The lost art of mac and cheese
After a particularly bad run-in with a very sad mac and cheese this week, I feel I should speak up. I won’t say where, it’s irrelevant anyways as its all bad mac and cheese at the moment.
I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. This city is ruining mac and cheese.
We have loads of places to go now if you’re in the mood for comfort food. It would seem that when people need to treat themselves, it’s not necessarily to fancy steak house fare anymore. Complete diet rejection would never be done with something as Atkins as a steak au poivre anyways. As far as I’m concerned if you absolutely have to feel better though food, it's fried chicken, corn bread, ribs, burgers, and mac and cheese. Sometimes all at the same time.
Now we have two trends at work; Comfort, and the Do One Thing place. I just made this phrase up, The Do One Thing Place – I don’t know how else to describe places like The Mac Shack, Beard Papa, a million different Ramen places – they just make one thing, with the assertion is they do it well. From a business standpoint you can’t miss here. From a practical standpoint, you have a logistical problem.
Comfort food is actually notoriously fussy. There is a reason why so many foods that we crave from childhood were usually cooked by mom, or grandma; they loved you enough to put the time and energy into making these kinds of dishes. Comfort foods often have long cook times, many ingredients, not to mention requiring knack and skill.
The Do One Thing Place is good for business in that you don’t really need to train staff that extensively. They learn one thing, and repeat constantly. It’s a factory, and a system that works. McDonalds did not get to be a business with $22.8 billion in revenues dealing with individualist chefs with creative control.
So what happens when food which requires love and attention is combined with a less than enthusiastic kitchen staff with no prep time and major production pressures? Disaster.
I recently ate (picked at more like) a macaroni and cheese side that was just buttered macaroni, in a dish, with some cheese on top, melted under a grill. It was a lost in translation moment. Yes, the name is just mac and cheese, but there is a little more to it. But this would require the kitchen to know how to make béchamel, and if that skill is absent, I can guarantee that nobody back in the kitchen has a clue about what going on. Why should they care either? For all intents and purposes, they have delivered what it says on the package.
We’ll see what happens to the new stream of Do One Thing comfort food factory outlets popping up. My guess is that either our taste for what mum used to make will go the way of the fast food hamburger, or they will be outmoded with the likes of salad bars and drive-ins.