The summer before I turned 18, I worked in a swimming pool concession stand. It was the perfect summer: Show up to the country club at 11, restock the freezer with bulk boxes of frozen Nutty Buddies, Choco Tacos, and french fries, then spend the next 45 minutes chit-chatting with whoever was lifeguarding on that particular day.
Pool concession stand duty was the ultimate “screw around” shift for the club’s dining room employees. Because the club itself had a very small membership, it was never very busy. Supervision was minimal and responsibilities even more so, as long as the stay-at-home moms watching their kids got their cold cans of Diet Coke. Their kids lunched mostly on milkshakes, along with a menu of digestible crap: hot dogs, assorted ice cream treats, and a bunch of frozen apps that could be dropped in a deep fryer, most notably fries, mozzarella sticks, onion rings, and chicken tenders.
There was a lot of downtime, so I screwed around making bizarre food creations. It was par for the course since staff members were permitted a free meal each shift. Most of these food experiments involved the deep fryer: I would drop ice cream sandwiches, frozen pizza, and Smucker’s Uncrustables into boiling hot oil, sizzling something that was already pretty unhealthy with artery-clogging grease. It was a mildly-amusing way of pass the time. I promise you will never experience something quite like a deep fried Uncrustables sandwich lathered in vanilla ice cream on a hot summer’s day. It’s delicious.
It didn’t have a trendy cultural label at the time, but these food mash-ups born out of boredom were really experimentations in Frankenfoods. As an idea, frankenfoods are a culinary phenomenon where you mash two unlikely ingredients together into something surprisingly palatable, if not downright tasty. Think turny ham sandwiches with glazed donuts as the bun or tacos stuffed with hot dogs.and ahi tuna. Spike TV ran with the concept, producing Frankenfood, a show hosted by Chef Josh Capon – who runs BroBible’s favorite SoHo lunch spot, Lure Fishbar (best cheeseburger in NYC) – and Philly cheesesteak godfather Tony Luke Jr.
My pool concession stand experiments have an oddly-fitting cultural name now, so I thought it’d be fun to get back to start treating the kitchen like a laboratory again. In the spirit of all things Frankenfood, I spent an evening in the kitchen trying to recreate three dishes from the first few episodes of the show. My mission was to create:
- A bacon cheeseburger with Rice Krispy Treat buns
- Bacon-Wrapped jalapeño poppers stuffed with mac and cheese
- A “Mad Meatball” stuffed with spaghetti, peanut butter, and jelly.
…Using absolutely no recipe or shopping list except my better-judgement (…or lack thereof) in the kitchen.
Somehow, I’m still alive. Here’s a timeline of my evening:
7:00: Accept the Frankenfoods cooking challenge, leave BroBible office with a daunting fear that I’m going to burn down the apartment building I just moved into. Think about my building’s long-time tenets calling the landlord or, worse, the fire department. Why am I doing this?
7:05: Start walking to the grocery store. Realize I don’t have a cookie sheet to bake things on. Or a spatula. Or a mixing bowl. I’m screwed.
7:10: Find the bare necessities at Sur La Table, two blocks from the office. Feel like a yuppie asshole for buying a cookie sheet at Sur La Table.
7:20: Go to Dean & DeLuca a block away. Again, feel like a yuppie asshole for grocery shopping at Dean & DeLuca. Buy anything worth doing is worth doing right, right?
7:22: Ask clerk if they have any “fancy” box mac and cheese. I say something along the lines of “You know, like Kraft, but not Kraft! Something expensive and unique!” I don’t even know what that means, but he looks into my obnoxious request for boutique, artisanal boxed mac and cheese without flinching. Good clerk.
7:24: Clerk gets a manager involved. Informs me Dean & DeLuca does not have “fancy” box mac and cheese. I can, however, buy a pre-made five cheese asiago mac and cheese that’s ready for the oven. I decline. It’s pre-made. What’s the fun in that?
7:26: Fill my basket with jalapeño peppers, peanut butter, and peach chipotle jelly. The only jelly that sounded douchier than “peach chipotle” was sriracha jelly. You have to be a real asshole to want sriracha as a jelly.
