Shake, Burger, and Roll: Our Lunch with Bobby Flay

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos by Malia Leary

One day last week the phone rang.

“Hi, this is Brooke, calling for Chef Bobby Flay!”

Must be a wrong number, I thought.

She said she wanted to invite Loyola magazine to a media event at the opening of Bobby’s new restaurant in Hanover, Md.

“Is there a Loyola connection?” I asked, wondering why I hadn’t heard that Bobby Flay was a Loyola graduate.

The phone fell silent. “Well, no,” she said. “But we’d like to make one!”

With the deadline for our August issue approaching quickly, I was tempted to say no. But the theme of the August issue—well, besides, the absolutely exhilarating lacrosse championship we’re still talking about non-stop here—is food. And here we were offered the chance to meet a well-known TV chef. I said I’d be there—and I’d bring my colleague and magazine art director, Malia Leary, who is a superior photographer.

Before we drove to the new Bobby’s Burger Palace this morning, we asked our followers on Facebook and Twitter for questions to ask. Some of the comments made us laugh, such as “Ask him how to cook a Terrapin! Loyola has that recipe already.” Other commenters were looking for practical advice. I wrote them in my notebook and brought them along, hoping I’d have a chance to talk with Bobby himself.

Near the top of my list was the request from students involved in the GreyComm TV show “Domestically Challenged.” They wanted to know whether Bobby Flay would be willing to come as a guest host for their show. It was a long shot, but he had invited us to his place. Why not invite him to ours?

Arriving at Bobby’s Burger Palace, we slid into chairs and I found myself next to a Loyola graduate, Shannon Degen Morgan, ’99, senior editor for online media at Maryland Life Magazine. We chatted Loyola and met other members of the media—including a student blogger from another college, a freelance writer for the Maryland Beverage Journal—while we waited for Bobby to come out of the kitchen.

And then, seeming a little uncertain and maybe even nervous, he was there. And he had plenty to say.

He talked about his idea for his first burger place (this is his 10th): “A lot of people said to me, ‘Because the economy’s bad, is that why you’re opening this burger place?’ I said, ‘Well, no. I’m not an economist…’ Growing up when I was a kid, burgers was what I would eat. Chefs when they go out to restaurants, we’re not looking for foie gras and caviar. We’re looking for comfort food.”

He gave us a glimpse into his restaurant philosophy: “Good habits make good food. Bad habits make bad food.”

He talked about American food: “I think it’s the best in the world. There’s so many different cuisines. When most people look at the map, they see cities. I see ingredients. Why not take those and utilize them on top of the burger.”

When he thinks of Baltimore and Maryland, he sees: “Crab, and so I’m not sure I’m ready to put a crab cake on top of a burger yet. I mean, people do it. Obviously, Old Bay. There’s too many places in the city and state that make great crab cakes, and I don’t want to compete with that.”

He has eaten good Maryland crab cakes at: The Prime Rib and Woodberry Kitchen

Grill or griddle the burger? “I’m known for grilling, but I’m griddling the burgers here,” he said. “When the fat melts, it cooks itself in the juices. It’s not losing the flavor on the grill.”

How he seasons a burger: kosher salt and freshly ground pepper on both sides

What about the cheese? “There’s a sign in each of these kitchens that says, ‘Bobby says, melt the cheese completely.’”

How long it took him to perfect his milkshake: “A year and a half.”

How much ice cream is in his shake: 11 oz.

Making great French fries requires two days: Scrub them, hand crank them through a French fry cutter, and soak them in cold water overnight. The next day pat them dry, blast them in canola oil at 300 degrees until they are soft but not brown. When the fries are ordered, the cooks fry them again—now at 375.

His go-to spices: “I use chili peppers all the time,” he said. “To me my most important spice is black pepper. In all my restaurants, we take a coffee grinder and grind pepper and it’s perfectly ground.”

If you have room for only one kitchen gadget: “I think a blender is good. You can make frozen drinks and shakes, and you can make great sauces and dressings with it.”

So how about coming to Loyola and appearing on “Domestically Challenged”? Would you come star on our students’ show? He listened to the question as he wrote “Go Greyhounds” while autographing one of his cookbooks. “It’s a good name,” he said. “Sure. I’d love to.”

Hey, maybe we might create that Loyola connection after all. Stay tuned.

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