Hamburgers were on Eric Ripert’s mind last weekend at the Watermill Center benefit auction as he talked up the version he serves in his D.C. restaurant, Westend Bistro. Though in New York Ripert is revered for his fish, his is no dummy when it comes to America’s iconic food. “I know how to cook meat, too,” he says. Read on to see what Ripert learned from the fast-food industry about burgers.
What’s the best burger you’ve eaten lately?
I’m going to be self-promoting, because I think we have a great burger in Washington, D.C., at Westend. The reason why is because we went after McDonald [sic] and Burger King and all those brands, and we look at what was great about their burgers and what was bad about their burgers — what we think was not the strongest point. However, the strongest point is the way … the proportions are amazing. You can take a burger in your two hands and eat, and you don’t, have the burger all over. The way they cut the pickles, the way they cut the tomatoes, the way they slice the salad, and the size, obviously make those burgers perfect. Except the quality of meat. So what we have done is we went after them, we look at it, we study the proportions, and then of course did it with great meat.
We’re using sirloin mostly. It’s the fat content. And I don’t give the proportions of that because I think that’s the secret of the burger, to be juicy, and to be tasty. So this is a secret. The only reason is, it makes the burger fantastic. And then the quality of the bread. We find a great baker and he understood exactly what we wanted and was very consistent on the size.
Is the bread a secret, too? Because we can’t all go to Washington to try a burger.
I know that. But I think what I’m saying is something for anyone thinking about burgers. Because I hate going to a place and having a burger I cannot handle. And I hate to have a pickle in the plate, because I’m looking at the pickle and I don’t know when I’m supposed to eat the pickle. Am I supposed to bite the pickle, then have the burger? What am I doing with that pickle? And then sometimes the onion is cut too thick and I am like, “I don’t want that.” So what I’m saying here is that maybe you cannot go to Washington, but I’m saying get inspired by what we have done and maybe someone can do even a better burger than we do. But I think proportions are the secret of a good burger.
Will we ever see it in New York?
No! [Laughs] No, no, no. Because in New York is Le Bernardin, and it will be the only one. And on top of that, we specialize in fish, as you know.