7:30: Ask for two pounds of ground meat. Realize I’m not going to find anything else I need at Dean & DeLuca. Pay and leave.
7:45: Walk into a “normal people” grocery store in the East Village, near my apartment. Grab taco-flavored Annie’s Mac and Cheese (the best) for the poppers, along with spaghetti, butter, Rice Krispies, marshmallows, turkey bacon, and tomatoes. Pay and leave.
8:05: Drop off groceries at my apartment. Realize I forgot the cheese for the burger and can’t make the mac and cheese without milk.
8:08: Change into cutoff jorts. Go back to grocery store…
8:20: Grab cheddar cheese, panko, and milk. Same cashier who checked me out earlier gives me a look. Probably because I changed into jorts.
8:45: Crack open a beer. Consider making videos and doing this “cooking-show” style.
8:47: Start on the Rice Krispy treats for the buns. I’ve never made Rice Krispy Treats in my life, which really says a lot about the state of Home-Ec education in this country. All I do melt butter and marshmallows together, right?
9:03: Now I just pour this massive goo ball into a pan, right? Because this is what I did. Really winging it here:
9:05: Nailed it.
9:06: Next, the mac and cheese to stuff in the bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers. Mac and cheese is my jam, so I got this:
9:11: While the mac and cheese is coming to boil, I hollow out the jalapeños. In the middle of doing this, I realize I haven’t had anything to eat since 1PM, so eat a raw one out of animalistic instinct. It burns, but whatever. Mmmmm.
9:20: Mac and cheese is done, so first I eat four massive spoonfuls. Straight out of the pot I made it in. No regrets.
9:22: It’s time to stuff these babies:
9:25: …And then I wrap them in the turkey bacon and throw ’em in the oven at 350 degrees:
9:30: Time to make the burger patties. It’s a skill every Bro needs to know. No problem:
9:32: Next, I my secret ingredient for a killer burger: Larry the Cableguy “Roadkill” seasoning. I get the irony of doing this while wearing semi-ironic jorts. DON’T. CARE.
9:35: Carry on…
9:40: With the stove at full blast and the oven on, it’s at least 100 degrees in my kitchen, if not more. I’m nervous. These NYC walk-up apartment kitchens are nightmares for cooking; all that heat can cause a fire alarms to go off fast. Fire alarms = neighbors next to you and above and below you pissed off. All my windows are open and a massive fan is attempting to blast some of the heat out.
9:41: I consider taking off my shirt and cooking bare-chest.
9:44: Now add the cheese…
9:47: Is it cool to use the same pan I just made the burgers in to fry the bacon? Of course it is. Mmmmmm. Grease. Attempt to make weird “Epic Meal Time” noises, fail.
9:55: The bacon is nice and crispy. I slice some tomatoes. I’m ready to build a bacon cheeseburger with Rice Krispy Treat buns.
9:58: It’s so beautiful I could cry.
10:00: Time to eat! DO IT FOR THE VINE!
10:04: I devour it in under a minute. It’s a mess to eat, but the sweetness of the Rice Krispy Treats mixed with the salty meat-juice of the burger is wild. It tastes like a rhinoceros was slaughtered and barbecued in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. If cooler-than-thou Ramen Burgers are a thing for hipsters in New York, I can’t see why this shouldn’t be for middle America at county fairs.
10:05: Frankenfood challenge… COMPLETE!
10:25: I guestimate on the time the jalapeño poppers stuffed have been in the oven. I assume the bacon is nice and crispy, but I have no idea since the fans are too loud to hear it sizzle. Gut instinct says it’s time to pull the bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers stuffed with mac and cheese:
10:35: Look at these beauties. This is not something you can get at TGI FRIDAYs. This is art.
Biting into poppers right after they’re pulled from the deep fryer is The. Worst. It will turn your gum tissue into massive burning blisters. I let the poppers cool for about 10 minutes before my first taste:
10:36: Mmmmmmm…. Delicious. The bacon adds levels to a good popper. But, sadly, it wasn’t cheesy enough. Just using box mac and then jamming it into the jalapeno isn’t enough to truly get the gooey goodness of a great jalapeno popper. If you try to make jalapeño poppers stuffed with mac and cheese yourself, STUFF THE PEPPER WITH SOME SHREDDED CHEDDAR CHEESE while you’re stuffing with the mac before you throw it in the oven. Some say to use cream cheese. Personally, I think that causes it to lose the burn from the pepper. I’m here for the spice, damn it.
