Who is the man who can jam over any man?
Can you dig it?
That’s how the commercial begins and, so far, everything is normal. Shaq is dressed like Shaft, and over a rewritten Shaft theme, he walks along city streets and dunks on some dudes playing street ball — pretty much how you’d picture a normal day for Shaq. But then the lyrics take a turn.
Who’s the cat that wants sourdough, bacon and all that?
I’m talkin’ ‘bout Shaq Pack.
About 10 seconds in, you realize it’s a Burger King commercial, and Shaq is promoting a meal named after himself, which, as Shaq explains, is “a grilled sourdough bacon cheeseburger, crispy fries with free warm chili cheese dipping sauce and a Coca-Cola classic.” The year was 2002, and the Shaq Pack was the Travis Scott Meal of its day. If you remember the Shaq Pack at all, it was probably for the commercial — and if you ever found yourself looking to relive any Shaq Pack memories from the early aughts, watching that commercial on YouTube would probably be enough to scratch that itch.
But that’s not the case for Josh Scherer, aka “Mythical Chef Josh,” host of the culinary YouTube show Mythical Kitchen. For Scherer, a mere 30 seconds of the Shaq Pack isn’t enough. Instead, he’s got to recreate the Shaq Pack in its entirety to get the full Shaq Pack experience, which is exactly what he did for a 2018 episode of Good Mythical Morning, a comedy talk show that features Scherer as the chef preparing all kinds of bizarre and interesting foods for the hosts to eat on camera (Mythical Kitchen is itself a spin-off of Good Mythical Morning).
To recreate something like the Shaq Pack, it wouldn’t be enough to just make a bacon cheeseburger on sourdough. That might be inspired by the Shaq Pack, but that ain’t a Shaq Pack. To get the proper Shaq Pack experience — or any other discontinued fast food menu item for that matter — Scherer has to go about things much more scientifically. “I came from the journalism world, and I would write a lot about fast food. I’m obsessed with food science, especially commercial production-grade food,” Scherer explains. “All the ingredients that are in fast-food items have to be disclosed online and through the power of Google, you can find an ingredients list for all of this stuff.” He also says that advertising plays a big role, as he refers to old posters and commercials to make sure he creates the proper look of an item, too. “There’s a fair amount of research that goes into it,” he tells me.
Once he’s got his ingredients list, Scherer heads to whatever fast-food chain the item came from. “We get any item that we can actually get from the store that still exists, even down to the cheese,” Scherer says. “I’m so used to going to Taco Bell and saying, ‘Can I get eight sides of cheese? I’m very sorry.’” This has taken a bit of trial and error over the last couple of years. For example, he ran into some trouble when he was trying to buy just onions from McDonald’s to recreate the 1970s menu item “Onion Nuggets.” He needed to buy eight sides of just onions and one McDonald’s refused to hand them over. Fortunately, another McDonald’s was cool with it. “We now know where the friendlier McDonald’s is near us for weird asks,” he says.
After the fast-food chain, he gets the rest of the ingredients from the grocery store, using his vast knowledge of fast-food ingredients and principles. One of those principles is the “rule of thirds,” which basically means that, in fast food, the ingredients for a menu item should be about one-third of the menu price. That rule became particularly important when he recreated the McLobster, which was a seasonal lobster roll sold at McDonald’s starting back in 1993. The McLobster was last sold in 2017 for $9, which means Scherer had to make a $3 lobster sandwich, which he did by using some lobster as well as some “imitation chunk style lobster meat,” along with a McDonald’s bun and McDonald’s lettuce.
Once the ingredients are all purchased, Scherer prepares them and reheats them as authentically as possible, using the proper oils and cooking methods to create the taste of fast food. While it’s sometimes tempting to create a better version of these items, the task is to get as close to the real things as possible, so Scherer does what he has to do to obey that. The items are then taste-tested by the hosts.
The segment became a hit on Good Mythical Morning, so when Scherer spun off with Mythical Kitchen he made “Past Foods” a recurring segment on his own show. Scherer has recreated a number of his personal favorites, including Taco Bell’s “Volcano Taco,” which he cites as his favorite revival. “The Volcano menu was a menu that I think lasted way too short for a Taco Bell lifespan, because the Doritos Locos Taco kind of came in and supplanted it. I remember when the Volcano menu came out, I thought it was a new era for Taco Bell. They were actually making things spicy for the first time ever and then, poof, it was gone. It was an item I had a lot of real-life nostalgia for, and I got to satisfy that by bringing it back,” he says.
To bring the Volcano Taco back, he got shredded lettuce and meat from his friendly local Taco Bell. From there, he had to make a fresh, ultra-thin tortilla that was loaded up with red dye and fried to the proper shape. Although the Doritos taco shell is flavored like Doritos, the Volcano Taco was simply dyed red and all the flavor went into the ingredients inside the shell. Finally, he had to make the lava sauce, which was cheddar powder and mayo mixed with pure red jalapeño purée. The Lava Sauce, Scherer stresses, was the true victim of the discontinuing of the Volcano menu because, according to him, nothing they’ve made since has compared to its heat.
To go from spicy to sweet, Scherer recounts what it took to create the waffle taco, which was on Taco Bell’s menu for only a year. “The first thing I remembered about the Waffle Taco was that fake Log Cabin maple syrup smell, so a whole bunch of fake maple extract from Walmart went into the waffle batter.” Once the waffle was made, he dropped it in oil and fried it by pushing down on it with a paint scraper in the middle to get the proper taco shape. He then made a very processed fatty pork sausage with even more of that fake maple in there. Next, he added the egg and cheese that Taco Bell still makes to finish it off. Scherer says that one in particular took a good deal of trial and error, mostly because “it’s hard to make a lot of these items without factory equipment, but that’s also the fun of it.”
Heading back over to Burger King, Scherer also recreated BK’s retired “Angriest Whopper,” which not only had a bun that was dyed bright red, but also had hot sauce baked into the bun itself. As for the sauce, he couldn’t find the ingredients online, but remembered that it tasted a bit like barbecue sauce, mayo and a syrupy chili dressing. “An unspoken rule of fast food is that 90 percent of their sauces are mostly mayonnaise,” he says. He also made some onion rings with ghost pepper seasoning along with several other unique ingredients. “There was like 11 ingredients, so it was one of the more complicated ones, but it made me really nostalgic for the Angriest Whopper.”
Nostalgia, Scherer explains, is why he thinks his series has been so successful (most of the “Past Food” episodes of Mythical Kitchen have received 800,000 to a million views each). “People are really into nostalgia. Like, you see these lists that are like, ‘39 Things Only ‘90s Kids Will Remember,’ and at first, I think it’s so stupid. Then five minutes later, I’m like, ‘I do remember Hi-C Ecto Cooler!’ People just love reliving things, especially if it’s something that they thought only they’d remember.”
No matter what he makes next though, he can’t imagine anything being quite as personal to him as the Shaq Pack. “The Shaq Pack was me at my prime fast-food-eating age as a pre-teen, and I was obsessed with Shaq,” he confides. “I’d buy the Shaq brand shoes from Big 5 for $14.99, and I’d get the Shaq Pack all the time. So when I made that one, it hit me pretty close. That one was just sourdough and cheese sauce, so it was an easy one. It was a lay-up, or for Shaq, I guess I should say it was a slam dunk.”