I've seen various manifestations of the Top Secret Recipes book over the years, those collections that purport to crack the magic of chain-restaurant offerings like the McRib, HoneyBaked Ham's, um, honey-baked ham, and other national obsessions. Never bothered with the books, because I can't cook worth a damn, but a copy of the latest entry–Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3–made it onto my desk. I was going to mention that author Todd Wilbur claims to have mimicked the recipe for three Fleming's entrées (Wicked Cajun Barbecue Shrimp, Chipotle Cheddar Mac 'n' Cheese, and their potatoes), and five from BJ's to make it a local story, but then I glimpsed at the fourth sentence of the intro: “Each day I rode my bike for miles around Orange County, California…”
Oh, snap! Barnes is a local boy! That got my attention.
It turns out Wilbur is a food sleuth, interviewing former and current employees of the restaurants he's trying to imitate in the quest to nail down the perfect simulacra of a recipe. This latest book has over 400 pages of detailed instructions, illustrations that seem better suited for a wood-cutting shop than a cookbook, and an easy-to-understand writing style. And he's a friend of the show–sorry for the lingo, but Wilbur gives a specific shout-out to Howard Stern and his crew “for entertaining me during the long hours in the kitchen, and 'getting the poison out' so I can keep laughing through the frustrating and tedious process of creating each of these Top Secret Recipes from scratch.” Anyone who cites Howard as inspiration is okay by me.
Best of all? The book retails for $16 as a paperback. For those of you who like to cook and obsess over the chains, go over to Fast Food Maven–kidding! Stick here, stick here, and buy Wilbur's book.