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Are You America's Next 'Top Chef'?; Happy Meals Now Come With Books

Five things to know today.

Gerrit Beukema/Flickr

If you don't have any plans this weekend and think standing in an insanely long line of starry-eyed reality TV hopefuls sounds appealing, you're in luck: Top Chef has been renewed for a 14th season, and casting calls get underway this Friday in Las Vegas and continue Sunday in New York City (with additional sessions planned for seven other cities).

In other food world news today: McDonald's is promoting literacy via McNuggets and fries, fast food chains are trying really hard to be "authentic," and culinary school is definitely maybe not worth it. Also: a beginner's guide to mezcal presented in handy gif form.

— The latest "prize" to be included in McDonald's Happy Meals is sure to piss off legions of children across the nation: Starting yesterday through February 15, the kids' meals will contain not cheap plastic toys but rather, books. Four different titles of the mini paperbacks will be distributed including the anthropomorphized teddy bear classic Paddington. We can hear the wails of injustice already.

— Speaking of McDonald's, one franchisee just said what millions of people are already thinking about E. coli-stricken Chipotle and its recent "all-clear" from the CDC:

Clearly there's no love lost between the burrito slinger and the burger chain that was once its former largest investor.

— Adding fuel to the argument that culinary school simply isn't worth it: The Toronto Star recently spoke to chefs who are decidedly unimpressed by a pricey cooking school degree. "We have two students from the same program. One is completely useless, one is OK. I’d say (the ratio) is more 70 (percent) bad, 30 (percent) good," says Danny McCallum, executive chef of Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse. "More than 50 percent couldn’t pull a brunoise out of their tuchus if they had to," adds a kitchen employee at Mexican restaurant La Carnita.

— Unless you're a marketing guru, "fast food" and "authenticity" aren't two terms typically used in the same sentence — but that's precisely what big chains like KFC and McDonald's are striving for these days with stripped-down packaging and store designs in pursuit of the all-important millennial demographic. But are "cooler" chains like Shake Shack and Five Guys actually "just as contrived as their bigger brothers"? When it comes to chain restaurants, perhaps coolness is in the eye of the beholder.

— Mezcal is undeniably hot right now, and the complex Mexican spirit is often reductively explained as "smoky tequila" — but it's really much more than that. Here's mezcal explained in one delightful gif:

Mezcal gif