By Scott Mechura
EBS Food Columnist
Much like Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and a film like “Sharknado” are on opposite ends of the filmmaking spectrum, it would stand to reason that chefs and fast food would also qualify for that same disparity. But don’t be too sure.
As we continue to homogenize our American palate, and really global cuisine in general, we are seeing more and more connections between chefs and fast food, as well as the general public as a whole.
I can’t tell you how many times we have Hispanic guests ask for soy sauce and Chinese patrons request salsa. And furthermore, the lines are increasingly blurred between talented, upscale chefs and foods that we associate with movie theaters, ballparks, state fairs, and candy stores.
As a nation, we have been slowly moving past the fine dining standard we saw peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s. There was once a time when going tie-less to restaurants was reserved for casual places like Big Sky or the Florida Keys or Austin, Texas. Now, unless you’re entertaining clients for a business dinner, you rarely see jackets and ties in restaurants.
During my last trip to Washington, D.C., “the city of suits,” we dined in a steakhouse and still only saw a handful of jackets and ties. And the restaurants where patrons are required to wear them are falling by the wayside. But—and this is a big but—the quality, creativity, and drive to innovate among talented chefs has never been more evident.
This leaves us in a time when we don’t wear ties while we eat food that’s better in almost every way than the dishes we ate 20 and 30 years ago. Couple that with chefs and waiters who are cooking and presenting amazing culinary attractions wearing T-shirts and headbands, and talented chefs are rolling out dishes out of food trucks fit for a fine-dining experience. (Food trucks are possibly the most noticeable liaison between the fast and casual meal, and the fine-dining dishes prepared by top chefs.)
There are even pastry chefs out there making their own Starburst candy, peppermint patties, candy bars and gumdrops. Less is becoming more. And more is becoming less.
Simultaneously, the public is embracing fast-food industry items like Dairy Queen’s chicken bruschetta, Sonic’s New York-style hot dog, McDonalds’ buttermilk-fried chicken sandwich, and Sriracha-based sauces on burgers and sandwiches from Wendy’s and Jack in the Box.
Sriracha, for those of you who have been living in caves, is the red chili and garlic sauce that’s been heating up Americans for a few decades now. I first tasted the sauce in 1989, and have loved it ever since. Most people associate Sriracha with China, but it is 100 percent made in America and has elbowed its way into the ranks alongside salsa and ketchup across this great nation.
Just as the film and television industries are always trying to re-invent or recreate old movies and shows, chefs are always trying to find a niche; an “in” to the diner’s palette that’s ahead of the curve of fellow chefs, even though it might have been around for decades.
So what next? I think I’ll go and make some homemade Goldfish, or maybe some cotton candy.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.