PORTLAND – Jeff Miller and Heidi Curry would love to tell you what they’re working on right now, but then they’d have to kill you.
Not really.

But their day-to-day work in the Dunkin’ Donuts research-and-development lab in Canton, Mass., is so top secret it is kept under lock and key. They can’t even talk to their significant others about what they do, except in a general way.

Miller and Curry, both trained chefs, are part of the culinary team that develops new products for Dunkin’ Donuts. They were in Maine on Tuesday to visit one of their franchises and cook on a local TV show.

The company’s 18-member culinary team is a blend of chefs, bakers and food scientists who follow trends, talk to franchise owners and customers, and visit diners and coffee shops to come up with new ideas for products to put on Dunkin’ Donuts menus.

Their jobs entail such tasks as attending breakfast sandwich tastings and meetings on bacon thickness.

And yes, they do realize that a lot of people would swap places with them in a second.

“My husband says it all the time,” Curry said, laughing. “‘I’ve got to go dig holes, and you’re going to go taste coffee and eat sandwiches? It’s not fair.’”

It can take as long as two to five years to bring a new doughnut, sandwich or coffee flavor to market.

The team considers about 300 new ideas in a year, and tests perhaps 40 to 50 new products in that time frame.

The company’s newest product, the “Big N’ Toasty Breakfast Sandwich,” originated from a tour of Boston-area diners and took two years to launch. The sandwich consists of two fried eggs, four slices of cherrywood-smoked bacon and a slice of American cheese between two thick slices of Texas toast. It clocks in at 580 calories and 11 grams of saturated fat.

“We were trying to think about some classics,” Miller said, “and the thing we like about the Big N’ Toasty is that it’s that classic diner plate, kind of like retro reinvented. You normally get your fried eggs and your bacon and your toast on a diner plate. We said, ‘Why can’t we take that and turn it into a sandwich that people can eat on the go?’”

Working in the lab requires some personal adjustments. Colognes and perfumes aren’t allowed because they interfere with the sense of smell, which is important when you’re trying to discern “jammy” blueberry coffee from a version with “bakery notes.”

Coffee tastings are scheduled early in the day, when the senses are heightened and the palate is cleanest.

“You might taste 14 iterations of a product,” Miller said. “And by No. 14, if you swallowed every bite, you’re going to be in trouble. So you have to learn to either take little bites, or chew and then discard the product. It’s about moderation. You also learn how to plan your schedule so you’re not doing seven hours of tasting in one day.”

While the chefs can’t talk about specific products they’re working on right now, Miller admits there is one he would like to see on the Dunkin’ Donuts menu some day.

“I’d love to have a bacon-topped doughnut,” he said, “but that’s just me.”

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad