Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not one of those foodies who has fast food shame. I believe that one of life’s perfect meals is a McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish with fries and a vanilla shake, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. There’s something deep in my psyche — and, I think, the psyche of most Americans — that finds tremendous contentment in these neatly-wrapped, efficient meals. The very best fast food is ultra-satisfying, goal-oriented eating. The diner wants a delicious experience, and he or she wants it — and gets it — now.
But as this week’s episode showed, high-end chefs can have subtle forms of schizophrenia when it comes to fast food. I imagine almost any Top Chef Masters-caliber toque would tell you that there’s a vast difference between the world of fine dining and the world of heat-lamp burgers; a difference in quality, in philosophy, and in the care that goes into each dish. That may be the case in some instances, but I’m not sure it’s the universal divide that some of this week’s chefs made it out to be. Good food is good food, whether it comes from a corporate test kitchen or a Top Chef Master. With the exception of Floyd, all of this week’s contenders were born and (largely) raised in North America, which means that in some way or another, all of them grew up around fast food. Americans know fast food. We know how it should look, taste, smell, and feel going down. When we hear that voice come crackling over the drive-thru intercom, we start to gear up for a very specific, deeply satisfying, easily portable meal.