Burger Challenge at McDonalds ‘Create Your Taste’ | Hobart, Tasmania

Humanity needs a bad guy…a faceless villain; a scapegoat; a necessary target for the vitriol of life.

I was watching the fantastic series ‘Outlander’ only last week where our heroine was placed on the stand and tried for witchcraft, under the leering eyes and gleeful jeers of a village desperate for a BBQ of human proportions. Of course it’s a dramatisation designed to tug at our most base emotions, but it did hint at the mentality that existed back in those darkest of ages, a condition of the human psyche that, sadly, exists just as equally today.

I’m sure every individual at some point in their life, whether in large part or small, has felt that eager relief upon learning that their neighbour’s demons are actually more monstrous than their own.

The onion-like layers of cultural divide within Tasmania, of which I have previously written, are a tangible reality. Not happy with futile attempts at taking on the ‘mainlanders’ (honestly, they don’t care…we’re an ant trying to get a rise from an elephant), we look within for a new foe on whom to vent our displeasure. ‘North vs South’, Boags vs Cascade, Blundstone Arena vs York Park, the flanellette curtain, Sandy Bay’s ‘aristocracy’, Gagebrook’s ‘underclass’…

Perhaps schadenfruede is too strong a word and we are simply looking at that most Australian of past times, the harvesting of poppies grown far too tall for our liking? Whatever you call it, and whatever the intent, the enemy within is self-consuming. Sadly, those of us that not only enjoy food but also like to proffer our opinions on the pros and cons of a particular venue or dish can be just as guilty of such prejudice.

How easy it is to turn up one’s nose at a $10 pub meal. Organic vs non-organic vs biodynamic. A deep fried schnitzel the size of a family car vs cucumber foam, caviar and a slow cooked quail’s egg. Burgers aren’t real food are they?

I’m just as guilty as the next person, but I do like to think that, in the main, I’ve taken a very balanced approach to the various venues and cuisines that I’ve reviewed over the past three years. In saying that, I never thought I’d see the day that I included McDonalds in the infamous Tasmanian Burger Challenge!! And not because “…they’re just fast food…“, but because not only has everyone eaten a Maccas burger already, but you can guarantee that 99 times out of 100 its going to taste the same every single time you go back. So what’s the point?

The point is, in 2015 McDonalds have taken a new direction, with the introduction of its ‘Create Your Taste’ concept. It’s a new direction, but it’s also a potentially confusing direction. In recent times McDonalds has been spruiking the need to simplify its menu, to reduce confusion at the drive through window (who knew more than 60% of sales are from drive through?!) and to speed up its service; it IS supposed to be ‘fast’ food after all!

I’d heard whispers of this new concept last year, but was extremely surprised to receive an email from a marketing firm acting on behalf of McDonalds offering us a chauffered(!) drive to the Rosny store where we could then try out the ‘Create Your Taste’ experience, all expenses paid!

Some may say that in accepting their offer we sold our souls to the devil. I like to think of it as try before you buy (and please refer to my diatribe above)! Some may also say that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I beg to differ.

On stepping through the sliding doors, we were greeted by a cacophony of noise. Apparently breakfast/lunch options on Anzac Day are few and far between!

After milling uncertainly in the foyer for a minute or two we were greeted by the lovely Jess, who in turn introduced us to Rosny Park licensee, John. After exchanging pleasantries it wasn’t long before Jess was giving us the run down on how to ‘Create Your Taste’.

Giant touch screens lie at the heart of the concept, offering users a simple step-by-step process by which they can build their burger.

While many of the ingredients will be familiar to McDonalds’ regulars, ‘Create Your taste’ is all about providing diners with a gourmet experience, and with that comes the offer of a host of different buns, cheeses, salads and sauces. The base price is $8.95, which will get you a heap of ‘vanilla’ options to choose from, with some of the more gourmet options costing a little bit more.

While I really wanted to create as exotic a burger as my imagination could come up with (grilled pineapple, guacamole, egg or tortilla strips anyone?), staying true to the rules of the Burger Challenge, thereby allow comparison with all the other burgers I’ve tried, I forced myself to tone it down, selecting:

Bun: Brioche (other choices included Baker’s Bun or lettuce wrap)
Protein: Angus beef patty (there are no other choices at this stage, but it sounds like chicken may be an option in the future if the concept takes off…I could have chosen two or more patties, but I wasn’t feeling that piggish!)
Toppings: Crispy bacon and grilled mushrooms (other options included bacon rasher, egg, guacamole, tortilla strips or grilled pineapple)
Cheese: Colby jack (others included cheddar, Swiss, classic Maccas or shaved parmesan)
Sauces: Tomato chilli jam and chipotle mayo (other sauce options included bbq, dijonniase, aioli, herb aioli, Big Mac special sauce or plain ketchup)
Salads: Caramelised onions and long-sliced pickles (others included beetroot, red onion, jalapenos, lettuce and tomato)

Karen on the other hand, was not restricted by any such limitations, choosing a magnificent creation consisting of lettuce wrap, meat patty, egg, red onion, mushrooms, beetroot and shaved parmesan with tomato chilli jam!!

For the official description of the ingredients and how it all works, check out the Maccas website here.

