McDonald’s is the last place most people would look for celebrity chefs whipping up French demi-glace sauce served with gourmet gnocchi and slow-cooked beef.
But in an attempt to change negative public perception of its ingredients, the fast-food giant is hosting a New York City dinner Thursday night featuring dishes decidedly more upscale than its assembly-line burgers and Dollar Menu deals.
The company invited a phalanx of media and other opinion-makers to try out a multi-course meal prepared by professional chefs using standard McDonald's food.
None of the dishes will reach McDonald's drive-thrus, at least not in the near future. But company spokespeople said the exercise will help engender new ways to think about the existing menu and highlight the chain's ingredients.
At the event, dietitian Jessica Foust, who manages McDonald's nutrition and culinary division, will craft mojitos made with the chain's Mango Pineapple Smoothie base. Her beef and gnocchi dish will be made with McDonald's French fries, another smoothie base, carrots and meat normally used for burger patties.
As McDonald's struggles to keep sales growing at the fast clip maintained during the recession, the chain is spicing up its menu with Habanero Ranch sauce and rice wine vinegar in its McWraps – bolder flavors that "weren't as acceptable five to seven years ago," Foust said.
"You can find these ingredients in grocery stores and some of the most fine dining in the country," she said in a recent interview. "We're helping people understand that it's food – that's all it is."
James Tahhan, star of cooking shows on Telemundo and Utilisima, will create tortilla espanola with garlic and saffron aioli using the fast-food company's hash browns, eggs and onions. There will also be Kung Pao chicken made using Chicken McNuggets by Dale Talde, a contestant on Bravo's Top Chef show.
Aaron McCargo Jr., winner of the Next Food Network Star competition and host of the Big Daddy's House show on the television network, will present barbecue chicken.
The ingredients? McDonald's crispy chicken, hash browns, Chipotle BBQ sauce, cheddar jack cheese and espresso.
Recently, in a production studio in the City of Industry, McCargo prepped his dish as McDonald's film crews looked on. The chef worked at McDonald's while in culinary school, flipping burgers for nearly two years, he said.
If the chain were to "jazz up its meals" by incorporating more upscale elements, "it would really change the dynamics of everyone in the fast-food industry," McCargo said. "Everyone would jump on the bandwagon. No one would turn their noses up at it as long as the price point is right."