Ever wondered what Cobb & Co’s menu looked like in the 80s? Thanks to an unearthed staff training video, Sam Brooks knows. Now he’s ready to share the unsettling results.
I have been to Cobb & Co once in my life, in 2016. On the way back from Wellington, we stopped in Taupō. Now there are a lot of fine establishments in Taupō to eat at, but I thought it would be fun to eat there. It would be a novelty! It would be a great story!
I am no restaurant critic or food snob, but I know now that when you go somewhere to eat because it would be fun or a novelty or a great story, you deserve exactly what you get. So on this Monday afternoon in a Cobb & Co that could conservatively seat about 300 people, we were the only people there, and we had some fairly disappointing, very English meals.
I got what I deserved.
This has nothing to do with this video which was unearthed by another Spinoff staffer and shared with us incredulously. Upon watching it, it appears to be a relaunch or rebrand (or whatever they called it back in the 80s) of the Cobb & Co menu, intended to be played in-house for staff.
It is 12 minutes of footage that made me want to never eat again. The concept of food is now alien to me; the thought of putting that food inside my body an act of self-harm.
This is a play-by-play of this astonishing appetite cure.
00:00 – We are introduced to Robb Brecht, Cobb & Co sales and advertising manager, and the man who either chose to do this video or drew the shortest straw. To say he is unsuited to the task is to be kind. I feel for this man, and what he must have gone through in the years since this video, the years since the fall of the Cobb Empire.
00:32 – “Our customers’ expectations was quality, yes, quality; quality in food, quality in presentations and quality in service.”
This is delivered like a teenager doing their first Shakespeare: they believe what they’re saying but they don’t understand the words, and especially not in that order.
00:47 – “There was a demand for healthier, lighter and fresher foods.”
None of these requirements are met by the food shown to us in the next 12 minutes, I can promise you.
00:51 – “We found that people’s expectations differed from lunch to dinner.” If you introduced this man, circa 1985, to the concept of ‘gluten free’ or even vegetarianism, he would probably cry or cease to exist entirely. It would be like saying a demon’s name backwards.
01:00 – At this point a chef in the background who is absolutely only pretending to work is more visible. Who is he? What’s his story?
01:02 – “GREAT STEAKS NO MORE COMPLAINTS”
How many complaints were you having about your steaks, Cobb & Co? It’s good that you’ve addressed this, but weird to own up to it in your in-house video.
01:18 – “Now we have attractive, handheld menus with graphic illustrations.”
I suppose the stigma about not trusting restaurants with photos in the menu only came about in the 90s. More fool you, Cobb & Co circa 1985.
01:25 – “Don’t forget the wine list on the back.”
Fun fact: $9.95 in 1985 money is approximately $138.52 now.
01:38 – “Don’t forget our customers’ greatest expectation is quality. Quality of food, quality of presentation, quality of service.”
All of these will be repeatedly and immediately called into question in the subsequent 11 minutes.
02:13 – I am greeted by the sight of someone drizzling what looks like peanut sauce onto a shrimp cocktail, which is like the visual experience of getting the curtain stuck to you in the shower. I’ll never really be clean again.
02:26 – “Notice the new presentation of pâté.” I can hear the man who does all these voiceovers being told what pâté is, being told that it is something you put with food, not really understanding it and then shrugging, because this is paying off his mortgage, because this is an in-house video in the 80s, and that’s the kind of money we had back then.
02:31 – “The pâté is piped onto a small sauce dish.” There’s nothing truly objectionable about this but something about this phrase and the way this man says it makes me feel soiled. I think it’s the use of the word ‘piped’.
02:40 – This is the first of roughly and conservatively 600 appearances of an orange twist, which was apparently used to garnish every dish at Cobb & Co in 1985, from a bunch of wontons to ice cream. They go to ludicrous extents to use oranges, which makes me think they had a real cheap supplier and in the 80s this was a way to make your dishes look fancy.
Similarly, every single dish is served on a bed of lettuce. This is objectively disgusting.
03:00 – Mushrooms on toast. Voiceover guy uses the phrase “hot entree plate” and I feel violated.
03:25 – “All soup should be stirred before pouring into the bowl.”
AS OPPOSED TO WHAT?! Should all these dishes have such specific and obvious instructions? Who is this for? I know it’s internal, but if you’re hiring people who don’t know to STIR SOUP, maybe the rest of these dishes need explanation.
03:40 – There is an entire section of crepes and “deckers”, whatever the hell a decker is.
04:00 – This has now taken the place of the previous worst thing I’ve ever seen. This is some seafood, sauce and lettuce abomination that is, of course, served on a bed of lettuce with an orange twist.
04:19 – Deckers appear to be sandwiches, but Cobb & Co’s deranged twist on them. Like “making a left-handed person write with their right hand” kind of deranged. It’s not wrong, but it’s definitely not right.
04:30 – Something called DTT that I misheard for DDT, and I’m sure ingesting actual DDT would have more nutritional value.
05:21 – A chef’s salad, which truly stretches the definition of both “chef” and “salad”.
05:55 – “The sizzle that sells.” This has shaken me to my core and made me never want to eat a piece of steak ever again.
06:17 – At this point they start mentioning how much each steak weighs, which is maybe a fixation of restaurants, or restaurants in the 80s. They also mention that the steaks can be garnished with garlic butter or peanut sauce, which sounds nice in theory but this video has now turned me off the concept of garnishing and especially food.
06:50 – The man says “ham steak and pineapple” is a family favourite. Again, this cannot be true, but I do remember Cobb & Co being a favourite amongst a certain kind of white person as a child, so I will let this man have his lie.
07:45 – A seafood medley, which has a place on this and many other menus across the world. It should have a place on one menu – in hell.
08:45 – A side salad, consisting of a bed of lettuce and an orange twist, of course, and what looks like a whole damn tomato.
09:00 – “Crispy onion rings. This is a new side dish.” Oh to live in a world where onion rings were novel and not a refuge of the hungover.
10:26 – A fruit salad with a MASSIVE TWIST OF ORANGE. Why do you need the fruit on top of fruit? What are you getting out of it?
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10:57 – The cameraman, likely bored of static shots of what can loosely be called ‘food’, decides to do a pan of Cupid’s Fruit for Two, a name which suggests, incredibly presumptuously, that anybody would want to share a dessert. The pan is as disgusting as anything in the rest of this video and suggests the cameraman would like to fuck this dessert, but honestly it’s probably closer to a human than it is to food, so you go ahead, lecherous cameraman.
11:52 – A waitress who is almost certainly dead by now very badly pretends to serve somebody food, which is a grim ending to this grim video.
I no longer want to eat and you shouldn’t either. But if you do, there’s still a Cobb & Co in Taupō. I recommend the orange twist and bed of lettuce.
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.