The fast food industry has seen plenty of changes recently—some nutritious and some not so much. In the past year, GMO-free burritos, green juices, lower-calorie French fries, and Canadian poutine have all entered the fast food scene. The latest to join them? Grab-and-go grub is going gourmet.
At an exclusive event last fall, McDonald’s treated food critics, writers, and bloggers to several courses prepared by celebrity chefs. The catch: All dishes included ingredients that came from the chain’s typical menus such as Chicken McNuggets, French fries, and breakfast biscuits.
Billed as a “transforming dining experience of ‘fast food’ to ‘good food served fast,’” according to an AP report, the dinner was ostensibly an effort to change the perception of McDonald’s fare from greasy, cheap, junk food to palatable, tasty food that’s worth writing about.
Guests were served a Kung Pao chicken appetizer (made with McNuggets) topped with sweet and sour sauce and garnished with parsley, slow-cooked beef served with gnocchi (made with French fries) and a fruit sauce (made with smoothie mix), and for dessert, a pumpkin spice "biznut," a biscuit-doughnut hybrid (made with breakfast biscuits).
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A similar dinner was recently held at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, where the menu included a version of beignets filled with grilled chicken and served with the chain’s signature honey mustard sauce. More “chef events” are planned for coming months, a company spokesperson told the AP.
While most of these upscale items aren’t available on nationwide menus, the chain has started to roll out some health-minded tweaks in select markets. You may now have the option to choose egg whites in breakfast sandwiches, a salad instead of fries in Combo Meals, and mandarin oranges will be offered in Happy Meals.
Also on fancying up their fast food offerings is Taco Bell, which plans to launch a new “fast-casual” restaurant called US Taco Co. and Urban Taproom. Menu items will include “premium tacos,” including one with lobster(!), and craft beers. CEO Greg Creed has said he hopes this new version of Taco Bell will attract an eclectic mix of higher-income foodies, who are “edgy in how they live their lives but not necessarily in how they eat.”
While we’re not sure ordering anything at Taco Bell is exactly playing it safe—with our digestive health, at least—we’re somewhat glad to see fast food executives rethinking the standard burger, fries, and milkshake combo.
Tell us in the comments below or @Shape_Magazine: Would you try any of these “gourmet” fast food items?