Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Great Taste Tour

You may or may not have known but I love KFC, heck that's where the inspiration for the name of my blog came from! Yes I know many of you would deem it to be unhealthy and in the present day with everyone changing their lifestyles to lead a much healthier one, one would agree that fried foods are the ones to stay away from but my argument is, one should eat in moderation and also look at other foods you consume as they might not be as healthy as you think if large quantities are consumed.  

However back to the topic at hand. Recently KFC invited yours truly to a once in a life time experience where I was flown to Johannesburg to spend the day with the KFC team along with the members from the PR team at Ogilvy and other journalists. The event dubbed "Great Taste Tour" was put in place to celebrate the launch of the Colonel's autobiography along with a cook book containing recipes from the Colonel himself. These recipes were recently discovered in the archives in Louisville, USA and the guys at KFC thought it would be a good idea to release it to the public.

I arrived in Johannesburg on Tuesday evening and made my way to the Southern Sun Hyde Park Hotel, where a meet and greet session was arranged for everyone going on the Great Taste Tour. I met the various personnel from Yum brands, Ogilvy as well as the journalists and "twitter influences" (as they liked to call us) we discussed the brand and traditions of KFC over drinks and dinner later on that evening. Getting to know everyone and what their roles entailed as well as obtaining an inside feel to the chain was a real eye opener for me and got me even more excited for what was in store for us the following day.

Yum brand execs answering questions
The next day, we were summoned to the lobby after breakfast to board a shuttle that would take us to our first stop, the Emmarentia branch of KFC. Once there we were met by Jason Kerr, Doug Smart and Owen Viljoen of Yum/KFC as well as Daryl Milne of Rainbow Chicken Farms. We were given a chance to ask questions while group of 3's were escorted into the kitchen for a tour on what exactly goes on in the back. While I patiently waited my turn, it gave me a good opportunity to ask the people in charge, questions that fascinated me about the brand. From which is the largest store in terms of size, how much it costs to open up a branch and what this entails, to how they come up with the items on the menu. I also learned more about the chickens being used from Rainbow as that tends to be a touchy subject with the animal activists.

breading the chicken

Not long after that, it was my turn along with my fellow influences to go into the kitchen. Upon entry we were asked to put on a hair net, wash our hands and sanitize them. All this being standard practise of any store, cleanliness in an environment with food preparation is a must. Once all scrubbed up, we were escorted around the back with Jason Kerr and shown the prep area where the chicken was made. To my surprise, the actual breading of the chicken involved 2 processes, quite detailed ones but it all seemed pretty easy if you know what you're doing. Basically they take the chicken from the fridge, give it a rinse and it is placed in a dish which contains flour, the 11 secret herbs and spices and powdered egg and milk. Now there is a special routine to coating the chicken as we found out after one of the influences, Rabin Harduth's poor attempts were shot down. The staff have to follow 7 steps of folding the chicken into the breading, before patting it down another 10 times. There after they remove 2 pieces at a time, dusting the excess with a tap and shake of their hands.The pieces are then placed into the trays for the frying basket with each piece placed in a certain way on the tray to avoid "marriage" in the fryer. The drum stick is the only piece to receive a double coating to give it that extra crisp texture and avoid it from exploding while frying. Once ready, the trays are slotted into the basket and placed into the pressure fryers where they are left to fry for approximately 15 minutes. 

The secret 11 herbs and spices
 While the chicken was being cooked, we took a tour of the stock rooms where we found boxes of the secret 11 herbs and spices and tons of the yummy mayo that goes onto the burgers, we tried to sneak some out but were caught in the process, unlucky for us. All veggies are freshly packed in vacuum sealed packages with best before dates. They purchase fresh produce as much as possible;things like coleslaw are made in the store as apposed to being made in a central kitchen so it is as fresh as it can be. We also learnt more about the hygiene aspect, how they have separate buckets of water and cleaning agents for area's indicated by colour for raw food and cooked food. All their utensils and dishes are air dried once washed to ensure no bacteria is transferred. 

various clocks
Making our way to the food preparation area I noticed there were about 5 clocks on display, each showing different times, these were to keep track of the various items that were being cooked because KFC pride themselves on the freshness of their product, each item only has a certain time limit to be sold. Each store has generated its unique forecast so they know when the busy periods are and this ensures minimal wastage. For example, the fried chicken is placed in a "wet warmer" meaning there is water in the trays below to keep the moisture locked, that chicken can only be kept their for a maximum of 60 minutes after which if not sold, it must be discarded.

