Burger King is rethinking and revising its menu. Branded Cinnabon cinnamon rolls are now available in some markets (at $1.99 apiece or two for $3.29, three for $5.99); it has introduced the $5 Chef’s Choice and $1.99 BK Toppers burgers; and it has recently upgraded its fries and bacon. The bacon-and-oyster Hangtown Fry isn’t on the menu, but John Koch, Executive Chef and Director of Product Innovation for Culinary Research & Development, says he’d love to give it a shot. Koch (pronounced “cook”) talked to BurgerBusiness.com about the process of creating new menu items.
BurgerBusiness.com: Talk a little about the development of the Chef’s Choice burger you brought out in October. It seems like an important shift toward a more “artisan” culinary style for Burger King
Chef John Koch: Well, we set out by asking, “How can we make the most premium burger in the category? What would it look like to have a bacon-topped cheeseburger where every element is as good as we can make it?” So we put together a 100% ground chuck patty that’s seasoned, of course, with thick-cut hardwood-smoked bacon and thick cut cheese, romaine lettuce, red onion and a sauce we designed just for that sandwich.
How many sauce variations do you think you tried before you hit one you thought was completely right?
We probably went through at least a dozen before we settled on the one that’s on there today.
What was the toughest element of the sandwich to get right?
You know, I think the toughest was the bun. I bet we looked at 50 variations and then tweaked the final variation over and over again before we got the bun we were completely happy with.
If the bun was that important, does that mean you’ll look at improved buns for future burgers and sandwiches?
We’re always looking to make improvements in our core products or introduce new items. But absolutely, buns will be part of our consideration.
When you’re developing a new menu item, you have so many variables to consider: food cost, menu price point, ease of execution by crew, etc. How do you juggle or prioritize those elements?
I’ve been a restaurant owner and operator myself, so it’s pretty easy for me to think about what’s important on the front line [of a kitchen line]. I just approach it by thinking of the people who will have to serve that burger each and every day, and asking how I can put it together in a way that will work for the people on that line
Beef prices have gone up significantly in the past year. Are you creating items with a certain menu-price point in mind?
We always have to be cognizant of what an item may sell for, but as with the Chef’s Choice, if a product is at a premium price and people really like it, then it’s a good value. Then it works.
Are you looking at developing new items for the value-price end of the spectrum as well?
Sure. We have to look at the entire [price] spectrum and ask how we can offer something that will be delicious and interesting regardless of price.
I know you’re a BurgerBusiness.com subscriber, but how else do you keep up with burger trends?
Personally, I like to go out and experience a lot of burgers personally! I look at a number of sites and industry publications. But checking out independent restaurants is a great way to find out what’s happening.
Do you have a favorite food that you wish you could adapt to the Burger King menu but you just haven’t found a way to do it?
I do have a favorite food, but I haven’t thought of putting it on the Burger King menu. It’s a Hangtown Fry. You might not be familiar with it, but it’s a West Coast dish from the 1800s. It’s scrambled eggs, fresh oysters and crispy bacon, and it is to die for.
OK, that might not be ready for the BK menu. But if not oysters, have you been looking more closely at other proteins: chicken, turkey, pork?
Those are always under consideration. If they resonate with consumers, you’ll see us do more things [beyond beef].
How do you explain the continuing popularity of burgers?
I think they’re just satisfying on a visceral level. They’re convenient and they put everything you want right there. You get bread, that satisfaction from cooked meat and all the flavor complexity: salty and savory and even acidic if you have a sauce. It’s really everything that your body craves all at once. I don’t know anything else that’s quite that satisfying.
Except maybe bacon?
Well, a burger with bacon. Then you’re really there.