William Brinson

Star chefs are ditching foie
gras and foam for tacos and French fries. From Los Angeles to Lyon, here’s
where to sample their delicious cheap eats.

Who liked potato chips in their
sandwiches as a kid? Superstar chef Bobby Flay, that’s who. At Flay’s latest
venture, Bobby’s Burger Palace, the award-winning chef is recapturing his youth
and crumbling potato chips onto all-Angus beef patties for a crunchy surprise.
(An April tweet of his even advised: “Have a L.A. burger, and ask to have it

“Now that I’ve gotten to this
point in my career, I can do the thing I crave the most—which is a
cheeseburger, fries and a shake,” he told Newsday in July 2008, on the eve of
opening his first location, in Lake Grove, Long Island. Not surprisingly, the
“house” pick at Bobby’s Burger Palace is the Crunchburger.

 Forget KFC’s new grilled
chicken and Baskin-Robbins’s “healthy” ice cream: the real news in fast food is
around dishes spun from the unique visions—and tastes—of the world’s top chefs.

 The Fast Food: Global Industry
Guide forecasts the global fast-food market will reach $130 billion by 2012, a
number that hasn’t gone unnoticed by some of the world’s great
chef-entrepreneurs seeking to leave their culinary mark—and cash in—on the
ever-ballooning trend of “fast casual” dining.

 Over the past decade, a number
of star chef–created fast-food restaurants have opened to great fanfare, with
several debuting in the past year alone. Chefs like Hollywood culinary darling
Wolfgang Puck, British Michelin-star collector Heston Blumenthal, and Spanish
molecular gastronomist Ferran Adrià have crossed the culinary stratum to make
their brand of cooking more accessible at high-concept in-and-out restaurants
where dishes rarely cost more than $10.

 It was in the 1970s in New York
City that the internationally renowned French chef Paul Bocuse first discovered
the allure of the McDonald’s Egg McMuffin and its famous fries. “These are the
best French fries I have ever eaten. I want to meet the chef,” he told his
translator Colette Rossant, who recounts the story in her 2006 book, The World
in My Kitchen. In 2008, some 30 years later, Bocuse, at the age of 82, opened
his own fast-food restaurant, Ouest Express, in Lyon, France.

It’s tough to deny the guilty
caloric pleasure of a juicy, three-napkin burger, refuse a plate of golden,
perfectly crisped fries, or pass up a coffee milkshake on a steamy summer
afternoon. Take New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer (who created Gramercy
Tavern and other top-rated fine restaurants): he threw carb counts to the wind
when he conceived Shake Shack. Though it began life as a mere hot dog cart, the
Madison Square Park kiosk has emerged as the burger joint of choice for many
New Yorkers, many of whom are willing to wait in long lines for a single
ShackBurger or “hand-spun” custard shake.

Some star chefs are even
venturing into healthy fast food. Chicago chef Rick Bayless relies on naturally
raised meats and fresh ingredients to make items like grilled steak tortas and
small-batch tomatillo salsas at his Mexican-themed Frontera Fresco restaurants
in several U.S. cities. And U.K. chef Heston Blumenthal, whose Bray restaurant,
Fat Duck, earned three Michelin stars in 2004, was hired to bring a healthy,
gourmet touch to the British roadside institution Little Chef.

 If given the choice, wouldn’t
you choose the chicken wrap combo meal from the chef who’s known for his
crayfish nage with Pouilly-Fuissé? We thought so—bon appétit!