In This BGC Diner, the Basic Burger Is Reborn
There was a time when Chef Carlo Miguel took to tinkering in his kitchen-slash-food lab to come up with foams, pearls, and gelatins that are designed to disrupt a diner’s senses. With techniques and tools in molecular gastronomy, he was able to create dishes that defied imagination. His Caesar Salad done in liquid form is to this day one of the most imaginative takes on the greens that are most likely to be found in any respectable buffet table. He also had a tapsilog that was a sous vide of marinated shortrib, served with a 62-degree egg and garlic rice, with atchara run through a slow juicer then gelled, all dotted with foamed spicy vinegar.
He describes, “I had a lot of fun with it, but it came to a point that I realized a lot of the things we were doing was for the sake of being cool. The Caesar salad soup was cool and kind of weird, but I asked myself, is it better than an actual Caesar salad? I realized that at the end of the day, it is not, and I came to the realization that I did not want to complicate things unnecessarily, and that is when I started to simplify.”
Simplify he did: The chef himself acknowledges that his flirtation with the molecular gastronomy movement has run its course, and while playing with your food is fun, there is still something to be said about going back-to-basics. This is the philosophy with which he runs his Boutique Burger Kitchen (BBK), a diner concept that specializes in food that is, in his words, “uncompromised and uncomplicated”.
“It took 25 years for me to arrive here. This is where I have come in my career. I started with traditional food, went more modern, then scientific, then I went back,” he shares. He now draws upon his wide range of experiences to create something simple yet so sublime.
He calls his burger as the star, and the sides and shakes as his supporting cast. Among his offerings are the Classic Cheeseburger (American Cheddar, Lettuce, Onions, Tomato, Mustard, BBK Ketchup), French Flair (Gruyere Cheese, Dijon Mustard, French Fried Onions, Bacon, Mushroom), and a beefy nod to his growing up years in the Aussie (Cheddar Cheese, Crispy Bacon, Fried Egg, Beetroot, Pineapple, Grilled Onions, and Barbeque Sauce or BBK Ketchup).
Another nod to his journey is the inclusion of healthier options in the burger list. His time with The Biggest Loser reality show has led him to see that he needs to offer something for people who watch what they eat. This is why he has a turkey burger and a veggie option made from a microprotein that is actually a mushroom derivative grown in a lab. “I tried making my own veggie burger out of things like chickpeas, but they came out mushy. I found this from my supplier and it tastes pretty good. The mouthfeel is that of eating a real burger.”
While he calls the other items his supporting cast, they deserve their own little place under the spotlight. The Chicken Nuggets and Mozzarella Sticks are housemade and non-greasy. The fried pickles are meant to inspire late-night cravings, in our opinion, should come with a warning label because they are that addicting. This being a diner concept, he has thick milkshakes made with his hand-scooped ice cream in natural flavors. Then, maybe to inject a bit of self-effacing humor into the menu, he has a Caesar salad, done the traditional way.
His days of playing food scientist have left an influence in him as he still totally geeks out over his dishes. “I took some of the knowledge gained from molecular gastronomy and I can draw on it now—not in a complicated way but still in a way to make food better. It took about three years for me to prefect my patty. What makes it different is that we don’t just grind and grill. My beef is cut in one direction, ground, then allowed to set for six to eight hours in the refrigerator. This makes it set with its own proteins, so there is no need for a binder or extender.”
His rich house ketchup is a product of research from recipes that go back to the 1800s, and he gives a long story about his search for the perfect buns. “As I was conceptualizing this, I went back and forth with my bread supplier for six months. We started out with burger buns, but since my burgers were so juicy, they disintegrated. I want people to be able to eat the burger with their hands, if you can’t pick it up, and you need a fork and knife to eat it, you lose 80% to 90% of the experience. We tried Hawaiian soft rolls, the kind you serve pulled pork sandwiches in—but it was the same problem, they fell apart.”
He was at a loss, he recalls, until one day, he found what he needed on, of all places, Reddit (or more specifically a sub-reddit for bread called, what else, but Breadit). “I was scrolling down, umabot na ako ng post that was 52 days old. That was how long I have been scrolling. There, I found a post where the guy basically said that he made the best burger buns ever. It was a recipe for a Hokkaido Milk Bun, which I showed to my supplier who had not heard of it either. After some tweaking, we found what we were looking for.”
At this point, he also gives a nod to technology. “The patties, the buns, the ketchup are super-researched, and it was all done over my phone!” You can really more with this than with anything in the past.”
A wider base
Aside from BBK, he is a partner-chef at Draft, Black Olive, Microbrewery, and the consultant for Epic in Boracay. The burger joint is his own venture, and this is where he holds office. He calls himself the anti-French Chef. “I don’t like people saying there are rules in the way food should be eaten or the way food should be presented. I will do it in what I think is the best way.”
“I hate food snobs,” he proclaims. “If I find myself at a fastfood place, I will order something from there.” He goes as far as saying that his burger is pegged after the Quarter Pounder, but done in a way that draws on his fine dining background. “The menu I have at BBK is made of humble, relatable dishes with price points that are accessible to the AB market and even a little bit of the C segment. I want more people to be able to experience the kind of food that I do. That is why I came up with a diner concept, an everyday place for everyone,” he adds.
He draws the office crowd, not just the senior executives, but also the rank and file—the ones who come in wearing their lanyards. His lunch specials come at around P180 to P190 and are served freshly made yet served fast.
With his experience in the industry, he has noticed that Filipinos are quicker to adapt to new trends compared to other Asian markets. “That is why trends shoot up so fast, but they also die so fast. That is why I thought of burgers. It is familiar food, one that cuts across generations.” He happily describes his Sunday customers as families, with three or four generations enjoying their meal.
The chef, who has tried a lot of other patty places as he was developing his menu, gives his description of the perfect burger. “It should have the right proportion of everything, from the meat to the bun. The cheese and sauces should meld well and not overpower the flavor, there should be texture, which is why I added the crispy bacon or the onion. The bun is soft and not too sweet, and it should be able to hold the patty and its juices very well. A good burger is also something that can be picked up and eaten. If you have to cut it or find a way to unhinge your jaw to eat it, then it is not a good burger.”
Boutique Burger Kitchen is at The Fort Strip, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.