If We Are What We Eat, Things Don’t Look So Good
The international HQ of Kentucky Fried Chicken, just outside Louisville, is white as a leghorn pullet and has a front porch with big columns, like a corporate version of Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara. I enter and wait for Colonel Sanders. Within five minutes he walks in with his entourage.
The Colonel gives me a firm handshake, then eases behind a desk as KFC executives, all at least forty years younger, confer about his schedule. They speak in hushed tones—just below what seems to be the threshold of the old man’s hearing—addressing him as “Colonel” when they want to include him and handling him gently, with a bit of awe, as if passing around an antique vase. He seems thinner than his pictures. His white hair and goatee have a yellowish tinge. Food stains dot the front of his white suit.
I open my bag and set a McDonald’s Big Breakfast on his desk. Cradled in the plastic platter are scrambled eggs, sausage, hash browns. The Colonel reaches inside his coat, pulls out a gold spoon, and uses it to probe the scrambled eggs.
“Rubbery,” he mutters. “Over-cooked. There’s the potatuh. Instead of fryin’ it, why, they’ve put paprika on it to give it the color. And that sausage there is just a piece of hamburger.”
I place some Krispy Kremes beside the Big Breakfast.
“I won’t eat a yeast donut, nossir. By the time you get it masticated, you got a ball of dough in your mouth. It’s just another doughball in your stomach.”
I pull out an Egg McMuffin and place it next to the Krispy Kremes and the Big Breakfast. I ask him if that looks any better.
“No, it don’t.”
I put a Big Mac and a Thick Shake next to the Egg McMuffin, the Krispy Kremes, and the Big Breakfast. He lifts the bun with his gold spoon, frowns at what lies beneath, then lets it drop.
“I was eighteen years in the restaurant business before I cooked a durn burger. Well, I don’t eat ’em very often. First off, you got three-quarters of an inch of bread ’fore you get to one bite of meat, and then the meat’s overcooked.”
He rolls a mouthful of shake around his tongue, finally swallows. “Not bad. Kinda thin. You need that to wash down them burgers.”
I take out a Filet O’Fish and flop it on the desk next to the Egg Mc, the Kremes, the Big Breakfast, the Big Mac, and the shake.
“Now when it comes to fish,” says the Colonel, “I’m kindly Jewish.
“I’m afraid I’ll get a codfish, and codfish has worms in it. They’re scavengers, y’know. They eat the seal dung off the bottom.”
He poked at the Filet O’Fish with his gold spoon. “Now I like sole, fried or broiled. I like catfish—they’re mild, but they’re good. And I love oysters, if they’re good oysters. But now su-ward fish. I’ve seen worms in a su-ward fish as big as that ink pen you’re holdin’ there.”
The bag is empty. I forgot to get a specimen of KFC, but the Colonel is already on record as calling extra crispy “a damn fried doughball stuck on some chicken” and the gravy as “pure wallpaper paste.”
“I’ll be workin’ with a man this afternoon on chicken gravy,” he says. “That’s one thing we’ve really been lax on. It’s hard to get the fellas I sold the outfit to go to back makin’ the roux and stirrin’ the gravy the way they ought to. Good gravy’s the essence of chicken, don’t y’know. You make the gravy the way it’s supposed to be, and you’ll throw out the chicken and drink the gravy.”
The Colonel wipes off the gold spoon and carefully puts it back inside his coat. “Yessir, I’ve had some bad meals. You got to be mighty careful when you’re eatin’ out.”
—adapted from Junk Food (The Dial Press/James Wade)