This post is part of the Reporter's Notebook blog.
America, it seems, is suffering from chopsticks anxiety.
At a press event for the launch of limited-time-offer General Tso’s Chicken at Panda Express this week, the chain offered samples of the dish with a “chork,” a hybrid utensil that is part fork, part chopsticks.
It’s like the spork’s Asian cousin.
For Panda, it was either a brilliant move, or a mistake, depending on how you look at it. Consumer interest in the General Tso’s chicken was good, though not terribly enthusiastic.
But, said the Internet, how about those chorks!
The "chork" is a hybrid utensil that is part fork, part chopsticks. Photo: Brown Innovation Group
A photo of the red plastic utensil went viral, giving both Panda Express and the Princeton, Ky.-based manufacturer of the chork hundreds of thousands of impressions overnight.
Most people appeared to be amused by the name and the notion of it. Some debated whether “fopsticks” might have been a better moniker and suggested a spoon/chopstick hybrid would also be useful. Others decried it as a sign of the end of days.
But many indicated that the chork was a welcome solution to their awkward chopsticks-fumbling ways.
@livetodineout @PandaExpress Gosh, it's like the perfect eating implement for half-Asian, half-Caucasian folks like me!— Danette St. Onge (@yum_food) August 11, 2016
When you want to show you're cultured, but not be snobby about it. https://t.co/KBLTnTVwRE— David Godoy (@WaitingForGodoy) August 11, 2016
This could possibly be the greatest invention of the 21st century!! Your move KFC! https://t.co/FdcC9AUg6k— Mike Wiles (@MikeWiles23) August 11, 2016
It should be noted that the good folks at Panda Express said they were considering a roll out of the chork, but they haven’t yet decided. Jimmy Wang, the chain’s director of culinary innovation, said they may even sell it as a retail product.
If Twitter interest is any indication, customers would love it.
“Cheater” chopsticks, or training chopsticks that many families buy for kids, have been available for years. But it seems there is a growing need for hybrid utensils that make chopstick use more accessible.
The chork is a product of Brown Innovation Group, which debuted the product at the 2010 National Restaurant Association trade show, where it won an innovation award, said Jordan Brown, founder and creative director. It hit the market in 2011, and is growing its presence in restaurants and food trucks across the country. Wedding and event planners also love the product.
Denver-based Teriyaki Madness, for example, has offered chorks for years and was quick to jump on the viral bandwagon this week.
For @PandaExpress fans Loving @theCHORK? Had them in our teriyaki shops for years! #wealreadyknewchorkswerecool pic.twitter.com/UH2SZUHFPW— Teriyaki Madness (@teriyakimad) August 12, 2016
Brown sees the chork as a three-way product: It’s a cheater and a fork, but if you snap the sticks, it becomes a proper set of chopsticks, albeit one with a couple of tines on each end. Of course, once you break it, there’s no going back to full chork status without the help of duct tape.
This photo of chorks went viral this week. Photo: Lisa Jennings
The company has even created a somewhat goofy video to demonstrate the product’s use.
It’s not the only hybrid out there. A quick Google search reveals the existence of Forkchops, listed on a gag gift site; fork-knife chopsticks that hook together in a way that seems like an intelligence test; and even “drum chopsticks,” as if you needed to make it easier to tap chopsticks on the table.
It’s a bit soon to sound the death knell for traditional chopsticks in America or to extrapolate about the dilution of authentic Asian culture. And I’m guessing few people cry themselves to sleep after suffering the humiliation of asking for a fork at an Asian restaurant.
Still, the chork’s 15 minutes in the spotlight raises an interesting question: Is there an opportunity in the utensil world that restaurant chains are missing?
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter @livetodineout