Burgers and Cupcakes

By Beacon Staff

How much would you pay for a really good hamburger? By the same token, what’s a tasty cupcake worth to you?

It’s hard to believe that after all these years of promoting food and the finer points of the culinary profession on the Food Network, the Cooking Channel, Bravo, and many other outlets (even Fox), that the hottest trend wouldn’t be some fancy-schmancy preparation or an exotic cuisine.

No, the hottest culinary trend right now happens to be hamburgers and cupcakes. They’re all the rage in the culinary hotspots of the major cities around the U.S.

Several of the best competitors from past seasons of Top Chef have opened one or more gourmet hamburger joints in Atlanta and Washington D.C. And they’re now popping up all over the country, giving McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s a run for their money.

You want fast food burgers, meat origins unknown? Fine. Go to a fast food joint. You want a burger made from top grade beef, all origins known, then go to Top Chef favorite Spike Mendelsohn’s (the guy with the retro ‘50s hat) place in D.C. or Top Chef finalist Richard Blais’ (he’s the guy who did all that molecular gastronomy hocus-pocus) in Atlanta. They’re serving up all kinds of burger concoctions at premium prices, with fries and shakes (also at prices in the stratosphere).

And then there is this accompanying trend for bakers to dedicate shops only to cupcakes, some for $50 a dozen (or more!).

This trend surprises me. I’ve always cooked by the motto that simple is best, but burgers and cupcakes? That, to me, takes simplicity a bit far, especially when talented chefs forego the rigors of menu planning and cooking or baking up to their abilities and then attach filet mignon prices to hamburgers and wedding cake prices to cupcakes.

Don’t get me wrong. I love burgers and I love cupcakes. And I’ll bet most of you reading this do, too.

But I don’t get what the big deal is about taking ground beef and fancy-ing it up with shallots instead of onions; arugula instead of lettuce; papaya instead of tomato. By the same token, how much would you be willing to pay for cupcakes that contain Tahitian vanilla, as opposed to Mexican vanilla; organic raspberries rather than California strawberries?

I’m a fine dining aficionado, but I also like simple everyday foods. Most of my clients have hired me to cook for them because they like my concept of “Ethnic American.” It’s the way I brand my version of comfort food with my own twists thrown in.

Yet if I were to price my meatloaf, for instance, at $45.00 – even if I had used Wagyu or Kobe beef – I think I would be run out of town. Or at least out of business.

I suppose if some people are willing to pay a couple of bucks for a bottle of water that’s alleged to come from a special spring in France, or three or four bucks or more for a cup of fancy coffee, I also suppose there are plenty of folks willing to line up and throw money at a doo-dad burger or hoop-de-doo cupcake.

I don’t know about you, but on this subject, I’m with P.T. Barnum.

Follow me on Twitter @KitchenGuyMT or my blog at http://kitchenguybychefjim.blogspot.com

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