At some point, even the most dedicated of gourmands gets bored with elaborate delicacies and yearns for something a little more basic. And while so-called “foodies” may have once felt embarrassed to admit their love of Funyuns, they’re gaining some high-profile support. The normcore revolution, fresh from inspiring the fashion-savvy crowd to dress like middle-aged dads on vacation in Florida, has now encouraged our best chefs to embrace the canned, boxed, and bagged pantry staples once considered beneath contempt.
Their renditions are familiar, but remarkably transformed. The ingredients are carefully sourced, the execution is inventive, and the platings are works of art. For evidence, head to Toronto’s Aloette, a diner-style spinoff of chef Patrick Kriss’s ultra-luxe Alo. On the menu: an iceberg wedge salad served as a cored disc of greens. In place of bottled ranch dressing, you’ll enjoy a blend of chive cream, parmesan, and wild rice. At Charcut steakhouse in Calgary, you can finish off a meal with a bag of chocolate chip cookies — just like you’d get at the grocery store, only decidedly more upscale. Or book a spot at one of New York’s most coveted new tables, MeMe’s Diner, where you’ll find reverential examples of meatloaf and French onion dip. Just don’t expect to pay 99 cents for their mac and cheese.
Embrace the Classics
Even the best chefs agree: sometimes, it’s worth keeping it simple in the kitchen.
“If you buy a bad brand, it can make you question your whole life. But with Mr. Noodles, I’m pretty happy when I’m nished.”
— Grant van Gameren, owner of Toronto’s Bar Isabel
Minimize the amount of liquid to add more oomph.
Cream of Mushroom Soup
“It just has that homey avour and reminds me of my mom. I usually have Kraft Singles in my fridge so I can pair it with a grilled cheese
on the side.”
— Alexandra Feswick, executive chef of Prince Edward County’s Drake Devonshire Inn
Add some pepper and a little Tabasco sauce.
“I follow the box recipe, but I don’t like it too saucy. It’s something you can stash for the zombie apocalypse.”
— Kate Chomyshyn, chef at Toronto’s Quetzal
Turn it into a casserole by stirring in canned tuna.
Old El Paso Taco Kit
“Walking into the house and getting a whi of that spice mix cooking up with some ground beef is heaven.”
— Derek Dammann, owner of Montreal’s Maison Publique
Mix the included salsa with the beef seasoning, and add Tex-Mex cheese.