Hubert Keller admits that he had eaten maybe three hamburgers before he and fellow chef Laurent Pillard agreed in 2004 to create the Burger Bar restaurant in Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino. But the unlikely combination of the French-born chefs and the iconic American food has turned out just fine. Keller brings a spritely European sophistication to burger building that sets him apart from Bobby Flay and other home-grown burger aficianados.
Keller now operates Burger Bar locations in St. Louis and San Francisco (where haute-cuisine Fleur de Lys restaurant has been his home base since 1986), and he and co-author Penelope Wisner gather his thinking about making perfect burgers along with some great recipes in the just-published cookbook, “Burger Bar: Build Your Own Ultimate Burgers” (John Wiley & Sons). “We knew everyone loves burgers, but we wanted to offer something new,” Keller writes in explaining the genesis of Burger Bar’s “build your own” approach (diners choose meat, bun, cheese, etc. from long lists of options). “What if we re-imagined burgers, and applied our fine-dining culinary expertise to create the best-tasting burgers possible? We would take them seriously because, we noticed, burger lovers take the subject seriously. Very seriously.”
Keller, too, takes burgers seriously, but he clearly enjoys himself as he addresses all aspects of burger making. There are chapters devoted to side dishes (such as Perfect French Fries and Alsace beer-battered onion rings), burger condiments and sauces (Cilantro-Arugula Pesto, for example), great go-with drinks (from milkshakes to mojitos) and even hamburger-inspired desserts (Creamy Cheesecake Burger).
Keller’s admonition that burgers are best when meat is freshly ground is sound advice for restaurateurs and home chefs alike. But he goes easy on the lectures, prefering instead to spend time tossing out customization ideas for each burger.
Helped by Bill Milne’s photography, all Keller’s burgers look great and he covers all the bases. If you don’t want one of his Blue Cheese-Stuffed Bacon Sliders (click here for the recipe) as soon as you see the photo (above), you’re no burger lover. His Feijoada Burger, inspired by Brazil’s national dish, combines black beans and pork, topping it off with orange slices. The Rossini Burger–a marriage of Kobe beef, sauteed foie gras and shaved truffles that is priced at $60 on the Burger Bar menu–thankfully is not here.
Separate chapters give poultry, fish/seafood and vegetarian burgers their due, and Keller invites readers to freely deconstruct/reconstruct all the burgers he builds here. “You can pare the presentations down to the essentials or borrow a relish or accompaniment from one recipe to serve with another,” he writes. “The important thing is to cook, not to follow the recipes exactly.”
It all proves that while Keller may have started late, he understands the spirit and glory of burger building deeply and respectfully. Cookbooks can be expensive. At $22.95, “Burger Bar” offers dozens of great ideas for the price of a single burger at many restaurants.