“It’s not as easy as putting two things together”: A Q&A with the Toronto chef who created McDonald’s new Chicken Big Mac

“It’s not as easy as putting two things together”: A Q&A with the Toronto chef who created McDonald’s new Chicken Big Mac

Photo courtesy of McDonald's Canada

Since the dawn of McDonald’s, devotees have been testing their culinary skills by combining existing menu items to create their own delicious McFrankenfood—dipping fries in a McFlurry, adding hash browns to a McMuffin, pouring soda over an apple pie. (Okay, that last one isn’t a thing…yet.) One of the most popular mix-and-match hacks—and a recent TikTok trend—has been to swap out the beef on a Big Mac for McChicken patties, combining two classic recipes into one super sandwich. Jeff Anderson, the chain’s senior manager of culinary innovation, took notice and decided to turn the fan recipe into a limited-time menu item. Starting on March 7, Torontonians will have a chance to chow down on a professionally designed Chicken Big Mac. We asked him all about it.

Did you eat a lot of McDonald’s growing up?
I’ve been a fan of McDonald’s my whole life. Growing up in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, my go-to menu item was the McDouble. Sometimes I added bacon. I lived in Cole Harbour for most of my life, until I went to the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI. I did a two-year culinary diploma there, then worked in restaurants and hotels for a little while. After that, I went back to the CIC and took an applied culinary degree.

So how did you end up in Toronto?
About 15 years ago, I packed up my stuff and moved to Ontario, where I worked for an ingredient supplier. I did that for nearly a decade. Then, in 2017, I got a job at McDonald’s, working in a culinary chef role, which gave me the chance to put my formal training to use. Part of the interview involved showing that I could use my knowledge to improve the McDonald’s food development pipeline, which involves everything from working with the marketing team to incorporating guest feedback.

How did you get the idea for the Chicken Big Mac?
About two years ago, we noticed through our social media channels that people were doing this “Chicken Big Mac hack,” building the sandwich themselves by putting chicken from other menu items onto a Big Mac. We thought it was a great opportunity to take something iconic, like our Big Mac, and pair it with one of our chicken products.

Photo courtesy of McDonald's Canada

So you slapped chicken on the Big Mac and, voila, the perfect sandwich?
“Not exactly. It’s not as easy as putting two things together. We wanted to make sure it was chicken forward while also staying true to the Big Mac flavours—toasted sesame seed bun, Big Mac sauce, pickles, onions, processed cheese. It was about making sure the chicken breast had a light, crispy outer coating, by perfecting the time cooked and the temperature of the fryer. We use 100 per cent Canadian chicken breast—it’s savoury on the inside but not overpowering.

Can you share the exact recipe? The people want to know.
No—that information could be very valuable to our competitors.

Last year, McDonald’s tested the Chicken Big Mac in the UK. How did that go?
We were very pleased with the launch. It was a limited-time offer, demand was strong and it sold out.

What other menu items has your team introduced over the years?
We can get pretty creative. We’ve added an egg on a beef burger. We’ve introduced the Maple Bacon Quarter Pounder with Cheese, along with other variations of the Quarter Pounder. And we brought back the Smartie McFlurry.

You may have the best job in the world. What’s a typical day like?
“In the mornings, I head to the McDonald’s corporate offices, which are just off the DVP. Usually, I’ll start my day in the test kitchen—which is set up with the same equipment as a McDonald’s store—and have an Egg McMuffin and a coffee for breakfast. At lunch, lately, I’ve been into the Spicy Habanero McCrispy. If it’s a heavy day with a lot of tastings, though, I’ll just have a smoothie. Throughout the day, my team is working cross-functionally with the marketing teams, supply chains, insights partners. And, for about two hours a day, we’re in the kitchen, testing out new recipes.”

Do you ever get sick of eating McDonald’s? Are you ever tempted to cheat by, say, going to A&W or something?
“I can honestly say I don’t get sick of it. When you see the amount of work that goes into the menu at McDonald’s—when you visit the farms and meet the farmers—it makes you very passionate about the quality of the food.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.