QSR Interview | By Sherri Daye Scott
Pork belly. Smoked mayonnaise. Fries seasoned with fresh herbs after being cooked in a duck fat/lard/peanut oil mix. Buns brushed with butter, rosemary, and garlic. Milkshakes flavored with white truffles and made with liquid nitrogen. Raisin ketchup.
These are the touches that earned Atlanta’s Flip Burger Boutique mention in Food & Wine, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. Those touches—plus the celebrity of the chef behind Flip Burger, Richard Blais.
I, too, am intrigued by Blais’ menu. But the draw is not the ingredients he’s using to dress his burgers. The prices pique my interest. With the exception of a novelty foie gras and truffle–topped Kobe offering, no Flip burger sells for more than $9. And for $9, you get lamb.
Let’s put those prices in a limited-service perspective: You crave a good burger. Your choices are Five Guys or Flip. For just more than $7, you can purchase a Five Guys’ Little Hamburger, plus a large fry. For $10, you can purchase a Flip Burger and fries. That three additional dollars buys house-made pickles; a proprietary hanger steak/brisket/short rib–blend 5.5-ounce patty, and the aforementioned fries sprinkled with rosemary. Neither option is value-oriented. An Oldtimer-and-fries combo at Chili’s is cheaper than either. But an Oldtimer doesn’t taste like a Little Hamburger. And a Little Hamburger doesn’t taste like a Flip.
And it’s those taste nuances Blais is betting on as he moves to bring his vision of what a burger should be to the masses.
What is Flip Burger Boutique all about? Initially it was Barry Mills’ vision. We randomly just kind of met. He’s kind of the aesthetic sort, you know, the vibe sort of guy. He wanted me to do something really creative with burgers. I happen to have a real strong passion for hamburgers.
In most of interviews, a chef gets asked, “What would be your last meal?” I’d say a burger. My first job was at McDonalds. My second job was at Fuddruckers when I was 14 years old. My roots are really, really humble.
So I met Barry who actually wanted to embrace what a hamburger is and then stretch that. He gave me the freedom to say, “Hey, I want to do something that’s totally different and super creative”. I thought it was a neat challenge. You know, I mean, thinking about Top Chef, this was a great challenge: Let’s take the burger and see how far we can stretch it without really going too far. Everyone’s thoughts about burgers are so personal.
We had a lot of fun with it.
He just wanted to do something that was a little different. He found the right guy in Atlanta to do it. It’s been a great relationship. It’s kind of like a blind date that’s just like been perfect.
What makes a burger a burger? When we first got the concept, we needed to define the box that we were playing in, and it’s pretty simple: Whatever the burger is has to be ground, and it has to have a bun—and that’s it. That’s our canvas; that’s our frame.
There are a couple of restaurants that have these “gourmet burger” menus. And on them is a chicken breast that’s fried. That’s a chicken sandwich; that’s not a burger. The term “burger” is not synonymous for a sandwich. It has to be a bun, a hamburger bun. It has to be ground.
Tell me about your menu. We have three secret options a day, three vegetarian options, three pork versions, and, what we’re calling three “alternative meats,” a lamb and a duck and venison. And then, we have eight to 10 beef burgers. The menu is designed—beef burgers and then flip burgers. Flip burgers are anything that’s not beef.
How often do you change the menu? Everyday that I can. One or two things will come in and one will go out. We have a rotation of 30 different burgers right now.
You’ve got to meet some of my staff. These are chefs who have worked with me for five years. Mark, who is the operating chef, has been with me for five years and three different concepts. Gary, who has been with me for more than a year, is my sous chef. It’s not just a couple of guys flipping burgers in a joint or a burger stand or a bar. It’s chefs back here treating it as they would treat a $50 steak at a restaurant.