Burgers with five-star taste – Business Daily
Close-up of home made burgers. PHOTO | COURTESY
Would you order a burger at a fancy expensive restaurant?
Burgers were never on the menu of fancy restaurants. Then sales started dropping during the pandemic as sophisticated diners stayed away, forcing the establishments to rethink.
To woo regular diners, high-end restaurants in Nairobi that used to serve caviar on a crunchy baguette or foie gras with sweet French brioche shelved some of these luxurious meals, finding a bigger space for burgers, a commonly ordered dish by Kenyans.
For years, fast and casual restaurants have enjoyed good burger years, an industry that attracted food chains such as Burger King and Big Square to Kenya. Now top chefs are taking a page from their playbook as the fine-dining meals prove a hard sell and lock out thousands of Kenyan diners.
At Baluba restaurant in Mövenpick Hotel, they have introduced a burger and grill tasting on Fridays. Before, the menu had Indian, Continental, and Swiss cuisines whose uptake was low.
Aris Athanasiou, the cluster executive chef at Mövenpick Nairobi, says sizzling Fridays are meant for people to enjoy burgers.
“We want to inject soul into the hotel. That the waft of aromas will now be familiar to the nostrils of locals and international diners who want to enjoy the scrumptious burgers but with a refined flavour,” he says.
“People love going out on Fridays but during the pandemic, they were indoors. Now that the pandemic has fizzled out, we want to give diners options,” says Chef Athanasiou.
Chef Aris Athanasiou, Executive Chef of Hemingways Nairobi, Victoria Mulu-Munywoki, a wine sommelier and Rosa Ali, an importer of South African wine at Hemingways Nairobi. PHOTO | POOL
At Chophouse in Radisson Blu, which had been known for its gastronomic meals, Wayne Walkinshaw, the executive chef says they realised the need to relook at the basic food but elevate it.
“If you look at Chophouse, it has a very niche clientele. For us to get exposure out there with the normal, average people, we started to look at the comfort food, the easy foods everyone can eat,” says Walkinshaw.
However, to ensure the burgers are different from what is served in fast and casual-dining restaurants and justify the higher price, the executive chefs have made them fancier and tastier.
From Mö burgers, Greek-style lamb, and fried chicken to vegetarian burgers, executive chefs in five-star restaurants are shaking up Kenya’s burger market with wild swings. In five-star restaurants, the price ranges from Sh1,550 a burger compared to Sh390 in fast-food hotels.
Chef Walkinshaw adds that up-market diners desire thinner burgers with a good quality patty of meat, farm-fresh lettuce, tomato, and creatively made dressing with different herbs. Most are making their own buns, some using sorghum flour.
“But I believe food does not have to be complicated, when you elevate the burger too much then you lose the idea of the burger. And for me, it’s just keeping the core ingredients, so I choose not to go over the top,” he says.
At Sizzling Fridays in Mövenpick, the burgers are paired with draft beer and music, the highlight of Fridays. The menu also has foods that is found in pubs, courting drinkers looking to enjoy beer or whisky. For years, neighborhood bars had been havens for gastropub foods, acting as crowd-pullers.
“I came to learn that people in Kenya love meat, grills, lamb, and burgers so we decided to create a menu that combines very good quality burgers,” Athanasiou says.
Most of the restaurants use premium beef, wagyu or aged, to make the patty, the small flat cake of minced or finely chopped meat inserted between the bread. Others add truffles, smoked cheese, and exotic bacon.
“We use dry-aged meat. The beef is aged for 21 days to make it tenderer. For lamb, we age it for seven days before we cook it and make the patty. The chicken can’t stay out that long but the secret is the spices we use,” adds Athanasiou.
“We also use candy bacon to give it a little bit of sweetness and some crispness. We don’t use the normal cheese and instead of tomatoes we use tomato jam,” says chef Walkinshaw, adding “seasoning is salt and pepper, we don’t add so many things. What we want diners to enjoy the quality of meat.”
With the burger taking centre stage, the hotels can now source the ingredients from local farmers unlike before when they flew in the likes of saffron, the caviars and foie gras.
“The best part of all of this is that all supplies are Kenyan, the beef is coming from Naivasha, pork from Nanyuki and the lamb from Nakuru and the love we put in our food,” he says.
Burgers are among Kenya’s bestsellers and can also be found at almost every diner in the city. Although some can hardly qualify as great, they are certainly satisfying the restaurant owners. And as weekend family-day out resumes, some children rarely eat anything but burgers.
However, some argue that if it is at a five-star restaurant, they would want to have something they cannot get at a “regular”hotel.
“Guys were quite picky at the beginning but the quality beef makes the burgers more interesting. It’s not just slapping the ingredients on top of the bun,” he adds.
According to a research done by Kenya’s Meat Market Trust, there is an increasing number of consumers demanding quality meat, accounting for an additional 54,000 metric tonnes for beef in the market. A huge chunk of the prime cuts meat is consumed in burgers, steaks among others.