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We Spoke With Famed Burger Chef Alvin Cailan About Pairing Gin With The Perfect Burger

To say Chef Alvin Cailan changed the burger game would be an understatement. The L.A. chef helped create the modern burger game.

Chef Cailan’s approach is very straightforward, some would even argue “back to basics” — focusing on the best ingredients to make simple burgers pop. In short, you don’t need a million add-ons when you can just use a killer bun, some great pickle, solid American cheese, a good beef grind, and a little onion (okay, and maybe a dope burger sauce too). That kind of simplicity has been the foundation upon which Cailan built his burger empire on — at Umami and Amboy — after his smashing success with eggs and brunch at the still beloved Eggslut.

As the voice in modern burger-dom, it’s no surprise that Cailan teamed up with an iconic brand like Tanqueray Gin to pair one of his fantastic burgers with a gin cocktail. Perhaps even less surprisingly, onions took center stage in the cocktail (a Gin Ricky) as well as in the burger, the aptly named Damn Fancy burger with a double smash patty, lime-juice-black-pepper-olive-oil-gin-soaked onions, and just the right amount of tangy burger sauce and melty cheese.

We’ll teach you how to make the cocktail below, but first, let’s dive into what inspired Chef Cailan to make this pairing for this year’s melding of streetwear and foodies at Los Angeles’ Family Style Food Festival (October 9th). It’s a fun chat and, yes, we totally nerd out about the brilliance of onions and beef for a while. Let’s jump in!

Also Read: The Top Five Cocktail Recipes of the Last Six Months

Alvin Burger Gin
Diageo

When you look at a project like Family Style, what attracts you to it? Is it the idea of bringing people in to show them something cool? What excites you, man?

When it comes to Family Style, it’s really a celebration of our city when it comes to food. Family Style’s by far my favorite event of the year because it merges two worlds that I love so much, which is streetwear and food. And it’s finally becoming a thing! I’ve been saying this for the last ten years, the people who I used to hang out with and wait in line to get sneakers are now waiting in line to get into restaurants. So when Family Style started, I was like, “This is the most genius thing ever.”

And I look forward to it because it’s our chance to really kind of flex and show our colleagues and our friends (who are also in the restaurant industry) what we’ve been up to, what we’re about, what type of collaborations that we’re going to do. It’s just a creative event where we really can just maximize our cheffiness and our creativity with designers and partners.

You have a master chef’s palate that you built over your lifetime. When you look at how you’re going to pair something like this gin cocktail with a burger, what are you looking at as your entryway into that? But then what are you looking at when you’re actually building it?

First things first, it’s all about the flavor palate. It’s all about what we have to work with, and luckily gin and beef have a great affinity with each other. When I heard that we were able to do it with Tanqueray, I was like, “This is perfect.” There’s plenty of juniper berry with very earthy grassy notes to it that then brings out those notes in a burger. So it always starts with the flavor of what we’re going to do. If you’re an old-school food guy, you’ll remember that José Andrés taught us all to be gin and tonic lovers. And so when we teamed up with Tanqueray and then when I found out what the cocktail was going to be, really just the recipe wrote itself.

Right on. You know, there are salad elements to a burger and there are salad elements to a gin and tonic, especially if you get into the Spanish side of G&Ts. You’re not into salad-ing up your burgers. So how did you find a balance there between what you’re going to put in your gin and tonic and what you put on your burger?

I have a very solid build schedule when it comes to burgers. It’s almost become a signature look for my burgers, you never see a salad, so to speak, on my burger. But what’s cool about this particular collaboration is that you can actually get the flavors of fresh, crisp, stuff like that. So for me, you take the body — meat, cheese, bun — and if those three are perfect, then everything else that you could put on there is just added pleasure.

In this case, I realized, ‘hey, one of my favorite things in the world is when I’m having a Gibson with a pearl onion in it sometimes.

Alvin Burger Gin
Diageo

When I have that drink and I eat the onion, it’s one of my favorite things in a crafted cocktail. So I took that as an inspiration and then just went with the flavors. So lime and black pepper are mixed together with those onions. It was like gin, lime, black pepper, and onions and it just tasted like that beautiful onion after a good Gibson.

