Panera, the sandwich chain and the most trusted quick-service restaurant in America, may be known as a fast-casual lunch spot, but this this company has been cooking their turkey breast and, more recently, beef, via the French sous vide method for five years. Sous vide is the in-vogue cooking trend made popular by high-end chefs like Heston Blumenthal (the Fat Duck) and Paul Bocuse (L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges), and involves placing food in vacuum-sealed plastic bags and submerging them in a water bath.
“We had to reinvent our turkey five years ago and start employing some pretty high-end culinary methods,” said Panera head chef Dan Kish. “We’ve been doing this for years. We’re talking millions of pounds of sous vide-cooked proteins. It’s one thing to do it for yourself or small batch, but on this scale it’s impressive, and the taste really comes through.”
Besides their surprising sous vide methods, we also learned that Panera does not have a test kitchen (“I use my kitchen at home,” said Kish. “I wouldn’t start with ingredients I wouldn’t give to my own family.”), and that the company supports GMO labeling, but aren’t ready to make the leap to become GMO-free.
Kish also admitted that the company is not perfect, and explained that they are constantly revamping their menu. The Daily Meal noted in an article this week that one of Panera’s sandwiches, the Bacon Turkey Bravo, has more calories and triple the sodium of a McDonald’s Bic Mac.
“Our Bacon Turkey Bravo is 700 calories, and we are working on that, on taking out the sodium without compromising taste,” said chef Kish. “The sandwich is what it is. We have nothing to hide behind. But to me, a calorie is just a calorie, and the actual nutritional density of what you consume is more important.”