frying basket
Time was up on the pressure fryer and it was the moment of truth, to see the results of Rabin’s chicken versus that of Shirley who was a store employee. It was quite evident who's was the better looking chicken, not knowing how to place the chicken on the trays, Rabin's pieces had married onto each other which didn't allow for proper frying. Once the chicken is done, there is a quality check to see if all pieces are fried and coated perfectly, then a random piece is selected to be cut and its temperature is checked. Once this is done and all inspections are met, the chicken will be sold to the public.

fried chicken
 I really enjoyed the tour of the kitchen as we are never really aware of what happens back, nor do we actually wonder. The average person just walks into a store, places their order, pays then leaves with their purchase. To see all the steps taken to make ones meal and the strict guidelines they take to making your food, its no wonder it tastes great all the time. The steps they take for cleanliness really impressed me the most, coming from a very fussy mum who wants her kitchen kept spotless at all times, it was a relief to see how clean they keep their working environment.

wicked zinger box meal
Once the tour of the kitchen was complete, it was time for lunch. We could order anything we liked on the menu and as much of it as our hearts desired. As the phrase says "go big or go home" I went for the Wicked Zinger Box Meal which consists of a Zinger burger, 4 Zinger wings, chips, mash and gravy and a coke. It more than hit the spot as it filled me up for the rest of the day.

*** History break: Something I didn't know about Colonel Harland Sanders only began marketing his secret recipe chicken at age 65. Before then he ran a service station and diner. He would serve his secret recipe chicken to patrons but when a new road was built that  detoured drivers away from his station, he lost clientele and began to experience financial difficulty. It was after this that he decided to go out and sell the KFC franchise using his special seasoning for the chickenHe didn't sell the recipe though, that he always kept a secret which aided in the growth of  the franchise. Not long after that people from around the world wanted to buy into his chicken franchise and so the world wide phenomenon began. The first store to open in South Africa in 1971 was the Orange Grove store in Johannesburg, which still exists to this day! Right up to the age of 90 Colonel Harland Sanders travelled the world visiting the various stores that made his famous chicken to make sure his traditions were being followed, I'm sure he passed away peacefully knowing that his brand was in good hands.***

Back to the trip: The next part of the tour consisted of a trip to the PnP Good Food institute, where we were going to cook recipes from the Colonels autobiography. To assist us with the cooking was award winning Chef Jodi-Ann Pearton. Although it was the beginning of winter it was a rather warm day so it was a good thing she started off with making something to drink. It was the first time I had tasted a Mint Julep which consisted of sugar syrup, mint leaves, ice and a shot of bourbon. 

The cool refreshing drink was just what was needed ahead of our cooking experience. Each of us was asked to chose a partner and find a cooking station. Rabin and I paired up, first on the list was a Chicken Mulligan which is a type of a stew, following the steps from the recipe and Chef Jodi-Ann, most of us were making good progress. Next up were biscuits to accompany the stew, although called biscuits it was more of a scone. Rabin and I had some left over dough so we decided to make K F C shaped biscuits. These were placed on the side to rise. Next on the agenda was the desert, a Brown Betty which is very similar to the modern day apple crumble.This was made by  reducing apples in half a pot of water with sugar and cinnamon, placed in a tray and covered with a topping made from crushed digestive crackers mixed with sugar and walnuts. Butter was added on top to give it a glaze when being baked in the oven.

Last on the list were fried tomatos, quite an unconventional dish but one that I enjoyed quite a lot. Thickly sliced half ripe tomato's dipped in egg, then flour, then egg again, were rolled in bread crumbs, following the same folding and pressing steps the Colonel used with his chicken. Once coated, it is shallow friend in a frying pan until golden crispy. Once all the meals were done, one had to stand back and see how much we had prepared and how simple it was to do. We plated up but many of us were still full from the lunch but we had a taste of what we had prepared. I was very impressed with my biscuits and fried tomatos, definitely recipes I will make again at home. The Colonel's autobiography and recipe book are available to download from their Facebook page, so I'd urge any person who loves to cook to download it. Even if you don't like cooking, you will be amazed at how simple some of the recipes are.

Sadly after the cooking was done, that was it for the tour as we were driven back to the hotel and said our goodbyes to the team who put together this brilliant affair. I learned so much  andthe thinking behind certain elements of the business. There is so much more that goes on in the background than meets the eye and it was a privilege to witness it first hand.

You can download your copy of the Colonel's autobiography and cookbook via KFC SA's facebook page.

1 comment:

  1. Nice one dude !!! Makes me wanna go grab a Zinger Mega Deal !!