When you sit down to a meal like this, what do you think the proper ratio is when you’re actually drinking and eating something as a pairing? Do you open your palate up with the burger and then go into the drink or do you save the drink for the end? How do you approach that?

I go all in together. I’m like bite a burger, take a sip, bite a burger, take a sip. My dad actually is one of those dudes who segments everything. And for me, it needs to have that explosion of flavor and I think that’s what makes a great pairing. So I’m definitely a bite, drink kind of guy, for real. Even when it comes to wine and all of that, I want to be able to have the lingering flavors while I take a sip, as opposed to separate.

Absolutely. I have friends who’ll eat their fries first, completely separately, and then they’ll eat their burger, and then they’ll have their drink… It’s wild to me.

That’s my dad. My dad does that and it drives me nuts.

We’re on the same page then. Then again, my son puts his fries on the burger and eats them.

On the burger? See, the next generation is different.

Yeah, he’s just like, all in, baby, all in!

There are no rules!

I’m a big onion-on-burger guy, as mentioned already. Why do you think onion works so well on burgers?

I literally just got back from Dubai, and in Dubai, there’s this great ground beef dish that’s grilled. And on the plate, there are just raw straight-up onions and you eat them like chips while you’re eating the dish. I had a lot of time to think about this because our fat ratio to our beef here in America is a lot fattier and over there it’s a lot leaner. But the one thing that we want to have is that fresh balance that has to be savory. And I think the onion is the freshest, most savory ingredient that helps cut through the flavor of beef. And honestly, without it, sometimes it feels like there’s something missing, you know what I mean? It’s almost like you get mouth fatigue when you’re eating just straight-up beef.

It’s endless chewing…

We have a Filipino dish and it’s literally just slices of beef stewed down with soy sauce and onions. That flavor is, for me, so embedded into my palate that I need to have onion when it comes to eating red meat or beef in general. So in my opinion, needing that crisp freshness or even in a sweet form, it’s still so savory that it doesn’t take away from beef, it actually makes it better.

Alvin Burger Gin
Diageo

I know what you mean. I spent years living in Berlin and the Döner Kebab scene is basically the food of the city. When I first moved there, I was always getting it the way any tourist would, just with everything on it. You know, give it to me, so I can put it in my face. But then as I went out with locals and learned to order it always with double beef, double onion, garlic sauce, and nothing else.

I don’t see anything wrong with that at all.

Just beef, raw white onions, and a sort of ranch-y garlic sauce. I miss it.

Fire. Dude, super good.

So good. I hate using the word “simple,” but it is just basic elements.

Oh yeah. It’s just the pure joy of why you love food, those two combinations together, it’s perfect.

I’m really excited about this cocktail and this burger, man. Tell us a little bit more about the launch and what you’re looking forward to at Family Style.

Last year we had a makeshift VIP sensation at our booth because of where we were located. So I knew we needed to step up so while we were planning this year’s booth, I was like, “Dude, if we’re doing this with Tanqueray, we have to make this into the most energetic area of the festival.” And it was perfect because Tanqueray was on board to do just that.

So now our booth is going to be a big bar/burger joint with its own area where you can drink and have fun. It’s going to be one of the most unique experiences at the festival and yeah, dude, I’m super stoked because last year was unplanned and this year it’s planned. So it’s going to be amazing. Me and my friends are already like, “Yo, what hotel are we staying at?” And we live only like 30 minutes or 15 minutes away from the venue. But we’re like, “No. We’re teaming up with Tanqueray, we have to be responsible. Let’s go stay at a hotel nearby!” So yeah, dude, we’re going to have a blast this year.

Alvin Cailin’s Gin Ricky

Alvin Burger Gin
Diageo

Ingredients:

What You’ll Need:

  • Glassware: Collins
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Cocktail strainer
  • Paring knife
  • Hand Juicer

Method:

  • Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add black pepper simple syrup, lime, and Tanqueray London Dry Gin.
  • Shake vigorously and strain into ice-filled Collins glass.
  • Top with soda water and garnish with a lime twist.

If you’re in the L.A. area, you can get tickets to the 2022 Family Style Food Festival here. Prices run $60 for general admission and $200 for VIP.









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