Editor-in-chief Andy Hanacek spoke with Chef Neville Craw, Vice President, Brand Executive Chef for Arby’s Restaurant Group Inc. about two unique products that launched for a limited time. Both products relied on the sous vide process to enhance the quality and flavor.
Andy Hanacek: I am sitting here on the phone with Executive Chef Neville Craw from Arby’s. My old friend from Arby’s. It seems like, Neville, every time I talk to you it’s after some awesome new sandwich launch. Last time we spoke, it was the smoked brisket sandwich [launch]. Now we’ve got some really cool other meat sandwiches to talk about, and specifically [we have] to talk about the process and cooking methods around them and how Arby’s is sort of revolutionizing that aspect. So thanks for joining me and congratulations on the success so far. Arby’s has had two sandwiches in the last two months, both limited-time-offer sandwiches, one being the Pork Belly Sandwich, which the offer ended in October, and now there is currently one on the market that is probably going to be ending soon, the Chicken Fajita Flat Bread. Talk about the response from consumers that you guys have gotten for those two items thus far.
Chef Neville Craw: Starting with the Pork Belly [Sandwich], the response was beyond our wildest dream. We knew we were taking a little bit of a risk from a product people had heard of but didn’t necessarily have the avenues to try it. We knew there was a little bit of a risk as far as people willing to try it if they had not tried it before. I’ve never launched a product and read all the reviews and not had one negative review until this one. I think even people who didn’t want to like it ended up liking it. It was amazing. Pork Belly, to get to the end result, it was a smoked marinated and sliced and then sous vide process to get through all of that, which was a lot, but we think that that process made for the best cuisine and I would put that pork belly up against any white table cloth restaurant out there that sells pork belly every day. For the pork belly, the sous vide helped break down some of the tougher parts of the pork belly. Sous vide, in general, in the barbecue world, they talk about low and slow, sous vide is the quintessential low and slow technique. When you cook things, you sometimes cook them at really high temperatures and you have to break cells, so you have tougher and chewier [meat], but with a sous vide process because it is such a low temperature cooked in a cryo-vac pouch water-bound for a long period of time, you tend to concentrate flavor and have a very good texture. We found that with some of our protein that’s the best way to kind of attack it was to give the guest the best experience, which then their response will be positive.
Hanacek: That chicken is sous vide as well, right?
Craw: It’s basically two chicken breast that are marinated and then grilled and then sous vide together and then sliced into medallions. It has a clean, simple, wonderfully flavored product.
Hanacek: So let’s talk a little bit bigger picture about sous vide. What are the benefits you see that method of cooking bringing to Arby’s and then in general to the larger QSR, fast casual environment out there.
Craw: Speaking for us, what we have found is it will work for some proteins better than others, and we will use it as much as we need to for the ones we think it will work best for, and for others, it will be a case-by-case situation. We love it for the things we’ve been doing with the pork belly and the chicken and there are a few other proteins we are exploring now that I can’t share with you, Andy, but I would love to. We think it provides us with a way of really getting high quality protein cooked exactly to the specifications that we want. You know when you get into production, there’s always a range of things. This is so precise. We’re talking tenths of a degree type of precise. You really can hit your goals, and that’s such a great piece of control that we absolutely love having. The sky is the limit with what we could potentially do with that. I know of others who are exploring it. As this becomes more popular across not just the restaurant industry but also at home, I think it is going to be used more and more.
Hanacek: Talk about Sugar Creek a little bit and how working with that team has gone for you on your side of the equation, on the creation side of things.
Craw: I’m glad you asked. They have been a phenomenal partner. When I dream of perfect partnerships, companies like Sugar Creek come up, because when I first met with them. They were just getting started in this arena as far as looking at how they were going to get involved with sous vide. They were in the early process of it all, and when we started discussions around chicken, you look for and hope for partners that are willing to burn the midnight oil, experiment, try things, fail, keep going, keep going, keep going to get it right. They have been all of that and more. I can’t say enough about their willingness to continue down each rabbit hole we went to [in order] to get to the end result. Now [we have] two phenomenal products that could be used across multiple platforms for us. The sky’s the limit with our relationship. As far as what’s next, obviously sous vide is going to be a part of it, but there’s other things we have been talking about beyond that that I think have just as much merit as the sous vide process.