First course: French onion soup with caramelized onions. Mini meatballs with chipotle aioli sauce (made with garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and egg yolk).
Second course: Green Salinas Valley salad with citrus blueberry vinaigrette. Chicken breast stuffed with apple, cranberry and Canadian bacon.
Third course: Chocolate espresso cake (gluten-free) drizzled with strawberry.
As we savored this elegant meal served as part of a “Field to Restaurant” event at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif., we were introduced to the celebrity chefs who created it. Gene Sakahara and Sam Bozzo of Gilroy Garlic Festival fame took their bows and received our wows.
But the biggest wow was that they created this meal entirely from ingredients found at McDonald’s restaurants.
Don’t expect this menu at McD’s anytime soon, though. (I already asked.) It was only to get our attention that this fast food features fresh, quality ingredients.
I must admit, they did a good job. We started the morning in the middle of a robust field of crisp green romaine lettuce owned by Taylor Farms – local supplier of McDonald’s restaurants.
But not before we had removed all our jewelry (even watches), donned extremely unstylish nets over all hair (beards included), disinfected our hands and slapped on latex gloves. These guys don’t fool around with food safety.
“The U.S. has the most stringent food safety laws in the world,” said our tour guide Martin Flewell of Taylor Farms. “And California has the most stringent regulations in the nation.”
We were then marched down rows of romaine to watch up close how intricate machines and 1,200 people a day harvest 20 million pounds of lettuce a week. And we were told that within 24 hours, all the pretty lettuce in this field would be harvested, cleaned, chopped, bagged and on its way to McDonald’s restaurants nationwide.
More than 80 percent of the leafy greens in the U.S. come from the Salinas Valley, said Flewell.
“It’s the best place on earth to grow lettuce and strawberries, due to the cold, nutrient-rich water of Monterey Bay to our west that keeps temperatures cool and fairly constant year-round. This valley “truly is the ‘Salad Bowl of the World.’”
So what else did I learn on this Field to Restaurant tour?
Fast food can be made with fresh ingredients. Salad lettuce at McD’s may even be fresher than what we buy in the supermarket. That’s because they adhere to a shorter “use by” date (10 days) compared to other retailers who normally “use by” 14 days from packaging.
Fresh salad mixes that have been washed do not have to be rewashed at home. In fact, says Taylor Farms, we can recontaminate produce at home with dirty hands, utensils or cutting boards.
We should use bagged salad mixes by the “best if used by” date on the package. “This is not wine, it’s lettuce,” Flewell reminded us.
Also, all the English Muffins at McD’s are whole grain. That’s a good start.
We have choices. McD’s assures me their restaurants will “make to order” what we want at their restaurants, such as substituting egg white on any breakfast sandwich or apple slices for french fries. And they have recently made a commitment to improve the nutritional profile of kids’ Happy Meals.
And we still need to maneuver around the double bacon cheeseburgers. That’s the first course.