Earlier this month, I sat down with Chef Daniel Coudreaut, McDonald’s Executive Chef and Senior Director of Culinary Innovation at the McDonald’s First Taste Event.
LookyTasty.com: What does your role as McDonald’s Executive Chef entail?
Daniel Coudreaut: My task is to develop the menu from today forward. What’s on the menu a year from now? five years? ten years? That’s essentially what my job is. Our process has three phases: discovery, develop, and deploy within the McDonald’s system. I’m responsible for the discovery phrase. So I work with marketing, operations, supply chain and we figure out what a priority might be. Then I work with a team of chefs to fill the pipeline with new products, whether it’s for beverages, sandwiches, salads, or breakfast.
Where does the discovery start?
How it works would be. The market research figures out what the business opportunity is. Let’s take smoothies for example. We want a “Destination Beverages” at McDonald’s. We’ll then sit in a room with all the players – supply chain, operations, marketing, and we’ll write a brief. We’re looking at “Destination Beverages”. This is the price point we want to charge. This is the nutritional criteria we want to target. This is the market we’re going after. And that’s pretty much it. They never say, “we want something using mango” or “we want something with pineapple.” We don’t go that far. Then it’s my team’s responsibility to say… What’s the “Destination Beverages” at McDonald’s like? Smoothies are cool, now let’s come up three recipes. What’s in a smoothie? What should be in a smoothie? Probably going to have yogurt, probably some fruit, perhaps some juice. Then we’re there with a blender, putting it together, and everyone tastes it. Then, everyone gets excited and we make it a project. Next step would be, “how do we commercialize it for 14,000 restaurants?”. Then that goes to the development stage.
What’s one ingredient or one dish you would want to see on the menu?
In general I want to see more produce. I love produce. I love working with produce, the color, the texture, the nutritional benefits. We can start working more with produce and we are already starting to, with the salads and the oatmeal with the apples and raisins. The more we can do there, that would make me excited.
What was the favorite/most fun project you worked on/ food item?
My favorite is really this salad here (points to the poster for the Asian salad). I love the fact that we were able to introduce edamame to the American diet. Most fun project I would say… anything we do with dessert, people go crazy. They love desserts. We went with the McFlurry. We introduced the snack size and shrunk the portion size a little bit, which was a great idea. At one point we had the 12 oz and 16 oz. The 16 oz went away and now we have the 8 oz and 12 oz. So we actually shifted the size down without losing any of the indulgence or the fun about it. Anytime we work with desserts, people love it and we have a lot of fun working on it. Another project I really enjoyed working on was the oatmeal and introducing the product for breakfast.
What got you into joining the McDonald’s kitchen?
I was in my house in 2004 and back then I had done hotels and fine dining and everything like that. At that time I was working at a restaurant for Metromedia Restaurant Group – they had restaurants like Bonanza, Bennigans, and Steak and Ale. It was my first job in corporate restaurant dining. I liked this side of the industry because you can have a huge impact. A lot of guests that come into the restaurants. When i was at Metromedia, McDonald’s called in 2004 and I thought about it for like 30 seconds. Thinking about the brand McDonald’s – iconic, American institution. To be able to have a positive impact on that menu was an easy decision. Very awesome. Awesome place to be. It was not a hard decision at all.
What’s something about McDonald’s that you wish people knew more about?
I wished they knew more about the variety we have. I think there’s a picture in people’s mind that McDonald’s has burgers and fries, and that’s it. And I’m looking at that… When was the last time you came to a McDonald’s? Because it’s very diverse. I wish people knew more about that. I wish people gave us more credit for what is actually being cooked at our restaurants. Like the Egg McMuffin, the egg is being cracked by hand – a fresh egg. I remember sitting down with someone like you, I think I was in Nashville and she goes, “Well you know the egg muffin. That’s fake. That’s not a real egg.”
“What do you mean it’s not a real egg?”
“Because it’s perfectly round.”
I was in the restaurant at that time. “Do me a favor and go to the back and get me a flat of eggs.”
We cook the egg in a mold. Chefs have been doing that for years. But there’s this perception that McDonald’s food is not real, the ingredients are not quality, and that’s something I wish people took a little deeper look at what we do.
What is one thing you want to change on the menu?
Clean up our ingredient index. Not all. Some are really good, but there are some, to be honest with ourselves, we can do better. That’s a good place to start. As a chef, I don’t work with a lot of those ingredients at home, so why do we need those ingredients in our food? If it’s for food safety, then that’s one thing, but if it’s for something else… then we have to challenge each other. Does that ingredient really need to be in it? Is there an alternative that makes sense? We want to make sure that what’s in there has a purpose for being in there.
How different is the food item that you develop in your kitchen to what actually is sold in the stores?
The goal would be that not much change at all. So if I’m doing my job up front, trying to work with ingredients that make sense and that we can work with. But if I’m doing it for 10 people compared to 14,000 restaurants, that’s different. There are things we have to go through manufacturing and merchandising. What can we do to minimize that impact of having to have a larger list of ingredients for a product that maybe really doesn’t need to be there? Do we need to rethink it and challenge ourselves? But this Asian salad doesn’t look very much different from when we first worked on it, because we worked collaboratively as a team, and said how can we get there with something like this?
And finally… what would you order at McDonald’s?
I would order fries. I like to get the Number 1, that’s the Big Mac. I’d get unsweetened iced tea. I really like the fruit and yogurt parfait. I love the oatmeal. For breakfast, I like the sausage biscuit. Love the Angus. There’s not too much I wouldn’t order on the menu. It is my menu, so… yeah.
It was fun chatting with Chef Dan. He was very friendly and enthusiastic about his work in McDonald’s kitchen. I’ll conclude this post with a few Cooking Tips from Chef Dan.
- Cook in Season. Ingredients that are in season are typically at their peak of flavor and most economical.
- Keep it Simple. Don’t try and cook like a professional chef when you’re a beginner. First, learn a technique or recipe that interests you and master it. Then, you can venture out and try new, more advanced techniques and recipes.
- Heat the Pan. When cooking, pre-heat the pan and then add the oil. You will achieve a better sear and reduce the chances your food will stick to the pan.
- Taste Often. You have to taste as you go. Because flavors build, evolve and blend, it is important to stay connected with your food all the way through the cooking process.
- Cook with Love! It’s the secret ingredient that makes a good cook a GREAT cook!