Well done = Poorly done

This is a Nopa burger.

It's a thing of beauty, a true labor of love.  As my Chef says, everything on that plate has good intentions:  local grass fed beef, ground daily--organic lettuce and onion, and a housemade bun.  This burger has a devoted following in San Francisco.  The "burger record" (currently at 78 for a single service) is a hallowed achievement in the Nopa kitchen.  If the grill guy is getting drilled from the beginning of service with them, his eyes go slightly wild.  "Im on pace tonight!" he'll shout.

Eating one is a sensual experience--in a way few other foods are.  Watching a person eat one feels wrong--almost voyeuristic.  They go quiet, burger juice running down their hands, trying to savor every bite.  It's not rare to see their eyes roll back in ecstacy.  Enjoying one on the line, at the end of a busy night is something I try to save for a special occaision;  usually a really busy night or my 'friday'.  Danny has a more serious burger habit--almost daily.  When he's crouched in his station eating one, he is not to be disturbed.

So it begs the question--why must people eat this seven ounce patty of love WELL DONE?  As cook, I understand my job is to cater to the guest.  You want your sauce on the side?  Sure.  You want to sub a salad for your fries?  Done.  But the well done burger, I can assure you, is breaking peoples hearts.  (as is the well done fish, pork chop, lamb, streak, and even french fries.  seriously dude, you're gonna chip a tooth on those things.)  You see, when the order comes in for a well done, the first thing the cook does is fire it.  Timing with this 'thing' does not matter.  When its plated, it will be a dry, shriveled lump of protien--a sad shadow of its former self.  Looking at it next to all the other properly cooked food is depressing.  So much promise and potential, never fully realized.  As Bourdain said, cooks even save certain sub par items for well done.  The thinnest piece of fish, the smallest piece of lamb, and that chop you used as a demo for the new butcher--that's the pool your food is being pulled from.  It's not uncommon to discuss cooking such items in the deep fryer.

A couple of years ago I went through a short bit of idealism--thinking that maybe I could translate the ethereal experience of properly cooked food to the well-doners.  I tried everything;  a little stock in the pan to keep it moist, constant basting and turning.  More often than not my efforts were ignored, or even returned to me.  "Not well done enough." the food runner would say.  One night I went the opposite route.  Cooking sous vide beef tenderloins was an exciting thing to me--a chance to really get this expensive piece of meat just right.  So when the well dones started pouring in, I just started to smash them under all my weight before they went in the bath.  Nothing came back.  One well doner said it was the best steak they ever had.  It sounds cliche, but a small part of myself died that night.

The people who cook for you want to be trusted.  They come in every day, working long hours to present you with their best craftsmanship.  You're afraid of getting sick?  That California roll you got at Whole Foods this afternoon is more likely to do so.  You dont like the texture?  Im not asking you to order your food rare.  Can't we settle on medium?

-my rabbit likes beer
-if you could only listen to either heart, journey, queen, or styx for the rest of your life, who would you pick?
-these sounds make me happy: a knife tapping on a wooden cutting board, a coffee cup settling into a saucer, stock deglazing a hot pan
-my email is in the "cook" bar to the right of this.  drop a line sometime
-my feet and hands may be beyond repair.


Aaron D said...

I HATE overcooked meat. I grew up with a mother and grandmother that used to cook their meat until it was drier than the bones: I couldn't stand it.

When I started cooking, the first thing I did was to learn how to cook meat and keep it juicy and tender.

Mason said...

You are living in the what I call "The Life" so I know you know the phrase "It is what it is." You can't beat them, you can't educate them and they won't ever, ever go away. The most horrific piece of carbon has to rest in between those two bun halves. They expect no less.

Take faith in those that do order it right. Watch over them, love them. They are the ones who will bring your message to streets. Not us. We are too far over on the other side.

Don't dismiss well done fries either. It is the well done ones that represent how far you can take a fry and it will still be delicious. Pomme frites cooked to well done perfection in duck fat is a thing of beauty. Try it. See how you feel about well done fries then.

Good to see you posting again. You make me nostalgic for my days in "The Life."


CHEF said...

"It is what it is." If I had a dime for every time I said that shit........

fiat lux said...

Rare for the win. Absolutely.

I do like my fries with a bit of crunch in them, though. Limp, soggy fries suck.

Really hope I get to eat at Nopa soon.

