with a fairly proficient nose and palate. How could I be duped, and then seduced by mass-market produced fast food? It’s enough to lose sleep over. Could it be that KFC is a fast-food anomaly and sources responsible, even sustainably? Could the food revolution really be infiltrating our fast-food nation?
Instead of laying awake at night counting chickens before they hatched, I decided to do some research about this relationship between the surface character of KFC, as revealed in its taste, and its inner character, the roots of its Original Recipe.
It turns out that KFC has been in the news quite a bit of late. There were the recent ads in Australia just pulled because there was an uproar that they smacked of racism. There is the ongoing smart market campaign that places the chain in a warm and fuzzy light with an honest interest in beefing up our infrastructure: Last year, KFC provided the funding to fix the potholes in four cities in exchange for visual marketing. Every covered pothole was branded with the KFC logo, which only lasted a short time due to the instability of the inks in inclement weather. (This year they will replace fire hydrants and hoses for city fire departments -- KFC will appear on the hydrants themselves. All in the interest of bringing attention to their new Fiery Chicken Wings.) Last year, KFC also built the first LEED-certified location in Northampton, Massachusetts in order to show the world they are moving along with the current of the times and making valiant efforts at being "green."