by Kate Heyhoe
Eat your burger, Johnny, and grow up to be a billionaire!
According to David Graulich, author of The Hamburger Companion, burger love transcends all classes, races and occupational strata. Even billionaires shamelessly admit their addiction to burgers, especially cheeseburgers.
Warren Buffet reportedly ponders his next investment decision while feeding on cheeseburgers and fries alone in his office. The late Katherine Graham, owner of the Washington Post, served him cheeseburgers for dinner whenever he came to town. And though he and his wife participated in a gourmet club, where couples prepared elaborate dinners ranging from French crepes to Swedish meatballs, Buffet would pleasantly ask the hosts to prepare a hamburger for him instead.
Cheeseburgers and shakes became a lunch ritual for Bill Gates, fueling the success of Microsoft as early as 1981. That's when the company moved into a 2-story office building—right next to the Burgermaster drive-in. Billions of dollars later, Gates' passion for burgers continues. Without partiality, he has eagerly wolfed down $17 hotel burgers, greasy airport versions, and on one 1995 trip, Gates particularly rejoiced at finding a 24-hour McDonald's in Hong Kong.
In the Ford Motor Company's executive dining room, Henry Ford II rarely ate anything but hamburgers. According to Lee Iacocca, Ford complained that his own personal chef at home couldn't make a decent burger. In fact, no one made burgers as perfect as the ones at the executive dining room. Curious, Iacocca asked the establishment's chef to show him what he did to make Ford so happy with his burgers. The chef went to the fridge, grabbed an inch-thick slab of New York strip steak, ran it through a grinder, patted up a patty and tossed it on the grill. "Amazing what you can cook up when you start with a five-dollar hunk of meat," said the chef with a sly smile. (Though it would be more like a $25 hunk of meat today.)
Burgers, like people, have personalities. Which may be one reason so many of them have first names, last names, or nicknames. Take the DB Burger, for instance, christened after its inventor Daniel Boulud, priced at an eyebrow-raising $50, and dressed in such culinary couture as foie gras, braised short rib, and black truffles. At the other end of the scale are fast food burgers, which tend, like mafia dons and wrestlers, to emphasize their girth: Big Macs, Whoppers, Big Boys, Champburgers, Fatburgers, and such. Across the pond, burgers take on the personality of the locals—a colonial curry burger in Britain, kangaroo burgers in Australia, and the lost-in-translation Mos Burger of Japan.
But with hamburgers, quality doesn't have to mean fancy foie gras or expensive kobe beef. Burgers are the world's most democratic, catholic, and egalitarian food. Since their inception 100-plus years ago, burgers have evolved beyond drive-ins, backyards, and ballparks to become familiar fare of board rooms, billionaires, and stockbrokers, yet the best burgers are as likely to be found in dark dives as they are on Fifth Avenue.
A burger's success rests entirely on its personality. It must be well balanced with character. When it comes to haute hamburgers, the goal is to enhance the inherent comfort elements of "meat on a bun" with unexpected sparks of flare and innovation. Get too far out and you invite scorn for messing with tradition. After all, for many, a simple, basic burger is as good as it gets.
For instance, billionaire Warren Buffet prefers his burgers traditional—rare with extra mayo, tomato and no sides—at Omaha's Crescent Moon Alehouse. As with Bill Gates, more than one President of the United States has seemed quite happy with basic burgers. President Obama took his staff to lunch at the Good Stuff Eatery and treated Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to cheeseburgers at Ray's Hell Burger.
Yet, even for purists, an occasional dip into artistic license can be a welcome change of pace. Burgers are blank canvases for inspired chefs, and easy to turn into culinary works of art.
So kick-off the fall season with these non-traditional burgers. They're as simple to make as they are to eat, and each has its own style. Serve them with beer or champagne, at fancy fests or tailgating grill-outs. And whatever the flavor, whatever the ingredients, get inspired: devising your own "billionare burgers" can be the ultimate class act.
Copyright © 2011, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified September 2011
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