Monday, December 6, 2010

Chipotle's Asian concept

I have yet to read details about Chipotle's plans to launch a quick-service Asian concept (perhaps because there aren't many), but I find this article interesting for how it characterizes and generalizes about Mexican and Chinese cuisine.

3 Challenges Chipotle Faces Launching an Asian Chain

I'm guessing that certain figures of Mexican cuisine, including Top Chef Master Rick Bayless, Diana Kennedy, and those who advocated for UNESCO to recognize Michoacan cuisine as a form of intangible cultural heritage might object to the idea that "Mexican food is pretty simple to execute. You throw together beans, tortillas, a few meats and cheeses, guacamole, rice, and you’re pretty set."

Oddly, she contrasts this to Asian food which "involves a lot more chef expertise, more ingredients, different spices, and more complex dishes that are tricky to keep appetizing-looking in a warming tray — just hit your local grocery store’s hot-deli line or a shopping-mall food court and take a look." Rick Bayless's preparation of mole negro for a recent state dinner at the White House included more than 20 different ingredients and took several days to prepare. That's just for the sauce.

Tice also thinks that quick-service Asian food based on local, organic ingredients faces a greater challenge compared to doing the same for Mexican food. But my guess is that Chipotle will choose those Asian dishes that serve their model well, rather than trying to represent the range or depth of Asian cuisine. Sidestepping the PC-minefield of conflating the diversity of Asian cuisines into one concept, I can see a Vietnamese "inspired" (for all you purists out there) menu that could easily work within the Chipotle model:

Banh mi sandwiches
Bun (room temp vermicelli salad-type dish)
Spring/summer/garden rolls (I'm thinking of the fresh ones, rather than the deep fried ones)

All of these draw upon easy to source local ingredients, can be adapted to suit a variety of diets and food preferences, and can be quickly assembled to order. Oh yes, and they're delicious.

You could even throw pho into the mix, though I would only recommend it for eat-in customers (and squeamish eaters probably wouldn't want the raw beef on the side). Takeaway pho is never a good idea...