I write these Frankenfood posts from time to time and there’s always some intimation that I’m too disgusted by the concept to actually eat the thing I’m writing about. Let me be upfront about this: It’s always a lie. Of course I’m going to eat it. I’m an American. I’m not even going to pretend this time. I will eat the sh*t out of this thing if I ever get my hands on one. The point of the Frankenfood posts is never to suggest that you shouldn’t try these items. The point is to try to gauge how much shame you should feel when you do.
Normally my main problem with stunt food is that, even as over-the-top panders to gluttony, they’re too much of a good thing. The classic example is the Pizza Hut cocktail-weenie pizza. Cocktail weenies are always great; pizza (some pizza) is always great too. Two great tastes that taste great together? In theory, yeah, but when you stagger away from the table all you’re really left with is the fullness that comes from grease on top of grease. Imagine a slice of chocolate cake. Hungry? Now imagine a five-inch-thick layer of some other kind of frosting on top of the chocolate frosting on top of the cake. Still hungry? Or are you suddenly thinking instead of how a solid pound of sugary sludge would feel dropping down that gullet of yours? Frankenfood is to indulgence as Trump is to populism. The crazier each gets with the proverbial (and, in the former case, literal) Cheez Whiz, the more the visceral satisfaction turns to queasiness.
As I say, normally that’s my problem. You’d think it’d be the problem with this cheesy abortion too since you’re getting cheese on top of cheese (on top of carbs). And I do have some doubts about that. How many times have you ever tucked into a bowl of mac ‘n cheese and thought, “What this needs is a heavy dusting of grainy, lower-quality cheese on top”? Even more concerning, Cheeto dust sprinkled on literally any other food will make that food taste like Cheetos, no matter what it is. Are you really getting the taste of Cheetos and mac and cheese here or are you getting the taste of Cheetos with the texture of mac and cheese, in which case who cares? Maybe that’s the next frontier in Frankenfood, though — surprising textures like crunchy burger patties, pizza puree, and so on. A lot of molecular gastronomists have gotten rich on gimmicks like that. Why not Burger King?
But I digress. I can tolerate cheese on top of cheese. What bothers me about Mac ‘n Cheetos is how they came up with the concept. Clearly it had nothing to do with taste, flavor combinations, and so forth. They went looking for a menu item with a memorable hook in the name and went from there. You can imagine the brainstorming session. “Mac and cheese … sticks?” “Mac and cheese … burger?” “Mac and chee … tos!” Everyone knows Cheetos, everyone loves mac and cheese, voila. Same as with that stupid Doritos taco at Taco Bell. The cross-branded item has universal name recognition as a pigout food; blending it with an item of chain-restaurant pigout food communicates instantly that this is a supreme, almost reckless, indulgence. I think that’s lazy Frankenfooding. The cocktail-weenie pizza had the same problem. There was no brand name involved in that one but there didn’t need to be given that all cocktail franks taste the same. Rather than combine ingredients to create an enticing flavor profile, they just threw two traditional pigout foods almost randomly together and left it at that, trusting that the stunt value of overindulgence would bring people in. Rather than trying to surprise the customer with a new flavor profile they’ve come up with, they’re trying to eliminate any chance of surprise by giving you two highly distinct flavor profiles you’ve had a million times. What’s the fun in trying a food when you already know what it tastes like?
Eh. I’ll eat it just to say I did. That’s 80 percent of the reason people try these things anyway. Here’s some dude in California, where the item’s being tested, giving it a shot. Can you guess whether an extra cheesy mac-and-cheese stick passed muster?