McDonald’s Canada chef reveals truth about Chicken Big Mac: Why ‘unique challenge’ took 2 years

Toronto-based chef, Jeff Anderson, has added a unique flair to a classic McDonald's menu item -- but it wasn't an easy process

Limited McDonalds menu item Chicken Big Mac
Limited McDonalds menu item Chicken Big Mac

A sandwich that has graced McDonald's menus for over four decades has been reimagined in a way that might have you running down to your local franchise to see for yourself.

You may be familiar with the Big Mac. Now, what if instead of beef patties, two chicken patties lay nestled between three buns, lettuce, pickles, cheese and of course, Big Mac sauce.

Meet the Chicken Big Mac.

What makes this sandwich even more notable? It was created right in the heart of the Greater Toronto Area by Jeff Anderson, a culinary senior manager with McDonald's Canada and his team.

We thought who better to provide you with an insight into the process of creating a McDonald's menu item than Anderson himself.

For those who are lovers of McDonald's, your job is what dreams are made of. What is the pathway that led you to landing a spot as a culinary innovation senior manager with McDonald's Canada?

Jeff: I trained at the Culinary Institute of Canada, and from there, I worked in some local fine dining restaurants in Halifax, then I worked for the Hyatt Corporation, the hotel chain, all while finding my passion for food, and doing something I felt I was good at. I was introduced to a unique program at the time — an applied degree in culinary operations, also offered through the Culinary Institute of Canada, which provided more training into unconventional chef roles. This introduced me to the world of food product development, which led me to Toronto, where I worked as a corporate chef for nine-and-a-half years. I worked closely with McDonald's as a supplier in that role, which eventually led to an opportunity within the company, with which I have now been working for nearly six years.

How much input do you typically have in the process of creating new menu items for McDonald's?

Jeff: Here at McDonald's Canada, we are constantly listening to our guests, hear their feedback so that we can continue delivering food items that we know they love and crave. It is not all me — we have a menu team here in Canada, as well as our consumer insights team and marketing team and our operational partners, so it is a real group effort to bring items to market. My job and my team's job is more the hand's-on playing with food every day so that is the fun part of our job within the team. We get to create a lot of fun stuff and witness the process of a concept to a finished product being launched in our restaurants, which brings us a lot of pride.

McDonald's is sometimes featured in outrageous food menu item listicles with delicacies such as Ham & Egg Twisty Pasta and Tomato and Mozzarella turnovers making an appearance. As you work on creating new concepts, have you ever killed an idea for being too outlandish?

Jeff: We get inspired by other markets and what they are doing, and sometimes they are relevant to our market. We know consumers have been hacking our menu for a number of years — most recently we have done our dessert hacks, which we see our guests trying out online on our social channels, and working to bring them onto the McDonald's menu. The Chicken Big Mac is something we have been hearing about from our consumers, which we are happy to bring to them as they have inspired us. In terms of menu items that do not make it to market, we do have items that we work on that we are not ready to launch, so we still have fun and explore in that way.

The Chicken Big Mac took two years to develop. What all goes into the development of a new menu item?

Jeff: Every menu item we bring to market has its own unique challenges. Some are quicker than others. With the Chicken Big Mac, we wanted to ensure we stayed true to the identity of the Big Mac, but with that twist of chicken in there. We had to ensure we had the right balance, the classic ingredients like tangy pickles, processed cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, toasted sesame seed buns, and of course, our iconic Big Mac sauce. Getting that pairing and balance took quite a bit of time for us. The sandwich went out to 1,400 locations across the country so that comes with challenges of supply, scaling to make sure we are delivering a consistant product. We also do testing before bringing this to market. For the Chicken Big Mac specifically, we tested in the GTA area to understand how the product worked with our crew, how it cooks, how it behaves before we feel comfortable bringing it to a national launch.

How do you feel now that the Chicken Big Mac is out?

Jeff: I personally have been out in market already, seeing the product, how it is handled. I just feel so proud walking into a restaurant and seeing a product we have taken so much time and effort with developing and watching the joy and excitement on our crew's face is something that I consider a perk of the job. We are still waiting to hear the public's feedback, but I am looking forward to receiving that.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.