Sept. 29, 2009— -- The world of haute cuisine is not entirely immune to the greasy allure of fast food. Some of the nation's most distinguished chefs have confessed to weaknesses for fast food staples.
For Bobby Flay, it's any cheeseburger. For David Chang, chicken nuggets ("It could be in any shape or form, chicken wings, I know that's not natural," Chang said. "A chicken with a hole in it, you know, but I love those things").
For Thomas Keller, it's In-N-Out Burger. For Patrick Connelly, it's "anything out of a squeeze bottle, mustard, cheese." For Pete Daversa, it's all of the above: "McDonald's, Burger King, Ho Hos, I don't care," he said. "It's all good in my belly."
Despite their confessions, the worlds of food fast and fine have generally kept their distance. Until recently, that is, when a Brooklyn-based food blogger started taking fast food staples, pulling them apart and putting them back together to create fancy cuisine. Think "Extreme Makeover," but with a Big Mac.
A Web designer by day, Erik Trinidad comes up with recipes using fast food and posts them on his Web site in his free time. The site, fancyfastfood.com, has become an Internet sensation, with more than a million hits.
Trinidad has turned cream-filled Dunkin' Donuts into Boston Kreme Brulee. A Taco Bell Burrito Supreme into a Tacobellini. Nathan's hot dogs into Faux Foie Gras. Domino's pizza into DominNoa Chow Mei. The success of Trinidad's blog has landed him a book deal, which is not bad for a guy with no formal culinary training.
But how does it taste?
To explore this new fast food frontier, "Nightline" brought Bon Appetit restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton to Trinidad's Brooklyn kitchen.
"My New Year's resolution was to eat [fast food] only on a road trip," Trinidad announced as the cooking got under way. "I've completely broken it."
The first step for Trinidad is to focus on what fast food restaurants offer. "I stare and stare and work it out in my head," he said. "Sometimes, after the fact, I'll have the bag in my hand and think, is there anything else I could have gotten?"
Trinidad pushes the limits of his creativity by creating rules for himself to follow. Every dish has to come entirely from one fast food chain. He can't add ingredients, even water. He'll use ice cubes from a soft drink instead. He scrapes spices from chicken breading.
Knowlton joined Trinidad on a day he deconstructed a Wendy's meal to make chicken mole.
"Are you going to reduce that [Wendy's chili] to concentrate?" Knowlton asked.
"No, I'm going to keep it like this and add Frosty to it," Trinidad said.
"Frosty? You sure you want to do that?"
"Well, that's the chocolate part of the mole."
"I like a Frosty," Knowlton said. "I don't think it's right to do that to a Frosty."
The pair sat down to test the results.
"This is better than airplane food," Knowlton said. "That's a compliment, by the way."
"Absolutely," Trinidad said. "I mean, my palate isn't as refined as yours."
"Well, it takes a refined palate to test this, it's pretty -- pretty decent. I can't taste the Frosty, it's a little fudgy."
Tapas Made From White Castle
But it was never about taste for Trinidad, he said. He just wanted to make fast food fancy.
It's not always appetizing to watch.
Tapas made from White Castle? To transform the food, Trinidad scrubs down bacon, de-breads clams and puts fries in a food processor. The result? Croquettes, of course.
"You actually spend more time than a four-star chef on some dishes," Knowlton said.
"I wouldn't doubt that," Trinidad replied.
"Do you ever just want to cheat?"
"I do feel like cheating, all the time. But then where's the integrity?"
"I don't know how we're talking about integrity," Knowlton joked, picking up a piece of meat with White Castle's trademark holes.
Later, that punctured meat, with a little Coca-Cola reduction, is used to make meatballs. Of course.
"I'll try the albondigas [meatballs, in Spanish]. Then I'll try the french fry ... croquettes," Knowlton announced.
"This must be weird," he told Trinidad, "because you must never have thought that, like, 'Nightline' would be here, and some food snob sitting in your kitchen. That wasn't your intention."
"No, not at all," Trinidad said. "This is all about looking good."