Saturday, October 29, 2011

All in One

Whether you use a slow cooker or a casserole dish, the idea is to put a bunch of different ingredients together into one pot, let them cook and serve it up to a hungry audience. Normally you take care to pick certain ingredients, carefully balancing the tastes and textures so just the right flavors come through, and even though it's all coming out of the same pot, there is definition to what you're eating. That is, unless you're Kentucky Fried Chicken.

More specifically, you used to be Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now you're KFC, a nod to both a snappier and shorter tag, along with the realization that these days "fried" is a four-letter word. Admittedly, back when Harland "Colonel" Sanders started the chain it seemed like a name for the ages. But just as Radio Shack no longer sells radios and tries hard not to look like a shack, its hard sometimes to escape your own history.

Regardless of what you call it, the mainstays are still there. Fried chicken, along with the traditional sides like mashed potatoes, corn and gravy. Each is still available to sooth those southern tastebuds that even Yankees have. And there is might have stayed. But then somebody in the R&D department had an idea: What if they put it all together? After all, people are ordering the items separately, so why not save them a step? Not as a Value Meal or Dinner Box or All-In-One, where you package each separate item together is a single carrier. No, I mean really together, as in a casserole. Only they don't have casserole, so they opted for a bowl. And voila', the KFC Famous Bowl was born.

As described on the company website, they start with a "generous serving of our creamy mashed potatoes, layered with sweet corn." Then because two starches are not enough, they added breaded, fried chicken and "drizzle it all with our signature home-style gravy, topped off with a shredded three-cheese blend." And that's the old version. As of this month, you can add bacon on top as well, because as they say in their ad campaign, "everything is better with bacon". Hard to argue with their tag line, "It's all your favorite flavors coming together."

And what a together it is. But it's not the calories (680) or the total fat (31 gms) or even the sodium (2130 mgs) that troubling here, though you can take issue with any of those numbers (and those are all before they add the bacon, which probably adds another 60 calories and a bunch more fat and salt). And it wouldn't be fair not to point out that the chain, like every other one out there, does offer healthier alternatives like salads and grilled chicken. But let's face it: you don't go to KFC to get a yogurt. You go to get fried chicken. Whether or not you go into cardiac arrest after chowing down is between you, your doctor and the Colonel, but it's not like you don't know what you're getting yourself into when you open the door.

Rather, it's the idea of dumping it all into one bowl that's troubling. Yes, some foostuffs are natural compliments: pancakes and syrup, peanut butter and jelly, bagels and cream cheese. But the idea of just layering up virtually every item in the palce and eating them with a spoon starts to sound suspiciously like reverting to baby food, where mom creamed it all together to hide the vegetables. Perhaps its best summed up by Eric Trinidad writing in The Huffington Post: "I felt like I should only be having this when recovering from dental surgery, or if I'm being spoon-fed in a hospital. Have Americans gotten so lazy that we'll just put everything in a bowl and eat it like horses going to a trough?" In fairness, though, he also notes, this: "At the same time, there's something awesome about living in a country that gives us that option."

When I was growing up there was an ice cream place near us that had a special we got only when there was a bunch of us. They took a scoop of every flavor they had, and added every topping available. It was a big gloopy mess, and the name said it all: "A Pig's Dinner." Now I'm sure that the marketing department at KFC thought that "Famous Cheesy Bacon Bowl" had a better chance of bringing them in that that moniker. But especially with the bacon on top, this silk purse is indeed a sow's ear.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes fried chicken, though we rarely eats it. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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