Secret Combinations

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When it comes to food, I’m a simple man with simple pleasures. It doesn’t take a lot of fancy stuff to impress me. Give me a simple meal of Chateaubriand and souffled potatoes in a garlic sauce, accompanied by Chinese snow peas sauteed in an almond-paste reduction, and I’m reasonably content, though I might send the steak back a couple times.

But in the highly competitive world of food and drink, many companies have been trying desperately to lure new customers with crazy concoctions, some of which are so bizarre as to be offensive to nature.

Take Dr Pepper, for example. Dr Pepper is a fine beverage, and is already flavored with a hint of black cherry, as well as a laxative or two. Yet still they felt compelled to introduce Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper, a soda so overloaded with flavors that drinking it makes your mouth angry, like you’ve swallowed a handful of bees.

Coke started these soda variation wars, of course, with its Vanilla Coke and Cherry Coke and Vanilla Cherry Coke and Diet Vanilla Chocolate Cherry Blackberry Coke and Caffeine-Free Diet Lemon-Lime Orange Cherry Purple Horseshoes Coke. Their latest is Coca-ColaBlak, which is regular Coke mixed with coffee. For real! Two very different, very strong, very bitter tastes, all in one soda! “Coke effervescence with coffee essence” is how the commercials describe it, in a campaign of nearly unrivaled pretentiousness. They also call the drink “sophisticated,” because only really cosmopolitan, big-city types drink coffee, you know.

What does it taste like? Oh, it tastes awful, obviously. It’s like licking the armpit of a coffee-soaked monkey. No one could drink it and think, “Mmm! Refreshing!” In fact, no one could drink it and think anything, because one sip causes your taste buds to beat your brain with a lead pipe. I have to assume that no one at Coke actually sampled the product before sending it out, the same way CBS never watched “Two and a Half Men” before airing it.

Luckily, the fast food chains’ attempts at mixing and matching have been far more appealing. First there’s Taco Bell, whose entire product line consists of just these elements: beans, rice, beef, steak and chicken. Add your choice of tortillas — flour or corn — and it’s still not very many possible combinations. Their solution? Slap them all together into the delicious and awe-inspiring Crunchwrap Supreme.

The Crunchwrap Supreme slathers beef and nacho cheese on a hard corn tortilla. Then lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream go on top of that. Then the whole thing is wrapped in a flour tortilla, which is grilled. The result is both delicious and nutritious, containing elements from the four food groups (meat, dairy, fruits/vegetables, and tortilla).

The other nice thing about the Crunchwrap Supreme, aside from the taste explosion, is that it’s portable. That outer tortilla keeps everything inside, so that you can actually eat it while driving. With other Taco Bell items, you’d be a madman to attempt it, as two or more hands are usually required to keep all the sloppy components contained.

Kentucky Fried Chicken is the latest chain to jump on the combination bandwagon. The company has been struggling for a while now, even changing its name to the initials “KFC” in order to seem healthier (no more “fried”), more humane (“chicken” gets the PETA people worked up), and less backwards (seriously, “Kentucky”?).

And now KFC is back in the limelight with its new KFC Bowl. I was stunned when I saw the commercial. It looked too good to be true: a bowl of mashed potatoes, covered with gravy, sprinkled with corn, topped with chicken, and then smothered in cheese. The idea is basically this: Let’s take all the things you normally buy at KFC and pile them into one trough, so you can eat them all at the same time like the disgusting pig you are. (I am paraphrasing.)

Needless to say, I was intrigued. By the corn, especially. Mashed potatoes and gravy is normal, of course, and it’s not uncommon to put cheese on it. And sure, why not throw some chicken on there? But corn? I wouldn’t have thought of corn.

That’s why I don’t make the big KFC dollars. Because as it turns out the corn gives the item a dash of color, as well as a bit of sweetness. The chefs at KFC laboratories surely know what they’re doing. The KFC Bowl is monstrously delicious, a dream come true for people who want to eat several different items but hate the hassle of having to eat them separately.

In that spirit, I’ve carefully researched some ideas for concoctions that I think would work at other fast food places. If representatives from any of these companies are reading this, my fee starts at $1 million but is negotiable.

The McDonald’s McBucket. On a bed of french fries are two hamburger patties and all the associated condiments, covered with a blanket of Chicken McNuggets. A chocolate shake is drizzled around the perimeter, and it’s garnished with special sauce. The whole thing is served in a collectible bucket featuring images from whatever summer blockbuster McDonald’s made a deal with.

Baskin-Robbins’ 32nd Flavor. The newest flavor at Baskin-Robbins? Equal portions of the other 31, all scooped into a 10-gallon drum!

Burger King’s Royal Feast. Exactly the same as the McDonald’s thing, but with commercials bragging about how it’s better.

Until about three years ago, I thought Chateaubriand was a kind of wine or champagne. Doesn't it sound like a fancy French bottle of something? Anyway, it's not. It's steak. And the rest of that opening paragraph, with all the fancy food? I made up stuff that sounded snooty. I have no idea what Chinese snow peas are, or even what an almond-paste reduction would be.

As appalling as they are, the Crunchwrap Supreme and the KFC Bowl really are my favorite things right now. With their support, I will become the fattest man on my block.

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