24 August 2011

Exposure II

This is part two of my anti-exposé on how shitty desserts can be. Please be sure to read parts one and three.

Eventually I quit my catering job. Memories of thawing 48 identical frozen muffins laid next to each other, box by box, faded. I replaced them with important things like "how to recover from lost time experiences in heavy traffic" and "swearing at the radio".

And then two things happened that pulled me back into the frozen depths of institutional desserts.

I had the misfortune of seeing a dinner companion get a half frozen piece of chocolate cake at a pretty decent restaurant.

How could this be? Why would the slice have come out with frost on all sides. Aren't they baking these things or something? If this slice came out totally frozen then that would mean it was individually frozen. If it was individually frozen, then that would mean they didn't make it on site.

This was a troubling notion and it planted itself firmly in my brain, dislodging bits of movie trivia and friends' birthdays as its root system grew.

That dinner experience was followed up by another one where I got a really honest waiter who told me that the best dessert they had was also the only one they made in-house. In the boring industry, we call that an "a-ha" moment.

Picture is unrelated.

That a-ha moment did not occur at a Red Lobster.

Happily, people don't go to Red Lobster for epiphanies. They go for cheesy biscuits and they go for shrimp and when they're done, they usually go for the dessert offerings.

In fact, people go for one specific dessert so much that Google thinks I should be searching for it.

That particular dessert is the Chocolate Wave. If you're not familiar with the Chocolate Wave (it's nautical, sea see?) then you may recognize a picture of it.


That should look familiar, but this shot has been staged and the Chocolate Wave's signature enormity is a little hard to discern. Let's try a picture with a little less style. This one comes courtesy of food industry supplier and Department of Defense contractor Sterling Foods.

Pictured: clinical disinterest.

What does this mean? This means that Red Lobster is buying their signature dessert from the good people at Sterling Foods. It's no big deal. In fact, Darden Restaurant Group (of which Red Lobster is a part) named Sterling Foods one of their "Distinguished Suppliers" way back in 2004. That means Darden (and by extension, Red Lobster) has a great relationship with their suppliers and everyone's happy.

So what's the problem? Sterling definitely has their shit together - just look at everything that goes into their Product Development:

The problem is, Red Lobster is not advertising, "Our Dessert Undergoes Accelerated Shelf-Life Testing"

To their credit, they also aren't saying they make it in-house. The reason this whole setup gives me pause is that when I go to Red Lobster I want to feel an intimate bond between the menu items and me. I want to feel this more than I want to feel totally nauseated by Cheddar Bay Biscuits ten minutes after being seated. I want that connection more than I want to feel like every hair on my head has been thoroughly saturated with the stink of seafood.

But when I order that Chocolate Wave I'm not getting that connection. I'm being funneled institutional, precision engineered chocolate cake from a factory somewhere (it's in San Antonio) and Red Lobster is acting as an overpriced middleman. 

It makes me sad and sick in a distinctly non-biscuit related manner.

I just want a restaurant that makes their own shit. I want them to be up front. 

If someone is going to plant their flag in a dessert like the Chocolate Wave, I want them to make it their own damn selves.

In the third and final part we'll see how much deeper this goes and what you, the consumer, can do to ensure yourself a decent fucking dessert.

If you missed them, please be sure to read parts one and three of this non-expose. 

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