A Food Detective Cracks Recipe Code – Todd Wilbur

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Everybody talks about food — especially on that new ABC chatterfest, “The Chew” — but nobody does anything about it. Oh, sure, someone might show you how to make a caramelized onion tart with olives or bake a cake in the shape of a Viking ship, but is anyone telling you what you really want to know, which is how to have a Cinnabon roll for breakfast without having to get out of your pajamas and drive to a Cinnabon?

Yes, actually. His name is Todd Wilbur, and for years, in print and the occasional television guest appearance, he has been trying to decode the recipes on which food franchises have been built. On Friday night on CMT, he begins doing so on a weekly series, “Top Secret Recipe.” This is decidedly not a highbrow cooking show, as you can tell from the fact that Mr. Wilbur spends part of the premiere in a Dumpster.

The gimmick, delivered with a refreshing silliness, is that each week Mr. Wilbur takes some famous but well-guarded marquee recipe and tries to duplicate it, through a combination of stealth, science and educated guesswork. In the opening episode the target is original Kentucky Fried Chicken — you know, the 11 herbs and spices thing. (Cinnabon gets its turn in Episode 2.)

The premise is spurious — if you want to know what’s in the chicken, all you really have to do is send a leg of it over to Abby’s lab on “NCIS” — but Mr. Wilbur, who calls himself a food hacker, has great fun spinning it out. On a tour of the KFC headquarters, he steals a cook’s gloves from the kitchen. He tries to pry information out of a longtime assistant to Harland Sanders, the chain’s founder. And, yes, he plunges into a trash bin in search of packaging that might hold clues.

Throughout, he is cooking chicken, taking a bite, then going back to the drawing board. At the show’s end, he puts his best shot in front of some taste testers, along with a bucket of actual KFC.

Various food factoids (“foodtoids,” the show calls them) pop up on the screen at points in the show. One in the premiere is, “A chicken loses its feathers when it becomes stressed.” A lot of feathers may be shed if chickens watch this show to the end: viewers are invited to go to the CMT Web site to try out Mr. Wilbur’s version of the recipe themselves.

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