This week, Time Magazine called out Olive Garden on its “Culinary Institute of Tuscany,” and my reaction is “big whoop.”
Really, what’s the big surprise? Did someone actually believe they have a culinary institute in Tuscany? All they really do is send their chefs over there for a few days to get an authentic feel and taste for Italian food — not change recipes.
Olive Garden, like Cheddars, Red Lobster, Chili’s and Applebee’s, is a chain restaurant. The food comes packaged beforehand and is cooked to serve, just like it is at McDonald’s. Hard to believe, but even the salad dressing comes off the truck as powder and is mixed later. Why would Olive Garden ever want to change its recipes when what it offers sells on a massive scale?
Sure, the food there is Italian-inspired, but so is any other plate of pasta, whether it is from Sam’s Place or made with a mix of Italian spices you can buy at United. Furthermore, to say Olive Garden serves authentic Italian food is like saying Taco Cabana serves authentic Mexican food. Despite the nice presentation, it’s just not going to fly with me.
It’s almost shocking how chain restaurants get away with what they do. They use a brand for their own benefit and pass off food as that brand when the food is not quite up to par.
It’s like La Madeleine’s French Cafe, if you’ve ever had it in Houston or Dallas. That tomato soup you ordered? Yeah, it tastes just like Campbell’s because it is Campbell’s.
Yet people like you or me get hungry and lazy. Ultimately, when going out to a chain restaurant, we are paying to not cook, not paying for a meal we couldn’t cook for ourselves.
So don’t expect the chef at your local Olive Garden went to Italy and knows the “secret formula” because, really, you aren’t there to talk Italian food with the chef. You are there to eat, and the cycle continues.