Before you order some KFC Cheetos chicken, know this: The sauce is the shade of orange that cartoons use for toxic waste. It is also the shade of orange that can be real-life toxic waste, if you happened to live near Colorado’s Animas River in 2015, when an estimated 1 million gallons of waste water spilled out of an abandoned mine area, turning the water orange. It’s the color we use on caution signs and traffic cones, the shade we instinctively understand: Danger. Avoid. Hazard.
Against all better judgment, I ate this nuclear slime sandwich. So far, I haven’t died. Yay! It is, I am apprehensive to report, better than it looks. Sure, the sandwich looks terrible, but terrible-looking foods can also be good — well, “good” in the way that we grade on a curve when it comes to fast food. Does it satisfy both our curiosity and our taste for salt, sugar and fat? Yes. Will it make you laugh, and then also make you feel ashamed of yourself? Yes, and yes.
But after thirsty and slightly puffy, the feeling you’ll be left with after eating a Cheetos sandwich is cynicism. In the early part of this decade, stunt food used to be stuntier. Those were the prehistoric days of Internet food memes, when This Is Why You’re Fat chronicled the over-the-top bacon-wrapped everythings and real-life Taco Towns of America. It was the heyday of mash-up foods: The Cronut, of course, but also the ramen burger, sushi doughnut and hot dog-crusted pizza. Brands got involved: There was the Doritos Locos taco at Taco Bell, and the Mountain Dew citrus sauce at Buffalo Wild Wings.
KFC was the ringleader, though, with its Double Down, the stunt food against which all stunt foods will be measured. It was a sandwich with two pieces of “bread” composed of fried chicken, on either side of bacon slices and melted cheese — a greasy manifestation of excess that was both celebrated and reviled.
By comparison, the Cheetos sandwich is pretty lazy. It’s a piece of regular fried chicken, halfheartedly drenched in orange “Cheetos sauce” — I have no idea what is in it, because it has no discernible flavor other than Cheetos dust — with a smattering of whole Cheetos glued to the bun with mayonnaise. The Cheetos don’t stay super crunchy after they’ve been exposed to heat and oil via the sandwich. The Cheetos flavor isn’t especially pronounced, but maybe our sandwich was under-sauced? The flavor is more pronounced in the popcorn chicken, which comes swimming in a pool of orange, oily Cheetos sauce.
It isn’t bad-tasting when you grade on the aforementioned curve, though sandwiches with actual cheese are cheesier (maybe Flamin’ Hot Cheetos would be an improvement — and they’re probably going to be on a future menu if this does well). But it’s just not that exciting. Stunt food used to be spectacularly over the top. Now, brands can just throw a fistful of Cheetos on a sandwich and call it a day. And the advertising, which tries to be so cheeky and self-referential by celebrating the commercial partnership between two of America’s leading purveyors of stoner food, just comes across as craven.
So, if the color reminds you of a caution sign, it’s for a good reason: It’s warning you you’re about to get duped.
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