March 3, 2016
Somehow, this proved as magical as being on a movie set. Forgive our excitement here — none of us from the NYLON team has worked behind-the-scenes at McDonald’s before, and since we haven’t, we had tons of questions going in: what are those strange plastic drawers that the crew pick up their patties and big breakfast items from, is the food preparation truly hygienic and clean, how long do they store food items in the kitchen, and how “fast” can our fast food get?
Well, McDonald’s yesterday gave us a tour of their kitchen and premises at the JEM outlet, prior to the launch of their new Crispy Chicken Sandwich, and it’s safe to say that we were very satisfied. Sit tight as we attempt to get to the bottom of those burning questions.
1. Those mysterious drawers are pretty amazing — and we finally know what they’re called.
Yep, for all those keen observers who are always peering to the back of the kitchen while waiting for your orders, these “drawers” actually have a super-sexy, out-of-this-world name. You’d never guess it: the UHC. That stands for Universal Holding Cabinet, and these specially-designed units serve a key function, that is, to hold certain food items, warm, for a set period of time and temperature.
Each slot indicates the product, time and temperature, and these settings ensure that our food is as fresh as the minute they were made. Our favourite McNuggets, McWings, and also the stuff that go into burgers and breakfast sets, like beef patties, mushrooms and onions, are neatly stored here.
2. Everything gets assembled really fast.
We didn’t exactly time the process, but we have to say, the progress at each station happens so speedily it was hard to snap proper pictures. Firstly, everyone knows how the fries station looks like — what you might not have noticed, is how easy they get salted after coming out from the fryer. Once those Russet Burbank babies are spread out on a metal tray, all it takes is a tip of a special salt shaker that falls like rain and spreads the seasoning as far out as possible, and serves one, controlled, serving all around. Great for even flavour.
Next, the grill. The fast food restaurant uses two types of beef for their patties, sourced from Australia and New Zealand, and they arrive already in a neat patty shape. What’s left is really just placing them on a grill, and pressing this huge lid down, one that’s automated to give an even, double-sided, unscorched cook. Then, a light touch of seasoning. Rest assured, your Quarter Pounders and Big Macs are safe.
After that, comes the burger assembly station. Everything’s packed in neat cabinets or trays for easy access, and we saw a worker easily piling on the ideal ingredients for a cheeseburger on warmed bread, all wrapped up in a matter of seconds.
3. Ordering a Create Your Taste burger meal puts you at a great advantage.
One, you’ll get premium ingredients that includes guacamole, grilled pineapple and tortilla strips, and you get to customise your burger, right down to the buns and type of cheese. Another great thing is that your food is prepared upon ordering, so it’s really the freshest it can be. Plus, the fact that it comes with a nice fries basket and a wooden tray means it should fit into the whole Instagram #aesthetic you’re trying to achieve.
4. Sometimes, staff chill out at the crew room.
This is a small secret room where staff eat their meals and chill out, but it’s also highly essential for one thing: disseminating the tons of information across all 130 restaurants islandwide. Here, you’ll spot a board with materials that talk about their new Breaded Salmon burger, and, so everyone’s on the same page, a TV that loops videos of how to assemble a burger.
We were told that all staff, even corporate ones, have to go through kitchen training, and when you’re there, most staff get rotated across the various stations so everyone gets a chance at different parts of the process.
5. They have a top-secret, locked… pantry.
It’s equivalent to a safe, because, you know, food safety and all that. That said, everything was clean and off the floor, while, expectedly, most of the products in the room temperature area, like sauces and packaging, are stored in cardboard boxes. Then, there’s a chiller where temperatures are kept at 1-4 deg Celsius for things like hotcakes and cinnamon melts. We also stepped inside the freezer, this time at at least -18 deg Celsius, so we were really freezing, and found neat boxes of nuggets and patties.
The whole food storage facility operates in a “first-in-first-out” rule so the items that are closer to their expiry dates get cleared out first, so, yes, we don’t get old, mouldy food. How often they’re stocked depends on each venue — it can be a fast turnover rate or a limited storage space — but items get ordered either daily or twice/thrice a week.
Lastly, since it’s out today, let’s talk a little about the Crispy Chicken Sandwich. This one’s a succulent chicken patty topped with wild rocket leaves, shredded lettuce and tomato slices between two soft semolina buns, which means it sounds exactly like a high-class McChicken. But better, we assure you. The crisp is wonderful against the soft buns, and the sauce, interesting. Order it, starting from $7.50 for a meal.
All this is part of McDonald’s bid to cater to our changing tastes, and it’s no surprise that the new burger was released so soon after their last innovation, the Breaded Salmon burger. What they do is market research, including focus groups (we want in, by the way), to find out what Singapore customers like, and then, coming up with a menu that suits that. Two trends stand out — first, that we’re more keen on nutritious and healthy options, and second, being a well-travelled bunch, we’re open to a more global palette.
It kinda boils down to this though: you create a demand for things and they’ll try to make it happen. Twister fries all year round? A spicier McSpicy? A kimchi burger? Sky’s the limit! No word yet on more shaker fries variations, we did try asking, but we’ll see.