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October 29, 2009

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New fad turns fast-food burgers, pizza, tacos into fancy 'gourmet cuisine'

A tongue-in-cheek Website "chef" buys fast-food dinners, deconstructs them in his kitchen and turns them into mutant meals resembling haute cuisine. Michael Hill orders.

At, dashboard dining gets a serious - and seriously upscale - makeover.

Big Macs are transformed into elegant strips of "McSteak." Cream-filled Dunkin' Donuts are scooped out to make "Boston Kreme Brulee." And Nathan's hot dogs are mashed into faux foie gras.

The Website is the brainchild of Erik Trinidad, a Brooklyn resident who buys fast-food dinners, deconstructs them in his kitchen and then reassembles them into meals resembling haute cuisine.

The site, which features tongue-in-cheek recipes and luscious photos, has received plenty of media attention in the five months since its debut. And while it may not represent a full-blown culinary trend, it does illustrate the enduring appeal of playing with your food.

"Every day I'm thinking about how absurd it is," Trinidad says.

Trinidad posts new creations about once a week, covering the major fast-food groups of burger, pizza, chicken, tacos, hot dogs and donuts. The restaurants rotate, but the process is the same. He brings a meal home, pulls it apart, then puts it back together (a food processor is often involved) to make it look like a gourmet dish.

He has transformed a fried chicken from Popeyes into "Spicy Chicken Sushi," Taco Bell burritos into a tortellini dish dubbed "Tacobellini" and Domino's veggie pizza into "Dao Mi Noh Chow Mein" (reducing the Diet Coke to syrup in a wok for the "hoisin sauce").

As for the taste? "They all pretty much taste the same," Trinidad says.

Trinidad is a freelance interactive designer and writer with no formal culinary training. But he does have a history of culinary mischief.

He and his brother used to have food styling competitions as kids during family trips to Chinese buffets. Dad would say something like "Do a soup dish" and Trinidad would fetch a bowl of egg drop soup, peel some shrimp to rest on the bowl's edge and drizzle on soy sauce.

Trinidad continued his food styling hobby after he got an apartment with a nice kitchen, posting pictures of his creations on Facebook.

One day, Trinidad ordered a Big Mac Extra Value Meal at McDonald's and decided to trick out his dinner.

He sliced the patties into spears, pureed the French fries with bits of bun for the potatoes and poured the Coke into a wine glass.

He garnished it with the pickle slice and sesame seeds plucked from the bun. Voila: McSteak & Potatoes.

Subsequent Fancy Fast Food dishes have become more ambitious. He has de-cobbed kernels with a corn stripper, used his bamboo sushi roller on a chicken wrap and caramelized donut custard with a kitchen torch.

Under his own rules, the creations can't be augmented with outside ingredients except to garnish, like a lemon peel. Trinidad says the limits inspire creativity, though it may also limit outside submissions. The Website invites others to offer up their creations, but Trinidad has posted just one. He turned down one submission of a cutup McDonald's cheeseburger because it added avocado and arugula.

"That's cheating," he says.

If readers trying to recreate the dish become confused over how to, say, fold a burrito shell into a pasta shape or strip the breading off fried clams, Trinidad links to instructional pictures on Flickr. However the site seems more geared toward looking than to cooking.

"I would never make any of the things they put on there," says Ted Carnahan, a seminarian from Illinois who follows Fancy Fast Food on Facebook. Carnahan keeps up with the site for amusement, not for recipes.

"It kind of points out the extreme low quality of a lot of fast food meals and how, with a little effort, you could do better."

Trinidad's dishes are unique, though there's nothing new about mutant culinary creations. Contestants on the Bravo TV series "Top Chef," for instance, are sometimes given rolls of quarters for vending machines and told to create bite-sized hors d'oeuvres.

Meanwhile, Trinidad is wracking his brains for new dishes.

"I'm just sort of making it up as I go week to week," he says. "The pressure's on."


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