8oz. Burger Bar's chef and owner Kevin Chung started working in restaurants at 15-years-old bussing tables. After some years in the industry, Chung invested the money he earned and saved while working and attending school to running the Magnolia Village Pub. Chung spent most of his time in the downstairs prep room of Magnolia Village Pub where he strove to create elements of each dish in-house. Throughout his experience, Chung kept up a friendship with fellow chef and mentor Govind Armstrong, who later opened the first (now defunct) 8 oz. Burger Bar in Los Angeles. Chung's determination eventually gave way to the Seattle sibling of Armstrong's burger slinging brainchild. Chung's 8oz. Burger Bar, previously thought to be located in the humblest location of the bunch (with another location in Miami Beach, Florida) is emerging as the 8 oz. family's Marcia Brady.
Photo by Tiffany Ran
We just talked about it. I really wanted to do this. I had this vision of just upscaling this gourmet burger concept. When I went down to LA, that's when we actually spoke face to face. I went to check out the 8 oz. [Burger Bar] down there and just thought, "This is exactly how I pictured opening my own personal burger restaurant." He was planning to venture out. Seattle is such a foodie community. So it was just like, "I saved a little money from my previous place. Let's do a little partnership you know?" It took another year before we actually found a new location.
How does the menu at Seattle's Burger Bar differ from the former menu at LA's Burger Bar?
It differs a lot. Here is really a more intimate atmosphere. I believe that the Northwest has really good food. We don't have as much chains as other states usually do. It's more [about] intimate restaurants.
In LA, they'll eat lighter, whereas up here since the weather is so bad, we like to drink and eat and have cocktails because we can't go out. Here, we have heartier, comforting food. Here, we have 10 burgers that are different, and the others I've tweaked as well. So it's about 85 to 90 percent Seattle-based. For instance, there's the Union with an espresso rubbed patty with gorgonzola, fried shallots, and a green peppercorn aioli. That's something you wouldn't have found down there. Even the turkey, I've tweaked. The turkey down there, it was horseradish, Dijon, mustard greens. For us, it's pomegranate ketchup, watercress, avocado.
I try to discourage people to build their own because a lot of people don't know what they [want] so ultimately when they build their own, it's not that great. For example, when they build their own, they'll go [with] ranch with herb and then balsamic onions, and then charred onions.
So what's the worst build-your-own order that you've gotten at the restaurant?
I still remember this because this happened last month. I pulled one of the servers back and was like, "Do they really want this? Because this is just no good." They wanted truffle sauce, which is $2, and then they wanted special sauce, which is basically a blend of ketchup, mayo, mustard, and we do fried capers in there and a bunch of spices. Then, they wanted mayo. That's already over the top. Then, they wanted balsamic onions, grilled onions, roasted garlic tomatoes, and that they wanted to add short ribs and one more thing. I think it was a fried green tomato on top. I was already weirded out by all the sauces like, wow, you're going pay $2 for this sauce where you're just going to drench it like that? But you know, they do it. You can't stop them. I counted how much they ultimately spent on the burger. It was about $26 bucks.
Other than hamburgers, what other foods do you enjoy making?
I come from an Asian background so I love making noodle soups. If I ever get done and settled with this place, working out the final logistics and tweaks, I would love to do a new concept: noodles with a twist. Nothing like Boom Noodle or Samurai Noodle -- although they're great -- but that's something I'd like. I like all kinds of noodles from all types of Asian cultures. They're so different, the textures, the taste, the flavors. They're all good in different ways.
Any tips for making burgers at home?
The thing with making burgers at home is it's really the form of a burger. The grilling part really makes a difference, if you want to grill your meat to the right time. A lot of people who make burgers at home on the barbecue will just keep flipping the burger. It will not cook all the way. The more you flip, it's just not going to cook as fast.
Also, forming patties -- if you have a 6 ounce patty, it's got to be a certain way. For an 8 ounce patty, it should be a little over an inch thick for an 8 ounce patty. The heat has to matter. What would happen if you turn it on high heat is that you get it charred on the outside and it won't cook on the inside. What would happen is that you basically get tartare, which is seared on the outside and red in the middle. I would suggest for people out there to watch out for the meat ratio and not [flip too often]. You want to wait until the burger pockets or bleeds a little on the top before flipping.
And no pressing the patty down while it's cooking?
America lives on burgers with juices. We want a mouthwatering burger. When you do that, you lose about I would have to say, 25 percent of your juices. Also, a lot of people at barbecues usually also cook their burgers well done. When you do that, you're going to end up with a hockey puck.
So what makes a perfect burger?
For me, it's really simplicity, where the meat shines with good toppings that don't outshine the meat itself. For me, I don't really like burgers where like all you taste is sauce or like the tomato is cut thicker than the patty. So a good sauce, a well-seasoned patty, a good cheese melted on top, [and good] meat to bun ratio. It's the whole package, but most importantly, we're eating that burger for that beef flavor. My idea of food is basically that if you're going to say on the menu that this is what it is, then you should showcase that specific thing.
Is the 8 oz. patty part of that equation?
I think a burger is at its best when it's an 8 ounce. From the 8 ounce patty, you really get the juices. There's a lot of really great textures in the patty, and you get the full effect of the flavor. Where a lot of places do a 3 to 1-- I think that's a 6 ounce patty -- 6 ounce patty is really a thin layer. It just doesn't give the full flavor. You taste a lot of bun instead of getting the meat. Most buns out there are 4 1/2 inches to 5. Going back to the perfect burger, it's the meat to bun ratio.