Why Do All Fast Food Restaurants Assume You Want the Combo?

I am a home cooking enthusiast who prepares most all of our meals from scratch, but I still very much enjoy a good fast food hamburger, particularly during working hours when I’m busy running errands. It’s just so tempting to turn into a drive through lane. They each have their own unique style of burger, but there is one thing that seems to unite every single fast food restaurant; a complete inability to contemplate that someone would ever consider ordering a burger without fries and a soft drink.

Almost without fail, whenever I order a hamburger the person will either ask me what I would like for the drink or if I would like to large size the meal. Then I have to clarify that it is just the burger that I want and they have to go and change the order, no doubt cursing me under their breath for being so difficult. It isn’t that I don’t like fries or soft drinks, it’s just that I enjoy the burger more and I don’t feel it is worth doubling the calories of my lunch to add the French fries.

What I find surprising is that it must be exceedingly rare for anyone to ever not get the combo. If people were regularly just getting a single hamburger I’m sure they wouldn’t automatically assume combos, but I get the impression that people must go weeks without every coming across a customer who declines to go for the combo. I understand that combos can be a good deal, but surely I’m not the only person who just wants to grab a burger to hold me over until supper?

I Think I Know the Secret Ingredient in Mary Brown’s Fried Chicken

Most people reading this probably have not heard of Mary Brown’s fried chicken restaurants, but it is more popular than Kentucky Fried Chicken in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and has numerous locations throughout Atlantic Canada as well as in Ontario and Alberta. Its expansion over the years has pretty much tracked the migration of Newfoundland workers, first to Toronto, and then to Alberta, where Newfoundlanders make up a disproportionately large portion of workers in the oil industry.

Much like KFC, Mary Brown’s aficionados have frequently tried to replicate the recipe, with varying levels of success. I’ve never tried to replicate any famous fast food recipes myself, but in trying to create my own chicken finger recipe I think I may have stumbled upon the secret ingredient that has prevented anyone from successfully replicating it in the past; Aleppo pepper.

I ordered some Aleppo pepper online after seeing it used in a Million Dollar Chicken recipe video on YouTube, and I decided to add some to my chicken finger recipe to give it a little extra zip. That was in addition to my standard ingredients of salt, pepper, thyme and oregano. The first thing I thought of was how much it reminded me of the Mary Brown’s taste.

This was not long after a story appeared on the local news that Mary Brown’s was expanding into Turkey. As the chain had always chosen to stick to areas with a sizeable concentration of Newfoundlanders, expanding into Turkey seemed strangely random and made no sense. But Aleppo pepper comes from that region and is a very commonly used spice in Turkey, and so if that is indeed one of the main ingredients then the decision suddenly seems a little less random, albeit still a curious one. This is obviously just idle speculation on my part, but before you dismiss the idea, try adding a little Aleppo pepper to your homemade fried chicken recipe and see if it tastes strangely familiar.

Williams Food Equipment

If you like high end kitchen tools, but don’t happen to live in a big city like Toronto, then you probably do most of your shopping online. Kitchen supplies, particularly high end knives, are often sold through smaller, more specialized niche companies, which can make making a purchase seem like a leap of faith. I have bought from many online retailers with varying degrees of success. I am writing today about one of the best, Williams Food Equipment.

Williams Food Equipment appears to be one of the largest suppliers of “food equipment” in the country. They have a large selection of just about every type of kitchen product. I have bought several Wusthof knives and Le Cruset pots and pans from them and have no major complaints about any of my purchases. They generally have products in stock, which is big factor when buying online. Some retailers have slick looking websites but are small and unable to maintain much inventory, so you sometimes have to wait weeks, if not months, to receive your order.

My first order from Williams did take almost two weeks to ship, but that was an exception. My other orders shipped right away. One great thing about them is that they are very responsive. When you go the website a chat window will open, and they will actually respond to you quite quickly. When my first order was delayed, someone would always respond to my inquiry. They were honest about the fact that my knives were not in stock when I made my purchase and that they were waiting on a shipment from Germany.

One thing that some people find slightly annoying about the site is that while you are browsing a chat window will pop up. Most people hate pop ups but the saving grace for this website is that they seem to employ some bright, good natured people to man the chat rooms. One night I decided to have a little fun with them just to see how they would react, and the person on the other end was both professional and good-natured. I have included an excerpt of the exchange below.

Williams Food Equipment Chat


One thing that rubs me the wrong way a little bit is that they are one of these retailers that always have a major sale. I am on their mailing list, so every week I get notified of a major sale. Valentine’s sale, St. Paddy’s day sale, Easter sale, lunar eclipse sale, etc. You need to browse the site regularly and compare to other sites to be clear on what exactly is a sale is and what isn’t. Generally you will find that even if you are not getting the once in a lifetime deal you thought, you can be usually be confident that you aren’t paying any more than you would at any other site.

