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QSR Interview | By Sherri Daye Scott

‘Fine Dining Between Two Buns’

I’m waiting for someone to say we don’t make our fries fresh because of how crispy they are. A lot of chefs would get one of our french fries and say, “Oh, it’s store bought because it’s uniformly crispy and it looks perfect.”

Right now, it’s probably the proudest thing we’re doing here.

One of the things we’re talking to a lot of fast-food R&D chefs about right now is the sodium content. Is that something on your radar? As far as sodium, we’re not concerned because we make all the foods fresh. We’re not canning or packaging. Most of the time that’s where most of the excess sodium is coming from, that’s my guess.

Dieticians blame condiments. Do you make your condiments fresh, too? We make most of our condiments here. We do a green tomato ketchup. We’re kind of using the word “ketchup” loosely for anything that has a ketchup-like consistency. I do buy a Korean ketchup. We just stumbled upon it. Any of those products that have silhouettes of people smiling and licking their lips, those are good products.

We buy a few things. The Japanese mayonnaise that they use at sushi bars, we’ll use here. I’ll use Duke’s mayonnaise, which is a big southern mayonnaise. I used to be a Hellmann’s guy, I’m from New York originally, but now it’s all about Duke’s mayonnaise. We do a smoked mayonnaise here. The recipe is Duke’s mayonnaise and our dehydrated smoke powder mixed together.

You use a very interesting supply of high and low ingredients. You top burgers with red wine jam and Cheese Whiz. We make the cheese spread here and call it cheese wizard. We did a James Beard dinner in Philadelphia, and we were eating cheese steaks, and we were like, “You know, this Cheese Whiz would be great on a burger.” So we have a burger in honor of the Philly cheese steak.

But it’s kind of corny to just bring out the Cheese Whiz or slap on some cheese so here’s where we’re taking an inspiration—prepared Cheese Whiz—and then some molecular gastronomy using a siphon and using a seal with two charges. Really what we’re making is a cheese foam.

Here’s a processed food, but we’re inspired by it. We’re Americans. We grew up using Cheese Whiz and Ready Whip. If I said we made a cheese foam that would be very molecular, fancy. At the end of the day, though, they’re the same thing. Ready Whip is foam.

So we poke fun, but it’s really us making fun of ourselves.

What else are you doing that’s unusual for a burger restaurant? We’re doing a lot of fresh vegetables. We want you to come in and get a burger with, say, today the vegetables are cauliflower salad and it works.

Of course, it’s a burger concept. We have to have fries. We have to have onion. But you know, we also want you to be able to come in and get a fresh soup or come in and get a salad or a side vegetable instead of french fries or onion rings.

To me it makes a difference, if you are going to come in here three days a week. One day you come in here and get a Krispy Kreme milk shake. It’s a doughnut and a half in a milk shake, which is pretty caloric. Krispy Kreme’ll probably shut us down at some point [laughter]. But until they shut us down, we have a Krispy Kreme milk shake, and you can get fries and a burger, and that’s a pretty big meal calorie wise. But you can come in the next day and get a mushroom burger, which is all vegetables, and a side of cauliflower or salad. We’re even doing burgers without buns. That’s how I’m eating them because I have to taste them everyday. I know the bread is good; I’ve tasted enough of it.

Why one type of bun if you have 14 kinds of burgers? When we first started we were like, “OK, here’s what we have to do if it’s going to be a chef-burger restaurant: We’re going to have to have our own butcher room, and we have to bake our own bread, and if we’re going to do 20 different varieties of burgers, then they all have to be different and all the bread has to be different, and …” then, you know, when you have a kid walking through a toy store?

As a chef, you get over excited. I wanted to have a window in the kitchen so you could see a butcher shop thing going on. It would have been an extra $200,000 to set up the facility to grind all of our meat in here. That’s an extra three to four people on staff so it’s a ton of extra labor. And honestly, there is a huge liability issue with grinding your own meat in a restaurant. So with the meat—and I’m really going backwards to get to the bun—we decided that we would find a meat factory plant, let them deal with the liability issues, that’s what they do. We’ll give them the recipe; it will be our blend. That was a financial decision and at the end I think a smart one.

And then the same thing with the bun. You think, “We’ll bake all of our own buns here, and they will all be different.” Then you’re like, “OK, that’s a six-person baking staff that is now a 24-hour labor of staff.”

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