Last weekend, an invite popped into my inbox inviting me to a secret event at a secret location in L.A. hosted by Neal Fraser. Sketchy? Possibly. But knowing Fraser through his notable L.A. hotspots like Redbird and ICDC, as well as his notorious experiments such as creating an all-hemp menu, I was curious to see what secret he had planned. Also, free food.
I found myself at Carondelet, an Italian villa in downtown Los Angeles. Carondelet definitely beats the typical Wednesday dining hall vibe, to say the least. Fresh flowers, free-flowing wine, and twinkly lights added to the rustic aesthetic. During a brief cocktail hour, I joined a motley crew of bloggers, dietitians, and lifestyle writers in wondering why we had been summoned. Finally, Fraser personally welcomed us all and we sat down for his five-course experimental menu.
We started out with a chilled avocado soup and caesar salad. Both were simple, fresh, delicious, and led us to question what was so “experimental” about his menu. Could I make as good of a soup and salad? Probably not, but nothing about the appetizer screamed “Neal Fraser” to the assembled guests.
After eating through Fraser’s appetizers, three meatballs in tomato sauce and red wine came our way. Considering this was coming from a man who is famous for his whacky experiments, the traditional dish left us confused. The next plate of food, Canadian bacon-wrapped chicken, gave a few clues. I don’t eat bacon (and was really freakin’ full after three courses), so I skipped out on this one, but apparently the chicken was rather… rubbery.
Fraser ended his five courses with a coffee custard topped with blueberries, graham crackers, and cream. I was definitely feeling this one, so even though I was hella full, I managed to make some space. Coffee + dessert = a very happy audience. The custard was so rich that it was hard to get to the bottom of it. However, I motivated myself to get there and what I saw BLEW my mind.
As I scooped my last spoonful of custard, the signature golden arches sitting at the bottom of my dessert seemed oddly familiar. Not going to lie, it took me a hot second to even realize that the “secret” was that all the ingredients came from good’ ol’ Mickey D’s. The audience’s reaction was split; some felt betrayed, some were amused, and some (like me) were still just confused.
Apparently, Fraser initially felt the same way we all did when he received an offer from McDonald’s to create a menu using their ingredients. “I was scared shitless,” he said to us. The Top Chef proceeded to discuss how he uses basically the same ingredients at BLD and Redbird. He brought up Tyson’s chicken, which he uses as his base for fried chicken at his LAX hotspot.
After Fraser’s discussion with both disgruntled and impressed audience members, Clay Paschen III, president of the McDonald’s Operators’ Association of Southern California, threw some major shade by saying, “You look at Chipotle and their motto is organic, and they’re killing people.”
While McDonald’s may not be organic, Paschen argued that their ingredients are still fresh and local.
To be honest, I still don’t know how to feel about the entire experience. On one hand, I haven’t eaten McDonald’s in over ten years. I usually eat organic and stay far, far away from any kind of fast food. I’ve watched “Super Size Me” more than once and have lectured my friends about the processed crap they’re putting into their bodies. But, here I was, eating (and actually enjoying) McDonald’s ingredients.
Did I fall for a corporate stunt? Maybe. But, it’s hard to completely shrug off the fact that the food was fresh and the meal was pretty freaking bomb. If anything, Fraser’s stunt falls completely in line with McDonald’s aim to revamp their brand and campaign. I don’t think I’ll be visiting McDonald’s anytime soon, but Fraser proved that fast food lovers can chow down on those Big Macs with a little more ease.