The Sculpin is the World’s Least Respected Fish

The current culinary trend seems to be to not just to eat every part of an animal, but to eat all animals, except of course, seals and anything that may be kept as a pet. This trend, though it has dramatically accelerated in recent years, has actually been in place for decades. A century ago in Newfoundland, (where I am from), rich people would eat codfish and serve the hired help lobster. Lobster were (rightly) viewed as marine insects and people who could afford to pick and choose what they ate wanted nothing to do with them. Now, of course, lobster is one of the more expensive types of seafood you will find in your grocery store. In Newfoundland these days any high end restaurant will have all manner of marine insects on their menu and you can even find yourself a seal burger, but there is one fish that has been conspicuously absent from any restaurant menu; the sculpin.

If you don’t know what a sculpin is and don’t like googling things, just walk out on any wharf in Newfoundland on a calm day, look down at the water, and the ugliest, scariest fish you see is a sculpin. It has an oversized mouth, oversized lips, bulging eyes, and has long, sharp spines on its back and fins. With the exception of the past decade or so, Newfoundlanders have been poor for much of the past several hundred years, with many people going hungry. No Newfoundlander, however, has ever been so hungry that he would resort to eating a sculpin, even though they are the easiest fish in the world to catch.

Sculpins just hang around wharves. Salt water is crystal clear compared to salt water, so on a sunny day you can just drop your hook and bait right in front of the Sculpin’s face. They generally put up little fight, so you just reel them in after they take the bait. The first fish I ever caught was a sculpin. I was very proud. Then my buddy’s father took it off the hook and threw it back in the water. It was probably caught 10 times that week. If you live near the ocean you can literally eat them for free, yet nobody does.

My local grocery store sells frog legs and octopus for twice the price of codfish, yet nobody eats sculpin for free. People seem to eat everything these days, but it seems so odd that nobody has ever tried to eat a sculpin. It may very well taste awful, but it can’t be any more awful than half the things people are eating these days.

David Cameron Doesn’t Know How to Eat a Hot Dog

Today I saw a picture of the British Prime Minister eating a hot dog with a knife and fork. It wasn’t a secret photo of him at home or on vacation published by a tabloid. No, this was a media event organized by David Cameron himself at the house of a regular person who would be benefiting from some changes that his government had made to the tax system. He knew everything he did was being recorded for all the country to see, he ate a hot dog with a knife and fork.

When some people in North America saw that picture, they might have assumed that cutting up hot dogs with knives and forks is some of strange British custom, like soccer rioting and needing a license to watch television. I’m not British, but I did spend a year in England, and during my time there I saw a number of people eat hot dogs. None of them used either a knife or a fork. They simply picked up the hot dog with their hands just like every other person anyone has ever seen eating a hot dog.

There isn’t a politician in North America whose political career could survive a picture of them eating a hot dog with a knife and fork. Bill Clinton’s reputation would be worse today if he had eaten a hot dog with a knife and fork instead of cheating on his wife with an intern in the Oval Office. People can relate to cheating on their wives; they can’t relate to eating a hot dog with a knife and fork.

The problem for David Cameron is that he has never been photographed using the wrong fork during a meal. He has no trouble selecting the proper fork for the salad, the main course, and the desert. He no doubt switches his fork to his left hand for cutting and then back to his right hand for eating. He knows the proper glass to drink Champaign out of and certainly knows that black caviar is better than red caviar, but yet he doesn’t know how to eat a hot dog.

That David Cameron will likely survive this embarrassing photo says a lot about politics in the UK. The British have long been accustomed to being governed by people who were raised in a life of privilege, went to exclusive private schools and, and have little connection to the average person. Ronald Reagan’s father was a salesman in rural Illinois. Bill Clinton’s father died before he was born and had an abusive, alcoholic step-father. Barack Obama’s parents broke up when he was an infant and spent much of his later childhood being raised by his parents.

It is tempting to pass off that hot dog photo and just one of a thousand funny but meaningless pictures of a politician, but it is much more than that. While North American political leaders come from all walks of life, and even have different colour skin, British Prime Ministers almost always grew up in a life of privilege apart from the common person. The hot dog photo explained that much better than a thousand words could ever do.

Who Does Like Ice Cold Camembert?

Senator Nancy Ruth has taken a lot of heat over her comments about refusing to settle for her free breakfast of ice cold Camembert and broken crackers, but I can’t help but find the criticism a little overdone. Camembert is a soft cheese that is meant to be spread over crackers or a nice bread. If it is ice cold it is impossible to spread. It is unclear whether the senator was served broken crackers or if they were broken when she tried to spread the cold cheese on them. I suspect it was the latter.

Some things are perfectly fine served a little cold; pizza, cheddar, revenge. Camembert is not one of them. If it is too cold to spread on the crackers, what the hell was this woman supposed to do with it? Pick it up in her hand like a Pizza Pop and just start chowing down on it? In these days of camera phones and airplane Wi-Fi, a picture of a senator gnawing on big Camembert disc would have gone viral before the plane even landed.

I will confess that I am biased by the fact that I don’t much care for Camembert myself. If I want cheese and crackers I generally stick with plain old cheddar. I never know quite what to do with the rind. I know it’s edible, but edible and appetizing are not the same; they aren’t even synonyms. If you don’t eat the rind, you end up making a god awful mess of things trying to just get at the soft cheese. It’s just not worth the trouble. Nancy Ruth may well be a typical senator’s sense of privilege and entitlement, but I can’t blame her for taking a stand against cold Camembert.