Matt said...

man that burger looks amazing...almost too big to fit in the mouth...in reference to note point #2 I would go with Queen...I want to ride my bicycle son!...point #3 the chatter of the chit machine doesnt so much make me happy as excited..close enough though.point #5 my toes have been numb for the past 3 days straight...i'm told its because of my steel toed shoes...but ive been wearing them for 8 months...ah well..as for the topic of well done i never have and never will order well done and after getting my father to read Kitchen Confidential have managed to get him to start ordering medium-well...meh its a baby step in the right direction..

jamie said...

Almost stopped in for a burger tonight, but I thought it might be your night off. I think I guessed right.

As for your question:


without a doubt. The others to choose from don't come anywhere close to Freddie Mercury's orbit.

Vincent said...

orale holmes...nice post

kirchartfour said...

>I love deglazing veg roasted in a pan and then hitting that with a few square inches of cold butter. It's awesome. Then dusting in a fat pinch of herbs.

Man, I love that.

marquitos said...

would i choose heart, journey, queen or styx? shit, i'd choose me and just shoot myself.

come to the test, though, i'd probably go mattie's way with freddie and the boys.

and in regard to well-done anything... hell, you know how i like my burger.

serving those patties of bliss, i've tried to harden myself. still, every time someone says "well-done" (be it pork chop, fish, anything, but especially burgers) i'm shaken. unless i'm drowning deep in the weeds, i never let it go without some resistance.

it honestly feels like a personal insult to be told "well-done."

that said... nice post, ricardo.

well done.

Molly said...

I hate ordering well done. Normally i'm the one enthusiastically ordering rare. BUT --

I'm five months pregnant. I can't have that california roll either, and it pisses me off. i also can't have a whole stack of other things, and I'm not in any way what you call a cautious eater. It's just that your immune system goes all haywire when you're knocked up.

So when you get that order for well done (though i usually go for medium or medium well, just to make sure it's hot all the way through), keep it mind it might be someone who HAS to do it, not WANTS to do it. Have a little pity, and slip a hungry woman the biggest pork chop every once in a while.

Blushing hostess said...

Thank you for this great blog. It has been one of my links for a while now and I really enjoy it as I hope my readers do!

This burger looks is gorgeous and perhaps a bit dangerous looking. Professionally, in the fashion industru, no one would ever order a burger, it was like a sick unwritten rule scrawled on the bathroom wall at Chanel and passed down like one of the commandments of something! Anyway, when I was on my solo shopping loop in Boston, I would duck into the Oak Room for a delicious burger experince in a dark corner of that swank old room. Not to worry! I am a yound fashion retiree now and out of the closet! I will have mine medium (Sorry! It's a texture in my teeth thing). Be well!

Mendo said...

Queen, but gawd, what a bunch of shit choices.

Take care of your body son-I'm 45 with plantar fascitis, rotator cuff problems, tendonitis and I'm sure some other crap I don't yet know about. Exercise regularly and stretch often (wish I had).

William said...

Ah...meal three of my four Nopa meals in eight days. After a heavy night of slinging back Pliny the Elder at the Toronado, even after a day of eating, and a full meal at Boulevard, putting back that burger just seemed like the right thing to do. Mid-rare of course.

BAMboozle said...

here in NC they won't let restaurants serve burgers less than medium....so if I want a nice juicy med-rare burger I have to either cook it myself, or go on vacation. it's a shame....

Los Gatos Girl said...

And I was fortunate in that I had wise parents who taught me that better flavors could be had in the more rare meat.
Love your blog, btw. It's very entertaining.
Lara in Los Gatos
(losgatosgirl on blogspot)

Camille said...

That looks an awful lot like the burgers we made at home the other night. (In Paris, you have to take these things into your own hands.) I don't think I ever really liked beef until I had it cooked less than well done. Now I'm a medium/medium rare girl (French beef is tougher than its American counterpart and needs a little more cooking, for my palate, anyway.)

And Queen is the only one of those I like without irony. Strangely enough, what I love about them is their perfectly-tuned sense of irony.

FGF said...

What Mendo said. I've got tendonitis, bursitis, arthritis... and probably a few other itises I don't know about yet. When you're involved in a profession where constant burns are really the least of your worries, take care of yourself. And Heart, I'm a sucker for female vocals.

pm said...

how long does it take to cook a well done burger sous vide? it takes 20 minutes to get it to medium rare...in our kitchen, when the well dones start rolling in you're sure to hear the call "destroy all integrity."

Jeffrey said...

i remember when i first started on the grill at work, how terrified i was of a 15-top party - and then how my fears were confirmed when 14 of those entrees were the NY steak off of grill.

a mix of anger and relief came over me when i saw the temps - 10 well done, 2 mid well, 1 medium. it wouldn't be that hard after all.

Dave Gray said...