Here’s a quick trivia about burgers: approximately 50 billion burgers get eaten yearly in the United States. That’s a ‘B’ right there, as in billion. If all of the burgers consumed by Americans in one year were assembled in a straight line, it would go around the Earth over 32 times.
But what is it about burgers that make them so great? Is it all about the meat? It could be the herbs and spices that make a good complement to beef burgers. The bun also has a considerable part to play and, of course, the whole flavor — the sauce, the sides, and how you assemble ‘em burgers.
On July 1, the Foreign Agricultural Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in partnership with the USDA Cooperators and as part of the United Tastes series, organized the "Saigon Burger Showcase” to promote American food and culture and the high-quality, high-value U.S. agricultural products.
Featuring Vietnam’s best of the best in the kitchen, the Saigon Burger Showcase was graced by Chef Harold Ngo, Vietnam’s first-ever Masterchef winner. Chef Harold also starred in last year’s Saigon Chef’s Charity Boxing Challenge.
Also present at the event was Chef Tristan Ngo, dubbed the “OG (original gangster, which means original or first of its kind) Chef” in Ho Chi Minh City. Chef Tristan grew up in California but has made its mark here with The Elbow Room restaurant along Pasteur.
Lastly, Chef Tommy Tran, who made a name for himself when he joined the phenomenally successful international chef show Top Chef.
Also in the event were local influencers Uyen Dang of the BubuFood Show, Thuyen Vo, Sonny Side’s co-host on the Best Ever Food Review Show, and Will Knight, one of Saigon’s most prolific food connoisseurs.
Going back to how burgers should be. Many boxes need to be ticked to achieve an outstanding classic American burger. And to U.S. Consul General Marie C. Damour, it’s all about the freshness and the quality of each ingredient. “The burger is an iconic American food which is popular around the world,” she said as she welcomed the guests at the event. “With great ingredients, there is no limit to the delicious burger recipes that you can create.” Jason Hafemeister, the Acting Deputy Undersecretary of the USDA who has flown in to visit from Washington DC, was also at the event to taste Vietnam's take on burgers.
When talking about superior quality, a few USDA Cooperators participated and feature U.S. products in the event, namely: The U.S. Meat Export Federation for beef and pork, the U.S.A. Poultry and Egg Export Council, Potatoes U.S.A., Raisin Administration Committee, California Milk Advisory Board, Washington Apple Committee, Wisconsin Ginseng, U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, U.S. Soybean Export Council, and Texas Department of Agriculture.
To ensure juicy and flavorful meat, all U.S. beef is corn-fed to tenderness and American beef producers follow strict USDA safety inspections so consumers can be assured of the high quality and wholesomeness of the meat. When it comes to pork meat, producers also adhere to strict USDA regulations. And because it’s grain-fed with care, U.S. pork is consistently tender, nutritious, and very flavorful. The same goes for chicken, considering the U.S. is the largest producer of poultry and poultry products in the world, quality is the top priority.
In case you didn’t know, the U.S. is the largest cheese producer in the world and California is the top dairy producer in the United States. Here’s a fact: California is called the Golden State because of its famous dairy products including cheese, milk, and butter. In addition, U.S. growers and processors offer a huge selection of high-quality potatoes and potato products.
“I believe U.S. ingredients are and can continue to be an important component to the success of restaurants and other areas of the food and beverage sector here and contribute to Ho Chi Minh City’s growing reputation as a food and beverage destination,” the U.S. Consul General added.
To pull off an exclusive gathering of gourmets and American food lovers like this, Sofitel Saigon Plaza’s Mezz Restaurant served its purpose of embarking the diplomats, guests, and the media on a culinary voyage to burger land. Its second-floor interactive restaurant transformed into a terrific playground for the three local chefs.
Burgers, burgers, burgers
Now that we’ve mentioned the fantastic headline of chefs who took over the Sofitel Saigon Plaza’s Mezz Restaurant as well as the quality products that make up a great burger, it’s time to get a glimpse of what went down in the kitchen.
With the sound of sizzles and the smell of authentic American ingredients, Vietcetera’s very own senior editor for F&B, Chris Thompson, hosted and started on the dot. Perfectly timed for the chefs to get all the burgers ready.
Chef Tristan was first in line. Growing up in California, he did a classic Californian burger called “The Elbow Room American Burger & Fried garlic Potatoes” with U.S. rib eye beef, Monterey Jack, and Cheddar Cheese on homemade brioche buns.
He started with a blazing hot pan drizzled with U.S. Soybean oil to cook the quarter-pound beef. He then prepared the buns and let them cook to attain a nice crisp.
When asked how does he like his burger, Chef Tristan said, “I like it medium. Medium rare for me is like a steak. Burgers should either be medium or medium-well, no less than a medium.”
While the meat cooks, Chef Tristan dressed the bun and revealed his “secret sauce” — a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup. Started the burger stack with fresh lettuce, tomato, onions, and finally the meat with melted double cheese, then the bun.
The audience was in awe of this classic-looking burger. Influencer Thuyen called the burger “sexy” which made the audience laugh and approve.
Chef Harold Ngo’s “East-Side Burger” mesmerized everyone in the room. His slow-cooked pork belly with ginger chili fish sauce, Asian condiment, chips, and spicy aioli was a hit.
“My burger is made with high-quality U.S. products mixed with local Vietnamese ingredients like fish oil, chili, and garlic,” he told the audience before starting. Chef Harold pre-cooked the pork belly since it requires quite a lot of time to perfect, but he showed everyone how it’s done.
Chef Harold went on to say, burgers are commonly beef or chicken. Pork is not a usual choice, so “I said, well, let’s see what pork can do. As a Vietnamese, I love pork, and today, I’d like to showcase pork belly.”
While assembling the burger, the audience went silent, just staring at Chef Harold perfecting the piece. And when it was done, a wow in the chorus was heard.
To those who had a taste of the pork belly burger will surely agree with U.S. Consul General Marie’s words after the first bite, “Oh my god, it’s so good!”
Chef Tommy’s burger was called “Gochujang Chicken Burger.” It’s a burger with chicken leg quarter, California Cheddar cheese and blue cheese, gochujang paste, and Korean chili powder. A self-proclaimed fried chicken lover, his love for the American fast-food restaurant KFC influenced his version.
The Top Chef winner was so relaxed despite being in a terrible motorcycle accident a day before the event. More than the apparent talents, you can truly see the professionalism and quality of work among the three Vietnamese chefs.
Now for the stacking. Chef Tommy used a black bun, he then used a torch to release the smoky flavor of the cheese, squeezed a generous amount of gochujang, placed a couple of uni strips and done.
While the other chefs focused entirely on the burgers, Chef Tommy’s fries went overboard positively and he was even told: “they should sell this.” None of the people who tried the fries used a different word other than “delicious.” Chef Tommy’s station was flocked with people immediately after he finished his burger and fries.
It was indeed a showcase of burgers with distinct flavors, with lots of American products gracing the event.