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Is the gourmet burger more than a trend?

Is the gourmet burger more than a trend?

by Isaac Parham Saturday, September 13, 2014

Have we reached the peak of the gourmet burger trend? With each new burger craze is it a case of re-inventing the burger wheel, or discovering unique ways of elevating the simplicity of eating meat in a bun? Isaac asks whether the gourmet burger is here to stay.

Isaac Parham is a freelance food writer and editor from South London. When not browsing Borough market or watching his beloved Portsmouth FC, you'll find him travelling the country to find the nation's best food.

The perceived nature of a trend is that it arrives with a bang and departs with a whimper. Remember that time when everyone went berserk for space hoppers? No, me neither, in fact I probably wasn’t even born. But I do remember the I Love (insert year) programme telling me that their ‘moment’ deflated pretty swiftly.

There are some fads, though, that prove incredibly stubborn. And, along with skinny jeans, sleeve tattoos and the career of Boris Johnson, the gourmet burger is one such novelty item that refuses to die a natural death.

If anything the movement seems to be gathering pace. Just this week Burger King announced that they would be serving a ‘black burger’ with black cheese in their outlets across Japan (which can be achieved at home by leaving one on the barbecue too long), while, closer to home, barely a week goes by without the opening of a new, trendy burger temple, with press releases talking up their creations with the zeal of a Tube train preacher and the vocabulary of a porn director.

And the public swallow it, literally. We have burgers for every occasion: for a hangover, for the journey toward the hangover, to enjoy spare time and to pass the time. There is the high-end burger, the low-end burger, the mid-range burger and even the lab-grown burger.

The BBC claimed that the glorified meat sandwich was worth £2.79 billion to the UK economy in 2012 – and the market has shown no signs of slowing since.

It is clear: we reached ‘peak burger’ and just kept on scoffing.

Along with skinny jeans, sleeve tattoos and the career of Boris Johnson, the gourmet burger is one such novelty item that refuses to die a natural death.

The issue is not with the concept itself. There is no doubt that the combination of meat, bread, cheese, sauce and pickle has universal appeal - but does it really warrant the breathless hyperbole it receives? Or the endless, reinvent-the-wheel variations?

I once asked a chef friend of mine to help me some ideas for making the perfect burger at home. Expecting him to lend me some expert tips (a brioche bun, perhaps; an added dollop of chipotle mayo, maybe) I was shocked by his response: “Keep the patty mix simple: good quality mince, a shaving of onion and salt and pepper. That’s it”.

And there might be something in that. Perhaps in our endless pursuit of patty perfection we have lost sight of why we fell in love with the damn things in the first place - because of their comforting simplicity. Could it be that everything else is just clever marketing?

Logic would tell you that serious chef/restaurateurs would be dismissive of our continued burger binge, but Tom Aikens holds the opposing view, saying that the “buzz and excitement are still alive”.

He continues: “It’s now a very satisfying meal to have as opposed to it being a take out food that was less desirable when in the hands of burger giants, plus most of these pop-up branches are actually cool and funky places to hang out in.”

So there you have it – even one of the country’s best chefs is embracing the humble burger. Perhaps our prolonged patty party is here to stay.

What do you think? Is a love of burgers an indictment on our food culture or something to be proud of? Do you prefer burgers to be kept simple or pimped-up?

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