Friday, June 1, 2012

Fat? Don't Blame McDonald's

Posted By on Fri, Jun 1, 2012 at 1:21 PM

Chef Dan Coudreaut
  • Chef Dan Coudreaut
In case you've been losing sleep over fears that the your Quarter Pounders and Big Macs could be swept away in the wake of the obesity epidemic, rest easy. Chef Dan Coudreaut — senior director of culinary innovation for McDonald's USA and the man the Chicago Tribune called "the most powerful chef in America" — says it ain't gonna happen.

"If we were to close our doors tomorrow," he told a small group of food writers and journalists gathered yesterday at downtown's Carnegie Avenue McDonald's, "the obesity problem would not go away. It's a much bigger conversation than that. Moderation, choices, exercise, education...those are the things we should be concentrating on."

The trim, fit, 46-year-old father of two is a 1995 graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. After gigs that included serving as club chef at the Dallas Four Seasons, and as director of culinary product development for Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouse, he hitched up with McD's in 2004.

Coudreaut was in Cleveland as part of brief Ohio tour that had included Columbus stops earlier in the week. His visit here was casual and informal, and consisted mainly of fielding sometimes pointed questions from his small audience. Many of those questions, not surprisingly, focused on obesity and local sourcing. Also not surprising: Coudreaut's well-practiced responses.

As the company's top product-development toque, the chef says he eats McDonald's food everyday. "I see nothing on our menu that is unhealthy," he told the polite but professionally dubious group. "There is nothing wrong with having a hamburger, french fries, and a milkshake. It's all a question of balance and personal choice. I control if I choose to overeat, or go to the gym, or take the stairs. People are free to eat the way that fits best with their lifestyle."

That said, Coudreaut also takes credit for adding a number of "healthy choices" to the menu, including Asian and Southwest salads, smoothies, and the newest option: a 290-calorie portion of blueberry-banana-walnut oatmeal.

Just don't expect those blueberries — or the veggies in your salad or the eggs on your McMuffin — to come from local sources. Ensuring the safety of the food-supply chain was the primary reason Coudreaut cited for the company's reluctance to buy local — a concern that rings a little hollow in the face of the myriad successful local-foods distributors cropping up across the country.

"To say that we will never (source local) isn't true," he eventually responded to repeated questions. "But to say we will...I can't say that with a straight face."

For Coudreaut, though, the bottom line is this: Meeting the demands of the 27 million people who stop at McDonald's each day. "Giving my customers a salad or a smoothie or oatmeal makes good business sense because that's the way people are eating today. One thing about us is we are not afraid to change. Five years ago, you wouldn't have expected to see oatmeal on the menu. But we listen to our customers and as tastes change, we change."

That said, Coudreaut was happy to explain that certain popular items are always going to be seasonal regardless of customer demand.

Translation? Still no Shamrock shakes in July, no matter how much you want 'em. — Cicora

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