So I ate a hamburger at McDonald’s the other day. Not exactly the most foodie of things to do, but in the interest of hands-on reporting I went in, ordered my burger and since the sun was shining in Milan I took it outside and sat down at one of the tables they have out on Via Paolo Sarpi (the main thoroughfare in the city’s Chinatown).
I never go to McDonald’s. That’s not hyperbole, I really never go. What drew me to the golden arches on this nippy yet sunny fall day in Milan was none other than Gualtiero Marchesi. The Gualtiero Marchesi. Three Michelin starred Gualtiero Marchesi, the first and perhaps still only Italian chef to get three stars. About a month ago Marchesi and McDonald’s got in bed together (hyperbole this time) and announced that the chef had designed two hamburgers and a tiramisu-like dessert to be sold at the American chain’s Italian locations.
My first reaction was, the old man has lost his marbles and wants to make a few bucks before bowing out to a sunny beach somewhere. That also happened to be my second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth reactions. Then I spoke at a conference a few weeks ago on methods for communicating quality (i.e. how do you convince people your high-quality product is worth the 50 percent more it costs compared with the low-quality competition) where the attendees included Marchesi himself.
Several speakers lauded him for his courage, ladida. Then Davide Rampello, chairman of the foundation that runs one of Milan’s coolest museums, the Triennale, got up and said: “Gualtiero Marchesi understands that excellence can be applied to anything. Those who have shown disgust with his decision don’t understand anything.”
I suppose the argument is something like this: lots of people go to McDonald’s, if you want them to understand quality you have to start there. Not very convincing to be honest.
Anyway, so I’m sitting out on Via Paolo Sarpi with my Adagio (classical music also seems to have inspired Marchesi for the name of the other burger, Vivace, and the dessert, Minuetto) and I’ll admit it, it was not without a good deal of curiosity that I took my first bite. One word, if I can steal a line from Otto in A Fish Called Wanda…disappointed!
You could sort of taste the eggplant mousse, but other than that it was your standard fast food burger. The tomatoes, if there were any in there, went unnoticed, as did the ricotta salata and everything else. The bun, advertised as being covered with pieces of almonds, was your standard white bread bun, nutritional value = 0. All that for a cool 640 calories. Throw in the Minuetto’s 300 calories and you are close an even grand without even counting the fries (320 calories for a medium) and drink (200 calories for a medium).
Give them a 1,000-calorie lunch full of fattening foods and then be bewildered why Italians increasingly have waistlines commensurate with their American counterparts. Of course, let’s not forget that McDonald’s is the company that managed to make oatmeal, the healthiest of all healthy breakfast foods, bad for you.
A bit unsatisfied by my 4.70-euro, 600-calorie burger (maybe I should have tried the Minuetto), I left my table there on Via Paolo Sarpi and walked down the street where I satisfied my Chinatown craving with a 1-euro, ???-calorie pork bun.