Award-winning DC chef’s cooking goes viral with fancy McDonald’s dish

Centrolina chef Amy Brandwein has been racking up awards in recent years. She’s garnered accolades from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington to go with multiple James Beard Award nominations.

But it’s only now that she’s gone viral. And not because she turned out another great Italian dish from ingredients sourced from local farms.

Instead, it’s because TikTok star Danny Grubs, as he’s apt to do, asked her to turn a Happy Meal into something gourmet.

@dannygrubs McDonalds Happy Meal turned gourmet✨ #McDonalds #FoodTok #FoodHacks ♬ original sound – Danny Kim

The social media video clocked in at about 2 1/2 minutes. But in about an hour’s time, she turned Chicken McNuggets, French fries and some apple pies into tortelloni.

“I’ve been on Iron Chef before, many, many years ago, and I’ve done a lot of culinary competitions,” said Brandwein. “That’s the culinary exercise.”

It’s what she does every day. While she admitted to liking the occasional McNugget, she said she cooks with a bigger picture in mind.

“That’s my challenge. I don’t create recipes, I create dishes from ingredients, and I create them in my head, usually on the fly, very quickly,” she said.

“The McDonald’s thing was one of the things that I like to do, actually look at things, and then the synapsis start going and I’m like ‘OK, I’m going to do this, this and this.’”

Chef Amy of Centrolina Restaurant making crispy eggplant

Watch video of Centrolina chef Amy Brandwein cooking crispy eggplant with WTOP.

She orders food for her restaurant from farms.

“I look at the raw ingredients, what’s around me, and I figure out a way to use them in interesting ways,” she said.

‘An exercise of imagination’

While millions have watched her video across multiple platforms, there’s also been some criticism.

Some of the complaints are because of the size of the finished dish presented in the video, though that really wasn’t the point of the contest.

“It wasn’t meant to be an exercise on portion. It was meant to be an exercise of imagination,” she said.

She also garnered a few complaints based on how she pronounced tortelloni — some users confused it with “tortellini,” which is “a different pasta altogether,” the chef said. “Tortelloni is a bigger stuffed pasta, and it’s not folded over like tortellini.”

“It pains me because I would love to just go on there every single time to correct them, but I have things to do,” she said with a laugh.

So, while Brandwein is famous in D.C. for what’s on the menu at Centrolina, around the rest of the world, it’s cooking off the menu that’s made her famous.

“Oh my God, it was so much fun,” said Brandwein. “Yeah, it was great. I loved it.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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