Have you ever wondered what it takes to make a Mrs. Fields Cookie at home? What about a Starbucks Mocha Coconut Frappaccino or KFC fried chicken? Well, expert chef and food cloner Todd Wilbur figured it out. Yep, that’s right. Todd Wilbur, of Top Secret Recipes, has hacked some of America’s favorite “secret recipes” so that we not-so-expert chefs can recreate the foods we love in the comfort of our own homes. Over the course of my lifetime, Todd has written nine cookbooks and sold over five million copies. Wowza! How awesome is Todd, y’all?! Pretty freaking fabulous. *wink*
At the 2014 Birmingham Home and Remodeling Show, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview THE one and THE only Todd Wilbur backstage before his live demonstration. And NOW I have the fabulous pleasure of sharing all of that fun with y’all! So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the VIP’s interview with “food hacker” Todd Wilbur.
VIP: If you could only eat one cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Todd: *answers without hesitation* Chicken wings. Yes, chicken wings! I’ve had the smoked wings at Todd’s English Pub everyday!
VIP: I cannot blame you! Chicken wings are great!
Todd: I think I may be turning into a chicken wing…
VIP: What was it like hosting your own television show?
Todd: Oh, it was such a great experience. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of stress because it was a reality show, and a lot of reality shows are “set up”…mine wasn’t. They [the producers] would set up situations going into say P.F. Changs where I would go in as a waiter [given, this was set up with headquarters] where the employees at that specific chain location did not know who I was. Sometimes, they did not even tell ME what was going on, which was pretty interesting. Turning “secret” iconic American foods into recipes in just three days was very stressful, but I really enjoyed the challenge.
VIP: You’re synonymously called a “food hacker”. For someone who does not know what that is, how would you explain it?
Todd: Well, I actually coined the term, and I’m pretty proud of it. But a “food hacker” is someone who “dissects” or reverse engineers food to see how it’s made and turns it into a recipe that you can make at home. Often, I am deconstructing foods and then reconstructing them with common ingredients so that anyone can do it.
VIP: It’s really such a cool process, and I am sure difficult. So, what would you say was your inspiration to start hacking foods?
Todd: The Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie recipe that was floating around in 1987, which was before email, and I’m sure before your time. I mean, do you even remember a time before email? *laughs*
VIP: No *laughs* I do not, but I do know the time period in which you are talking about *laughs*
Todd: So, during this time, chain mail was a big deal. Someone would create a letter, send it to five of their friends, then those five friends would send it to five of their friends, and so on and so forth. Snail mail–that’s what it was *laughs* Well, one day I got this chain letter that was “supposedly” for a Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie, but it wasn’t. It was completely bogus. This fake and horrible recipe had spread all over the country, and Mrs. Fields chains had to put notes on the front doors of their stores debunking this recipe so people wouldn’t think their cookies were terrible. Seeing this happen, I could not help but think, “Wow! People really love secret recipes. I wonder if I could make a book of secret recipes?” So, I made that recipe [the Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie recipe] better, and I learned how to better my cooking skills. Over the next five years, I hacked a lot of different foods and built my first recipe book, Top Secret Recipes, which published in 1993. Now, here we are ten books later, and I just finished writing book number eleven.
VIP: That is all so very cool!
Todd: Thank you. My eleventh book will be a little bit different–usually I do blueprint illustrations, but I will have about a thousand pictures in this one. Actually, I have one of my last books for you.
VIP: Oh, my goodness! Thank you so much. Now, I can go home and make all of the Starbucks drinks I want *laughs*
VIP: What color would you say best describes you and why?
Todd: Uh…Uh…I really don’t know. This is an interesting question–you’ve gone all “Barbara Walters” on me like “What kind of tree are you?”
VIP: Ah! I love Barbara Walters!
Todd: Okay–can I be rainbow? Wait…no. I don’t want to be rainbow. Let’s see…
After much debate and lots of laughs, Todd finally decided on a color.
Todd: I am going to have to say blue, but why…I have no idea why. I just feel like we are surrounded by blue–the sky is blue, these [pointing to rubber-maid containers] are blue, my pants are blue. Blue–I’m going with blue. I feel confident with that choice *laughs*
VIP: What is your favorite food hack you have done and why?
Todd: I like the chicken wings, of course, but picking my favorite food hack is kind of like choosing a favorite child *laughs* I really love the barbecue hacks and junk food ones though. But as far as a specific one, I really have a special place in my art for the Mrs. Fields cookie recipe because it is what started it all.