Even More Top Secret Recipes
by Todd Wilbur
Published by Plume
210 pages, 2003
Reviewed by Monica Stark
Scenario one: you've invited all of your friends over for a barbecue. Just as you're about to dish out the hamburgers and hot dogs, you realize you're out of ketchup and mustard. What do you do?
Scenario two: you've got a major hankering for Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies, but you know it will be months until the young ladies come pounding on your door with boxes of cookies on offer. How do you satisfy the craving?
If you're former investigative reporter Todd Wilbur you head to your kitchen and start testing recipes. Or, now that Wilbur has done the work, you get your hands on one of his seven Top Secret cookbooks, the latest of which is Even More Top Secret Recipes: More Amazing Kitchen Clones of America's Favorite Brand-Name Foods.
As Wilbur says in his introduction to Even More Top Secret Recipes:
When craving a drippy Taco Bell Burrito Supreme, a plateful of Peking duck -- as good as Peking duck is at the right moment -- isn't going to do the job. Sure, when it's all over your stomach's full just the same, but the road you mowed getting there wasn't the most delicious route.
In Even More Wilbur mows a pretty broad road including "Top Secret Recipe Versions" of Arby's Bronco Berry Sauce, Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream Cake, Burger King BK Broiler, Cadbury's Creme Egg, Emeril's Original Essence, Kenny Rogers Roaster Corn Muffins and more and more and more, not to mention the aforementioned ketchup (Heinz'), mustard (French's Classic Yellow) and Girl Scout Cookies Thin Mints. And on and on and on: Kraft Shake 'N Bake, Nabisco Cheese Nips, McDonald's Yogurt Parfait, Newman's Own Creamy Caesar Dressing: you can tell Wilbur has a full-time job between books just dreaming up the recipes he'll include, never mind hacking them in order to reproduce his top secret versions.
One of the delights in making his clones at home, Wilbur reports, is the customization possible.
The beauty of making PayDay candy bars at home is that you can make them twice as big! The joy of cooking KFC BBQ Baked Beans at home is that we can add more garlic and some kickin' cayenne pepper to our version! Tweak your recipes to suit your tastes.
Wilbur warns that the original versions of a lot of the food you'll be trying to reproduce is made "by machines in custom molds and may include coloring or thickening additives that we won't use, your clone may look different from the real thing. That's okay. I usually try to include tricks to duplicate a product's appearance whenever possible... . But my primary goal is to design a recipe that makes a finished product taste just like the real thing. Taste is job #1."
Wilbur does a great job hacking fast food secrets, but that's not the only charm in his books. He includes lots of fast food facts and lore: like the fact that Henry John Heinz was peddling produce in post-Civil War Pittsburgh by the age of 12 and that Pace Foods, makers of Pace Picante Sauce -- top secret recipes version included -- uses around 30 million pounds of fresh jalapeño peppers every year. Also included are carefully prepared schematics of foods that require assembly or special treatment. (For example, schematics are included for McDonald's Breakfast Bagel Sandwiches, but not McDonald's Hot Mustard Sauce.)
With over 80 recipes from a variety of fast food groups, Even More Top Secret Recipes is a fun addition to the cookbook shelf. | May 2003
Monica Stark is a January Magazine contributing editor.