Todd Wilbur, the creator of Top Secret Recipes, marches to the beat of his own drumstick. This burger-busting bad boy ignited cloning fever with his first book, Top Secret Recipes, in 1993. Creating a Big Mac® is no big deal if you follow Todd Wilbur’s instructions. His Top Secret Recipes books show you how to prepare your favorite commercial foods at home.
I have followed Todd Wilbur since his career began simmering in 1993. It was a thrill for me to speak with him. After reading this, I hope you will join the millions of Americans who are proud “Clonies.”
Maria: You have created a great deal of Top Secret Recipes. Which of clones is your favorite?
Todd Wilbur: I have a sentimental favorite, which is the Mrs. Fields® cookie clone. That was my very first clone. It kicked off the Top Secret Recipes books. You’re familiar with that, right?
Maria: Yes, I am. In fact, those fake emails are still going around.
Todd Wilbur: They’re still going around. I saw that MSN had a list of the top 25 most common internet scams. That is one of them, and it’s still going around! I tried that recipe, and it tasted terrible. I thought it would be cool to make a better recipe and eventually a book of recipes. That is what started me cloning. Also, in this new book, Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2, the Red Lobster® Cheddar Bay Biscuits are a favorite because it’s such a requested recipe.
Maria: Each creation, like the Mrs. Fields cookie, has a story behind it. Which is the most memorable for you?
Todd Wilbur: The salsa from Baja Fresh® is. It is a black salsa that uses charred tomatoes. When I grilled the tomatoes, they were mushy and fell through the grates. I couldn’t figure out how to get them black enough. I figured I would go to Baja Fresh® and watch them make it. I went super early, like ten in the morning, hung out, and peered through the window. They were looking at me like some kind of weird stalker like, “Who is this guy? Boy, he’s hungry. We’re not even open for an hour!”
I went inside when they opened at eleven and hung out at a table. I got a giant Pepsi and kept my eye on the grill. Two hours went by – nothing. I thought, “I have to speed this up. I’ll order some salsa – a lot of salsa.” I ordered 30 tubs to go, which put the place into Baja “salsa code red. ” They freaked out because they were not going to have salsa for the rest of the day.
Finally, a guy came out with a big box of cold, under ripe tomatoes and slammed them on the grill. Then I saw how they did it. Because the tomatoes were very under ripe and cold, they turned super black. I watched them make the rest of the salsa and walked out of there with a great recipe, which I put on the website, plus about two gallons of salsa.
Maria: Did they know who you were?
Todd Wilbur: No, they had no idea. I just went in there and ordered all the salsa they had. The place was crazy! It was pretty cool. Sometimes you have to take extreme measures.
Maria: Speaking of extreme measures: Have you ever had problems with or threats from any of the companies whose products you have cloned?
Todd Wilbur: No, we’re careful to not step on anyone’s toes. Legally, we put trademark symbols where they belong. I always say that they are my original recipes. They are Top Secret Recipes version of whatever the recipe is. We make the food and shoot pictures of the food that we make.
Companies don’t look at it as a threat to their business since you’re making the food at home. In fact, they look at it as exposure – more exposure and publicity. The book tour for Even More Top Secret Recipes was sponsored by KFC®. They wanted to pay me to promote the book and talk about how I love KFC® so much that I put six clone recipes in my book.
This has happened before. When I went on the Oprah show ten years ago, I cloned a sauce from T.G.I. Friday’s®, the Jack Daniels® Grill Glaze. They went with me to T.G.I. Friday’s® in Vegas, where I live. Executives from Dallas came out, opened the store, and we taped a reenactment of how I figured out that sauce for the Oprah show. At the end of the show, waiters from California Pizza Kitchen® ran through the audience and handed out pizza. We did a taste test with CPK®. A lot of the chains enjoy the publicity that they get from these books.
Maria: Which Top Secret Recipes clone did you have the most fun creating?
Todd Wilbur: I did a drink book two books ago called Sodas, Smoothies, Spirits, & Shakes. The first half of it is sodas like Coca-Cola® and 7Up®. There are smoothies from Jamba Juice®, Orange Julius®, and milkshakes from McDonald’s®. But, the second half is cocktails from restaurant chains! That was fun! I would go to the chains at eleven or right when they opened so I could sit at the bar and watch the bartender make the drinks without a lunch rush. But, you can’t take them home. You drink four or five of some of these drinks and you’re smashed. Then, you go home, take a nap, and you have to make them while you still remember what they taste like. Four or five drinks later, you’re smashed all over again! That was what I call the “lost summer.”
*Stay tuned for part two of my interview with America’s favorite “Ruler of Replicas,” Todd Wilbur, and his Top Secret Recipes escapades.