Our completed orders were then automatically sent to the kitchen while we grabbed a ‘meal tracker’ and seated ourselves with John to have a chat about ‘Create Your Taste’, the fast food business in Tasmania, and life in general.

With any new concept like this it’s bound to need a few extra hands on deck to make it work. We were both very surprised to find out that the Rosny store alone was taking on an extra 40 staff! Say what you will about the fast food industry, but that’s a great piece of news for young Tasmanians, and that’s not taking into account the other store openings that have already, or are planned to take place in the coming weeks across the state.

The other thing that really struck me about John and the business that he’s established since taking over the franchise some 6 years ago, is the genuine family atmosphere that pervaded our conversation. His young son was happily playing games on his iPad while older brother was serving customers. A couple of long-standing staff members also dropped by while we were waiting, and what was most unexpected to us both was how easy it was to tell that there was a genuine love of the business amongst them all. It certainly contradicted the stereotypical image that gets built up in the media when it comes to jobs at Maccas, HJs, KFC and the other big players in the fast food industry.

I wasn’t checking the clock, but our meals must have taken between 5-10mins to prepare, upon which Jess brought them to our table. Not just because were sitting with the boss either; with ‘Create Your Taste’ everyone gets the same service!

You’ve got to admit, those two burgers look better than any Maccas burger I’ve ever seen before!

The first thing I noticed with my burger was that the beef patty actually had some caramelisation going on. No microwaves for these babies, they’re press-grilled all the way. Despite that positive, under the veneer it’s still the same old Maccas patty that simply doesn’t cut it compared to many of the other similarly priced offerings around town. The best bit though was the crispy apple-smoked bacon. It was just how I like it! Unfortunately the mushrooms were a bit of a let down, with a sweetness to them that was unexpected and at odds to the mushroom you would typically get on a local burger. The caramelised onion also tasted great, and the chilli jam/mayo mix worked well, with a good level of spicy heat coming through. The difference in bun was also a marked improvement on their regular burgers. Not overly sweet, and it held its consistency nicely. A burger with more ingredients than what I selected may test its ability to hold together, but on that I can’t comment.

Karen’s ‘burger’ was an interesting concoction! To be able to build a burger from scratch sans tomato was a God-send to her. The salad was fresh, particularly the crunchy lettuce, and overall she enjoyed her creation muchly! Bunless burgers aren’t common, and to give their consumers that option is a big plus.  However, two points bear mentioning; firstly the tomato chilli jam seemed to have been placed towards the bottom of the wrap, meaning it pooled with the other juices (of which there were plenty!) and didn’t get distributed as evenly as she would have liked. Second, Karen wasn’t sure if she’d made a mistake when entering her order on the touch screen, failing to press the ‘bacon rasher’ button hard enough, because there was none on the burger when it arrived (and hence didn’t mention it at the time). After arriving home a quick check of our photos confirmed that it wasn’t user error at all and that they’d simply missed the bacon off the order. It was only the fifth day of operation, but I would have thought those sorts of mistakes would have been ironed out by now.

Overall thoughts on Create Your Taste?

Surprisingly, there were many more ups than downs in what would have to have been our first visit to Maccas in years. The warm greeting and obvious desire to provide a great customer experience shone through from John, his family and his senior staff members. It challenged a number of preconceived notions that I had built up over time regarding the fast food franchise, and for that I am grateful.

We liked the ‘Create Your Taste’ concept, and I am honestly keen to return and try a more bizarre combination of ingredients. I enjoyed my burger a lot more than their traditional fare, and the emphasis on variety and freshness resulted in some much improved flavours. In saying that, I’m still unsure as to whether it’s going to be McDonalds’ saviour. Reduced complexity with increased customisation… Is that the magic formula, or is it simply replacing one complexity with another? Only time will tell whether the public embrace it, particularly in a market already saturated with gourmet burger options at a similar price point.

For more information about ‘Create Your Taste’, drop by their website here – McDonalds Create Your Taste

Taste – 3/5
Patty – 3/5
Bun – 4/5
Ingredients – 3/5
Condiments – 3.5/5
Presentation – 4/5
Stuffable* – Yes
Value – 3.5/5

*Can you stuff it in your face without a knife and fork?

Overall burger score?

Rated 3 clowns

White Collar Burgers

1. Mohr and Smith – 5/5
2. The Standard – 4.5/5
3. The Winston – 4.5/5
4. Tasman Quartermasters – 4/5
5. Chrome – 3.5/5
6. Crumb Street Kitchen – 3/5
7. Moots in Kahoots at the Naked Bike Cafe – 3/5
8. McDonalds ‘Create Your Taste’ – 3/5

9. pOp Cafe – 3/5
10. Burger Haus – 2.5/5
11. Burger Got Soul – 2/5
12. The Squire’s Bounty – 1.5/5

Blue Collar Burgers

1. Red Jaffa – 4.5/5 (these guys are my sentimental favourite, so they get the #1 gig, despite the equal scores!)
2. Albert Road Store – 4.5/5
3. Budgie Smugglers – 4.5/5
4. Stevo’s Takeaway – 4/5
5. Devil’s Kitchen Cafe – 3.5/5
6. Argyle Take Away – 3.5/5
7. Langridge Store – 3/5
8. Darcy’s Cafe – 3/5
9. Burger Me – 2.5/5
10. Atlantis Takeaway – 2.5/5