Burgermania 2008: Fine Dining Goes Fast Food

Burgermania 2008: Fine Dining Goes Fast Food

Food & Drink

Burgermania 2008: Fine Dining Goes Fast Food


TrendWire is an email newsletter distributed to food professionals to alert them to news and trends. It is provided here to The Food Channel® user. This edition talks about the trend toward high end hamburgers.

Burgermania 2008: Fine Dining Goes Fast Food

When I think of going on a gastronomic excursion to Yountville, California, or I find myself looking for a “Late Night Bite” on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, I never envisioned ANYTHING that includes the phrase, “Would you like fries with that, miss?’

Until now.

Okay, so Idaho Hand Cut Fries with Housemade Ketchup are what accompany my Lamb Merguez Burger featuring Colorado lamb, yogurt sauce, cucumber, olives, red onion and tomato. Upscale, yes, but but c’mon, what’s with all this burger buzz?

The Burger: History on a Bun

According to Wikipedia, which is in turn citing the American Heritage Dictionary, “The term ‘hamburger’ comes from Hamburg steak, which was first recorded in English in 1884 but was probably used much earlier. A form of pounded beef called ‘Hamburg Steak’ was common in Hamburg in the middle of the 19th century. The recipe was brought to North America by the large numbers of people emigrating from Germany at the time, many of whom passed through the port of Hamburg. There is indirect evidence for its use on an American menu in 1836. The term hamburger steak first appeared in a Washington state newspaper in 1889. The first recipe close to the current idea of a hamburger, using ground beef mixed with onion and pepper, dates from 1902.”

The origin of the modern hamburger (ground beef with onions and peppers) continues to be the topic of much debate.

  • In 1885, Charlie “Hamburger” Nagreen of Seymour, Wisconsin, flattened a meatball and placed it between two slices of bread for easy service at the Seymour Fair.
  • Also in 1885, Frank and Charlie Menches of (go figure) Hamburg, New York, created a sandwich of fried beef patties spiced with coffee and brown sugar and christened it the “Hamburg Sandwich.” The name was later shortened to the more common “Hamburger.” Their original creation is still featured at Menches Brothers Restaurants in Akron, Ohio.
  • In 1900, Louis Lassen, proprietor of Louis’ Lunch sandwich shop in New Haven, Connecticut, served a flame-broiled hamburger on white toast to a busy office worker. A page on the U.S. Library of Congress web site credits Louis’ Lunch as the maker of America’s first hamburger.
  • In 1904, Fletcher Davis ran a lunch counter in Athens, Texas, that featured an unnamed sandwich of ground beef. He and his wife, Ciddy, took their creation to the 1904 World’s Fair and served it from “Old Dave’s Hamburger Stand” located in the center of the midway. Mr. Davis is implicitly given credit by the McDonald’s hamburger chain as the inventor of the hamburger.

Well, no matter who the original inventor of the hamburger was, I am sure they never could have imagined what has become of their creation over the last 100 years. We have fried ’em, broiled ’em, flame-broiled and even (gasp) microwaved ’em.

We have made patties from sirloin, chuck, Kobe, Wagyu, buffalo, ostrich, salmon, lamb and a “lively seasoned blend of black bean, tofu and soy.” We have plied our energies and created the Slider, The Whopper, The Big Mac, The Monster Thickburger and the Burger Royale (a prime sirloin burger stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffles that sells for $99 USD at DB’s Bistro Moderne in New York City).

The Burger: Its Culinary Future

But at no time in our American culinary history have so many world-class gastronomic pioneers focused their attention on the burger. Recent years have given rise to some incredible burgers on restaurant menus. Culinary giants Daniel Boulud (_DB’s Bistro Moderne_) and transcontinental toque Alain Ducasse (_Spoon+_, London) have created fantastic burgers from luxe ingredients that will tempt your palate while flattening your wallet. But in 2008, we are seeing established five-star (okay, Michelin…three-star) chefs dedicate entire new restaurant concepts to burgers.

For example, the New Burger Baron Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon is opening Burgers and Half Bottles in a 1,350-square-foot space adjacent to his “temporary” family restaurant Ad Hoc in Yountville, California. Incidentally, Chef Keller is an oft-reported devotee of In-n-Out Burger, the wildly popular Southern California burger with legions of fans.

Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit is one of several chefs, including Iron Chef regular Cat Cora and Blue Ginger owner/chef Ming Tsai, to pair with the Macy’s retail chain and launch new restaurant concepts within its stores as the company expands its operations nationally. Chef Samuelsson’s concept Go Burger will “reflect a lot of culinary diversity.” Though vague on the details at this time, the Ethiopian-born and Swedish-raised Samuelsson, in a recent interview, said that the concept will “have sauces from around the world, different kinds of ketchup, different types of spices and sides and feature different types of protein, like lamb, buffalo and fish.” In a year poised on the brink of a recession, Go Burger “will be about quality, but there has to be a lot of value in it too. It can’t be pricey.”

Bobby Flay of television’s The Food Network and owner of Mesa Grill is expanding his culinary empire with plans for Bobby’s Burger Palace. As of this writing, Flay has signed leases on three spaces in New Jersey and Long Island, New York, with plans to open five to ten new restaurants each year.

Laurent Tourondel, Bon Appetite‘s 2007 Restaurateur of the Year, is opening BLT Burger in Las Vegas’s Mirage Hotel & Casino, an extension of his BLT Restaurant Group that includes BLT Steak, BLT Fish, BLT Prime, BLT Burger and BLT Market, all in New York City. The menu will reportedly feature quality ingredients, including sirloin, short rib, chuck and brisket, American and Japanese Kobe beef, lamb and ahi tuna burgers, served with a variety of french-fry options, including waffle-cut, sweet potato and chili-cheese, to complement the meal. Milkshakes, nostalgic glass-bottled sodas, signature cocktails and a focused selection of beer and wine will support the menu.

Rachael Ray even says her next brand venture will be burgers. Ray told an audience at the American Magazine Conference in 2007 that she will open the yet-untitled “burger joint” in New York, based on 190 burger recipes she has developed. “We’ll rotate them,” she said. “Tuna burgers, swordfish burgers, turkey burgers,” Ray said. “I like anything you can pick up with your hands—portable food.”

Many in the restaurant industry are forecasting a dismal year due to economic pressures, skyrocketing commodity costs and nervous consumers. In response, these food giants, brands in their own right, are shifting their focus from multi-thousand-dollar “eatertainment” dinners with innovative but microscopic portions and class-jumping into more approachable, more recession-proof dining concepts. The medium they have all chosen…the burger.

“Hamburger” Nagreen would be proud.

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