10:41: Dishes. I have so many dishes to do right now. I don’t have a dishwasher, either. Stupid Manhattan walk-up living. Reality of two-hours of cooking is starting to set in.
10:53: I throw a pot of water on the stove to bring to a boil for my final Frankenfood creation: I call it a “Mad Meatball” because it’s stuffed with spaghetti, peanut butter, and jelly. This monster was featured on the first episode of Spike’s Frankenfood as a “Ball of America,”which is nice was of saying the USA is full of people who clearly don’t give a shit about what they’re putting in their bodies. But first…
11:10: SO MANY DISHES.
11:25: The noodles are done, so it’s time to create this monster. I guess the goal is to get this to taste like a meaty PB&J, so I throw peanut butter, jelly, and the noodles in with the rest of my meat. Plus a little secret ingredient for good measure:
11:30: I start sculpting this into a ball. Touching it reminded me of one of those Halloween “mystery boxes” at an elementary school haunted house that makes kids think they’re touching brains or something. The noodles make it even more brain-esque:
11:38: OMG… DID I JUST CREATE KRANG?!?!?!?
11:40: OK… So… How the hell do I cook this? I throw it into the oven at 300 degree. I guess you just cook it like a meatloaf? Maybe wait for it to get crispy? I have no clue. I don’t even know how much this thing weighs. 1.3 pounds, maybe?
11:42: It’s late. Now we wait.
12:06 AM: …And wait.
12:20: And wait…
12:34 AM: And wait…
1:07 AM: OK… LET’S DO THIS.
1:09 AM: As you can tell, this thing has a glaze around it from the jelly. It’s crispy and brown on the outside. Let’s open it up:
1:10 AM: IT’S LIKE A SUGAR MEATBALL CRAWLING WITH PASTA WORMS:
1:12 AM: Time for a taste:
1:13 AM: Mmmmm. The sweet, fruitness from the peach jelly hits the tastebuds first since it’s cooked into the glaze. It’s sweet and delicious. The inside tastes like a meatloaf PB&J. Peanut butter and MEAT is surprisingly tangy. The noodles seem to exist as a glue of carbs to keep it all together:
1:15 AM: I feast on one-half of the ball. There’s no way my body can handle the whole thing right now:
1:26 AM: Here are all the Frankenfood creations all together. I’m no nutritionist, but I’d LOVE to hear an estimate of how many calories are in this pic.
1:27 AM: So. Many. Dishes.
While scrubbing away, I think about the mad culinary wizardry that just unfolded in my kitchen. Did I really just eat a bacon cheeseburger between two Rice Krispy Treats? Bacon-wrapped Jalepeno poppers stuffed with Mac and cheese? A massive meatball that tasted like PB&J? I look at my phone: There’s a message from my aunt, who wanted to know why I was posting on social media about eating such awful, unimaginable food combinations. She is concerned. I can’t blame her.
My kitchen is in tatters. It’s almost 2am. I need sleep. But, when scrubbing the floors, lifting the burner covers off the stove to make sure there wasn’t a crumb of burnt bacon or cheese, I think about how none of these things tasted as bad as I thought they would.
That’s the misconception about Frankenfood: The point is not to throw a bunch of weird, unconventional things together into a gross concoction with the random chance of creating something new; It’s to create a delicious treat that knocks your socks off because you didn’t think that hodgepodge of unlikely items could ever go together. Born out of resourcefulness, true Frankenfood glory comes from being both deliberate and accidental in the laboratory, just like all good scientific experimentation.
Frankenfood is no different from the tale of Frankenstein at the end of the day: Despite it’s garishness, all it wants to do is be understood and loved. Once upon a time, a madman at a picnic said “you know what, those Rice Krispy Treats would be better if we used them as hamburger buns?”And thus, a lovable culinary creature that’s both terrifying and awesome was born.
Now it’s in my stomach.
The kitchen is officially closed.
New episodes of Frankenfood on Spike TV on Sundays, 10/9 C.