Saturday, March 10, 2007

Where a burger is worth its weight in gold


The humble burger gets a luxurious makeover in Bangkok

IN rural Thailand, 6,600 baht (RM700) can buy you half of an adult buffalo.

At a Polynesian-styled franchise restaurant in cosmopolitan Bangkok, you get a beef burger for the same amount.

Not just any beef burger. A Trilogy Burger as Trader’s Vic restaurant in Bangkok Marriott Resort and Spa calls it.

The Trilogy Burger is the most expensive burger in Thailand and probably the world.

What is it made of, you ask. Gold?

Actually, yes. The Trilogy Burger is sprinkled with edible gold leaf. It also features Matsusaka beef, morel mushroom, black truffles and foie gras.

The idea of serving the most expensive burger in Thailand was baked in the kitchen of Bangkok Marriott’s executive chef Simon Beaumont and executive sous chef Kevin Thomson about two weeks ago.

Their gastronomic inspiration arose from recent events in Bangkok such as the one million baht (RM102,000)-a-head gourmet dinner and 540,000 baht (RM57,300) Valentine Day’s cocktail, which is a Martini containing a dazzling heart-shaped ruby instead of an olive.

“Instead of copying (other restaurants which charged a million baht or 540,000 baht) we thought of doing something a little closer to a price our guests could afford,” explained Thomson at the resort that is along the Chao Phraya River.

“Our burger costs only 6,600 baht which is about US$184.”

But why is the Trilogy Burger expensive? It is reasonably priced, defended the sous chef, when you factor in the ingredients used.

The Matsusaka beef is 6,600 baht (RM700) a kilo, morel mushroom (13,500 baht or RM1,434 a kilo), black truffle (8,800 baht or RM934 a kilo), foie gras (2,000 baht or RM212 a kilo) and the gold leaf (220 baht or RM23).

When the two chefs were discussing which meat they were going to use for the burger, both of them looked at each other and said “Matsusaka.”

“No meat other than Matsusaka,” declared Thomson, adding “it is even better than Wagyu and Kobe beef.”

The chef admitted that even some of the five-star resort’s guests are unfamiliar with Matsusaka beef. And he had to explain to the diners about the meat.

“In Japan, a Matsusaka cow listens to classical music, eats oat, drinks beer and is massaged with sake for three years. Then it ends up on our table,” he said, quickly adding “it is a wonderful life for three years.”

“When I come back, I’m coming back as a Matsusaka cow, definitely,” he quipped. “Beer everyday ? cannot complain about that.”

Once the two chefs decided on Matsusaka, they complemented it with luxury products like truffle, morel mushroom and foie gras. “They marry well with the beef,” Thomson explained.

The gold leaf is included to add colour to the rather darkish-coloured burger. Also, the Thais believe the colour gold brings good luck.

The Englishman beamed confidently when asked whether he was confident the Trilogy Burger would sell.

“The guests staying in a five-star hotel are not short of money,” he noted. “And sometimes they want a luxurious item that they can’t get at home.”

But a burger at that price?

“It’s a steal,” he shrieked. Some of the guests, he said, were amazed at how cheap the burger was.

For example, he added, in the United States, it would cost US$160 to US$180 (RM561 to RM631) for a Matsusaka steak and that is without the foie gras, truffle and morel mushroom.

Trader’s Vic restaurant has sold seven burgers since the item went on the menu seven days ago on March 1. Seven, according to the chef with 19-year experience, is a pretty good number for selling a US$184 burger.

The number of Trilogy Burger sold, noted Thomson, reflected that the residents and tourists in Bangkok are as cosmopolitan as those in cities like New York, London and Tokyo.

So how did the burger taste? Arooy (Thai for delicious).

The hand-chopped Matsusaka beef and seared foie gras melted in my mouth with the truffles and mushrooms marrying harmoniously. And it went well with a cool Singha beer.

Try the burger the next time you’re in Bangkok. You'll get all the ketchup for free.

(Published in The Star on March 10, 2007, in The Nation on March 21, 2007 and AsiaNews on March 23-29, 2007)