After cooking in some of San Francisco's best restaurants, I've realized that the zen of making burgers is the culinary focus that I want to master. But it wasn't until I started slaughtering my own beef that I figured out the secret.
I grew up in North Carolina, and my parents got divorced when I was around 14 years old, so I started cooking a lot because I could and because my mom was working, which she hadn't really done when she was married. This was a while ago, when the ethos surrounding the concept of super local, seasonal food wasn't as present. I only noticed this focus after I moved to San Francisco and started working at Slow Club in the Outer Mission neighborhood. It was the kind of place that focused on quintessential American, California neighborhood cuisine. Sixty percent of our entrée sales were burgers. I took over, and we stuck with most of the same foods (I put my twist on it), but that was when I really started thinking about the burger and started seeking them out.
When I'd come into work hungover, my guilty pleasure was making a bleu cheese, (super) rare hamburger. Nowadays, I eat maybe one, two, or three burgers a week. They never get old to me.
There was a cattle ranch up in Mount Shasta that was in need of a private personal chef, and a woman who works for the ranch owner contacted me to see if I was potentially interested. I said yes to what was supposed to be a very short-term thing, but ended up staying with them for over a year, spending time around what I consider the best beef I've ever tasted. I killed sheep, goats, pigs, and I shot one steer. I'd never been put in the situation where I had to shoot something in the head. It was interesting to know that I could do it. You just do it. For the first time, I was involved in every step of in the process, from seeing the animal alive to killing it, watching it be skinned, aging it, butchering it, and then eating it. It became a sort of obsession.
My new project, Kronnerburger, is opening up in September, an idea that began as a pop-up. We worked out of a window in a shithole nightclub where we were at the mercy of what was there. Thankfully, in our upcoming brick and mortar location, I'll have space to control everything. We'll be baking our own buns in house and can have the option to grill over wood coals.
I killed sheep, goats, pigs, and I shot one steer. I'd never been put in the situation where I had to shoot something in the head. You just do it. For the first time, I was involved in every step of in the process. It became a sort of obsession.
To me, a really great burger is in the taste and the experience, but I don't really think there's anything 'perfect' in food. You can have a totally satisfying burger sitting in your car, or a $38 burger and get the same experience. In the end, it's making it taste as good as possible day to day; that's what I'm working towards.
My approach to making burgers is simple now.Burgers should be accessible and elicit a taste memory for every person that eats it. My burger is a tweaked version of your childhood hamburger, but the focus is on the ingredients and how you handle them. There's that rich, cheesy punch from the mayonnaise, and the organic iceburg lettuce, which yeah, it's still fuckin' iceburg lettuce, and the onions are grilled to add an extra depth of taste, and then tomatoes, and really salty dill pickles that we make, and then the age and the funk on the meat that we serve super, super, super rare—sometimes probably too rare—it's all super flavorful, but it's simple because it's all about showcasing the ingredients. The one add in on our menu—and there's only one, though we've made ridiculous burgers for people when they ask—is bone marrow, and that's just for the intensification of the base beef flavor.
When I was younger, I cooked burgers, but I didn't think I'd cook them for my source of income. If everything goes correctly, I'll still be cooking hamburgers ten or so years from now. And if not, I'll do something else. Will I want to do other things? Probably.
As told to Amanda Arnold