★ ★ ★ ★ ★ No reservations? No waitlist? No waiters? No ketchup? No subsitutions? Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!
In 2000, chef Sang Yoon bought a tiny bar in Santa Monica named Father’s Office and inadvertently started the American gastropub movement. He also created what has been heralded as the best burger in America. Served halved on a soft french roll (made for them by nearby Helms Bakery), the patty is some of the finest-tasting meat—ground or otherwise—you’re likely to encounter. Yoon dry ages his own sirloin in a small room at the back of his original Montana Street location, reportedly going through 4,000 pounds a week. The coarse grind oozes as much character as it does hot, fatty juices. It has an earthy, almost gamey, flavor and is cooked to a perfect—and I mean perfect—medium rare.
Famously, chef Yoon eschews both mustard and ketchup, so much so that neither are even available in the restaurant. While this angers some, those who understand burgers know that ketchup doesn’t really belong on one to begin with (and certainly not on Father’s beautifully aged sirloin). In place of America’s third-favorite condiment, Yoon offers a smooth Applewood bacon compote. Paired with caramelized onions, the sweet, creamy combination is an inspired alternative to a dollop of Heinz tomato-solids-in-a-viscous-bath-of-high-fructose-corn-syrup. Likewise, the arugula is a surprisingly appropriate choice of lettuce. Its tangy, peppery flavor is almost mustard-like, adding a refreshing brightness to each bite. The cheeses, a mixture of gruyere and Maytag blue, are gooey and pungent but (again surprisingly) not overpowering. It’s a wonderfully balanced take on the burger—one that defines excellence while expanding the definition of the iconic sandwich.
Though the composition of the burger is unconventional, it is not without precedent. In fact, Yoon says his now famous burger was inspired by an unlikely source. “I created this burger at a time when there were no chef-driven burgers,” he explains, “There was nothing to model it after, so I had to look elsewhere for inspiration.” The key inspiration for the Father’s Office burger? French onion soup. French onion soup? French onion soup. That sounds odd until Yoon explains just how much the dish resembles a burger. “It’s beef. It’s bread. It’s cheese. It’s sweet caramelized onions,” he says, “It’s one of my favorite beef experiences.” Once one understands the inspiration for the burger it’s easier to understand why he forbids ketchup. Would you put ketchup on french onion soup?
Which brings us to the heart of the matter. The idea that one’s status as a “consumer” also entitles one to editorial authority, creative direction, or even co-authorship continues to perplex me. Should I be able to edit my burger by substituting ingredients, holding the onions, or slathering on ketchup? Some would argue yes. After all, I am paying for it right? But am I paying for the product or the service? If the former, and it’s a masterpiece, do I have any business messing with it? Would you abbreviate Joyce? Embellish a Rauschenberg? Erase a De Kooning?
If it’s a service, is it my job to tell a professional how to do theirs? Designers and architects and other creative professionals are routinely asked by clients to add, subtract, or otherwise alter our work to their individual taste. I understand that. But I also have reverence for artists and for their art. I try to have humility in the presence of mastery. Chef Yoon is a poet; the Office Burger is his opus. No part is superfluous. Nothing is wanting. It is an evocative masterwork of edible syntax, metaphor, and suggestion, crafted into a deliciously succinct idea. Would you edit a poem to better suit your taste? Of course not.
so much depends
an all beef
cooked to medium
The Creative Lesson
Now, I’m not saying that the expert is always right. But a chef, or an artist, or a designer—or any author for that matter—should have the right to refuse edits to their work. That’s a right earned by being someone who creates things rather than simply consuming them. Giving more power to consumers than creators is a perverse inversion of values and value.