Natalie Mwedekeli of Mama Rocks Food truck fame, lets our readers in on some of the secrets behind this popular burger joint’s ongoing success
At Mama Rocks we often joke and say, “If a plantain could talk it would scream ‘I am not a banana!’” The banana and the plantain are as distant in their relations as the classic burger is to its gourmet brethren. They may look the same but they were in no way created equal.
Here at the Mama Rocks food truck, my sister Samantha and I follow a gourmet philosophy which we exercise down to every last ingredient on our menu. Thus, in order to create a gourmet burger, we believe you must start with the central ingredient – the patty which must be made from fresh ingredients. Try freezing mince and watch how ice crystals begin to form, kickstarting a process that leads both to a loss of flavourful juices and to a reduction in that desired spongy, airy texture that defines the perfect burger. The negatives associated with frozen meat far outweigh the positives so when cooking burgers at home, the next time you see that offer for frozen mince, don’t take it up.
The cut and type of beef that is used for a burger is extremely important. Some fast food joints use a filler most often referred to as ‘pink slime’, which is added to the mince in addition to the beef chuck roll to make the burger patty. Not only does it sound unattractive, it looks like something out of Ghostbusters. Truly gourmet burger restaurants use whole cuts of beef such as chuck from the flank, which is leaner, more flavourful and therefore more expensive. At Mama Rocks we use our own blend of rib eye, topside and chuck, from grass-fed, free range, organic Borana cattle. So head down to your butcher and choose the meat you feel fits your burger best and keep in mind that while grinding your own meat is of course the best option, having your butcher do it in front of you will do just fine too.
A telling sign of a gourmet burger is the quality of the secondary ingredients used and the method of preparation. To get the buttery, egg-rich balance of our gorgeously-golden-brown brioche burger buns exactly right, our bakers spent six months constantly testing and retesting their recipe. Our seasonal honey is harvested by an independent supplier and our thinly sliced, lightly seasoned gherkins are produced locally by another independent artisan. As a result of this non-commercial approach, we feel we have successfully created a flavour that is unique, authentic and above all, extremely difficult to replicate.
Here at the food truck we are still high fiving each other on what we know was our best idea: creating our own brand of signature sauces. The sweet potato sauce, the Only The Brave hot sauce and the Chili Mango sauce were all inspired by the flavours of Africa. Get creative and try your own unconventional condiments, maybe adapting an old family recipe, a traditional spice blend or just a crazy flavour combination you have been afraid to speak out loud. Don’t hold back, get experimental and see what comes out. That’s where half the fun is.
On your next visit to your local fresh food market think like a Gastronomer, be passion not price lead and follow your inspiration where it takes you. Instead of using plain fresh onions, transform them through pickling, sautéing, caramelising or adding a marinade, rest assured that this will give your entire burger a different dimension and flavour sensation. Your taste buds will thank you for it. On that note, instead of using lettuce try rocket, garlic pan-fried baby spinach or chili, coriander and butter mushrooms. After that no one can accuse you of lacking imagination!
In sum, it is important to keep in mind that while yes the burger came from humble, fast-food beginnings, the gourmet burger today continues to revolutionize outdated perceptions and there is no reason for you not to get in on the game.