Before he became the don of veggie burgers, Superiority Burger’s Brooks Headley was an acclaimed pastry chef who made his name at Mario Batali’s opulent Italian palace Del Posto. But that restaurant is as far removed as possible from the tiny, no-frills veggie-burger spot where Headley has garnered great acclaim. Needless to say, it was a major change of direction for the chef. In an interview with Lucky Peach’s Peter Meehan, Headley explained why he traded in white table cloths for disposable plates and isn’t looking back.
The tension between staff and diners bugged him: “I’m guilty of saying, ‘Only rich people eat at fancy restaurants,’ which isn’t true … But while it isn’t necessarily all hedge fund guys, fine dining is for very wealthy people and for normal people pretending to be rich for the night … Either way, a $400 meal for two is pretty grotesque. And the whole ‘we just want to pamper you and pretend to care about you while seething and hating you behind the scenes’ service style is the worst.”
He hates the awards circuit: “I think Michelin is the biggest crock of complete fucking bullshit — and please quote me exactly on this — especially in New York City. They lied about stuff they ate at Del Posto. But when you’re in that world, it becomes something you strive for: lists and awards. It’s part of the deal. Awards and lists are only really good for the second they’re accepted, and then everything changes.”
He can serve the same great ingredients for much less money: “That’s one of the things that always bummed me out about working in fancy restaurants: the cost … We’ve figured out a way where I can go to the market and buy a bunch of ramps from Rick Bishop and a bunch of sunchokes from Franca Tantillo and asparagus from Stokes Farm, package that, and sell it for five bucks. I’m buying the same stuff as all the fancy restaurants in town. They’re selling it within the context of a tasting menu or a $35 entrée. We’re selling it in a little paper boat for $5.”
The best part of fancy restaurants was buying great stuff and watching people enjoy it, which Headley can still do: “I never planned to work in fine dining restaurants; I went with it because it was fun. I got psyched the more I did it. I could go to the market and buy four flats of the greatest peaches in Washington, D.C., make food with them, and serve it to people. That part has always been exciting, and I still get to do it.”
A cheaper restaurant is just way more accessible: “People can visit New York for fancy restaurants, but a twenty-year-old is not going to pop in to Le Bernardin. But they can come here and spend ten bucks on lunch and twenty on a record — it’s more important for me to be part of that New York City.”