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July 31, 2019

Where's The Beef?

We’ve all heard the saying “It’s as American as Apple Pie”. As far as I’m concerned and if we are associating food to American greatness and heritage, we’d be remiss in my opinion if we didn’t include “The Burger” in that statement.


There is much debate regarding the evolution of “The Burger” here in the United States. The following is my very abridged and simplified version. In the late eighteenth century, the largest ports in Europe, were in Germany.  Sailors and Immigrants alike who had visited the ports of Hamburg, Germany and New York, brought the term “Hamburg Steak” into popular usage.  To attract German sailors, food stands along the New York City harbors offered steak cooked in the “Hamburg Style”, pattied low-grade chopped or ground beef with regionally inspired seasoning mixed in. No one, to my knowledge knows for certain who first put this now iconic chopped steak onto a bun, but the good news is someone did, and so the American Hamburger was born. Also debated is who put, what we now know as the hamburger, on the menu first. To the best of my research the first version was served at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City, the Steak Burger, for a whopping 10 cents. It is a staple on their menu today.

Beyond that, one thing for certain, burgers continue to BOOM. Look at Ray Crock’s iconic McDonald's. McDonald's early “go to market plan” was pairing a simple burger with thin cut fries and a shake to boost check average. When I was a kid, I used to watch the “Burgers Sold” count on McDonald's signs climb at a feverish rate. It seemed like every time mom drove past the “golden arches” another million were sold. Many years back, keeping count apparently became impossible so they reverted to taking a page from the late great American astronomer and astrophysicist, Dr. Karl Sagan’s reference to stars in the solar system, settling on “billions and billions sold”.

It seems that in America and beyond, on almost every street corner and in almost every restaurant one can get some version of this popular American nosh. Its noteworthy that today’s burger craze has evolved significantly as burgers are no longer simply beef patties on a bun. Many of today’s burgers are some version of the beloved handheld, prepared with fun ingredients and alternative proteins and grains of every imaginable combination setting record profits all around the globe. Even high-end celebrity chefs like Laurent Tourondel, Richard Blais, Hubert Keller, Bobby Flay, Marcus Samuelsson, and Emeril Lagasse have dipped their toe into this profit pool. One of my favorite celebrity “burger joints” is Gordon Ramsay Burger at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. His Turducken Burger, prepared with a ground turkey patty, fried chicken egg, duck confit, baby kale and honey mustard spread is certainly not your average backyard classic and definitely white tablecloth worthy.

Several years ago, I along with some fellow chefs, enjoyed a dining exploration in the “Keep It Weird” city of Austin, Texas. This trip represented the first time I had ever experienced that dynamic food metropolis. I, as so many foodies do, immediately fell in love with their diverse food culture and have returned many a time since. During that first visit we ate at a burger emporium known as Hopdoddy Burger Bar. Albeit the line to get lunch spanned around the block, we had a secret in, which significantly shortened our wait. Thanks Andy.

During that lunch, we sampled…. well…. everything on the menu. Two of my faves were the Ahi Tuna Burger, a sushi-grade tuna patty with sunflower spouts, nori chips, teriyaki honey wasabi, pickled ginger, lettuce, heirloom tomatoes and onion. And their house made black bean and corn vegan offering called The Bandito. Having a vegan offering fall on to my top two should tell you something about its flavor delivery as I am a card-carrying member of the carnivore’s club. Hopdoddy’s founder must have done something right as the chain now boasts north of 30 locations in 7 states.

I know you’ve grown to value the fact that if its trendy, Custom Culinary® is all over it and there to help. Check out our line of flavorful Craft Toppings™ which includes our Gold Label Bacon Onion MarmaladeJalapeño Relish and Harissa. These and others will jump start your creativity regarding the reinvention of the “Humble Hamburger”, so that you too can dip your toe into that oh so profitable pool. Like, Whimpy, the beloved character from the old Popeye cartoon used to say, "I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

See you in the funny papers!

David Russell
Corporate Executive Chef - CEC, CAA
Custom Culinary, Inc.