If you want to get Nico instantly jazzed and excited, start talking about burgers. When he originally shared his vision for this first-ever after hours event, I could see that a great part of his motivation for it was to give back to the food community and industry in Paris, but he’s also, honestly, burger-obsessed.
I spent a great deal of my life in America so I take burgers for granted perhaps the way that a French person takes cheese or wine for granted. But as I listened to Nico’s story, which included the 21-year old version of him sampling his first In-N-Out on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) on the west coast of the States, I realized perhaps I had forgotten the honest simplicity of this quintessentially American dish.
Paris and Burgers
When I first arrived in Paris in 2013 there was a burger craze gripping the city. Every restaurant was trying some version of this dish which could be cost-efficient and easily delivered. I was busy trying to learn all about French cuisine, so that craze mostly passed me by, but Nico characterizes that period as full of burgers that were “too French.” “They were overthinking it, seriously. Instead of a thin potato bun, thick bread. Instead of a thin, smashed patty, a big thick patty. Instead of American cheese, blue cheese. That’s not a burger, that’s just a hot sandwich.” In Nico’s mind a cheeseburger is a handy snack you can have on the go, not the main element of a meal, and is perhaps the key to understanding why this excites him so much. If burgers are a snack to enjoy as a “goûter” of sorts, then why not have them be simple and unencumbered?
So, now that you understand the what of this awesome event that is coming on May 30th, namely burgers done right, let me tell you the why.
New York, 2016
Nico and Sarah took some well-deserved time off and headed to New York, where Sarah had never been, and they sat down to a meal at Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack (if you don’t know about Danny, check out a previous article about him penned by Nico, or this Freakonomics Radio episode about his “hospitality included” pricing at some of his flagship restaurants). As Nico and Sarah enjoyed what he would term “a burger is supposed to be” Nico continued to ponder (and be a bit frustrated) as to why it couldn’t be done in Paris.
They wandered into a bookstore on that same trip, as can often happen in NYC, and before too long Nico was (predictably) in the food section, where he happened upon Hamburger America: A State-by-State Guide to 200 Great Burger Joints, by George Motz. As he flipped through it, Nico loved the photography that complemented the loving documentation of the burger in America. This wasn’t a review book – i.e. go here, don’t go here, order this, don’t order that. It was about the craft, the ingredients, and the history. He bought the book and back it came to Paris, where it sat unopened for two years.
That busy #restaurateurlife
As you might know by now, Nico and Sarah were fairly busy bringing a new restaurant (HB19) to birth as well as constantly improving at HB5. But with that improvement comes more time to study and reflect and Nico picked up the book again. This time he read it cover-to-cover, and inspired, reached out to George, who by now was getting millions of views on the Youtube series, The Burger Show (here’s an episode on regional burger styles, if you want a sampling). They chatted and Nico shared his desire to bring more burger knowledge (and deliciousness) to Paris. Before too long they cooked up an idea to have a one-night-only event at HB5, featuring burgers “the way they are supposed to be.”
30 May 2019
Be there to get two burgers, a beer from Deck & Donahue, as well as some cool merchandise and illustrations some talented people have put together for this event. It’s not clear whether Nico will make a series out of this kind of event so if you want to convince him to (as I do) vote with your feet and if you don’t manage to secure a ticket, be there at a time you never queue at HB: 7:30pm.