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In recent years, America’s fast-food kitchens have cranked the indulgence dial to 11 and then stuffed that dial with cheese. Just last week, Dunkin’ Donuts announced an Oreo doughnut, which joins menu items like pancake-wrapped sausage nuggets and a breakfast sandwich built on two maple-infused waffles. Friendly’s serves a hamburger with two entire grilled-cheese sandwiches in lieu of a bun. For its Double Down, KFC sandwiched bacon and cheese between two fried chicken patties. After Pizza Hut began stuffing its pizza crusts with cheese, Burger King countered by injecting a burger with cheese and jalapenos.
It’s tempting to think that these inventions emerge, jingle-ready, from an algorithm at corporate headquarters specially designed to seduce our reptilian brains. But many are actually the result of real culinary creativity—the human kind.
In May, when Dunkin’ Donuts announced its executive chef had won a national innovation award, the name on the award was Stan Frankenthaler, a darling of Boston’s high-end food scene in the 1990s and early 2000s. As chef-owner of the Blue Room and then Salamander, Frankenthaler earned three James Beard Award nominations for refined, surprising dishes that mingled a global range of flavors and techniques and earned him national attention from magazines like Gourmet, Travel & Leisure, and Bon Appetit.
n 2005, however, Frankenthaler left the world of tablecloths and wine pairings to become Dunkin Brands’ first executive chef. There, he helps Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins launch about 30 menu items every year, which Frankenthaler estimates to be 10 percent of the ideas brainstormed by his team of cooks and food scientists. This year, for leading the Dunkin’ team that dreamed up such delights as Salted Caramel Cashew ice cream, Bagel Twists, and the Angus Steak and Egg Sandwich, Frankenthaler took home the title of MenuMasters Innovator of the Year, a menu R&D award conferred by Nation’s Restaurant News and Ventura Foods, a California maker of cooking oils, margarine, and salad dressings.