French Connection: Le Burger!

French Connection: Le Burger!

Aylin Öney Tan-
French Connection: Le Burger As I was recently walking in the streets of two French cities, Tours and Bordeaux, I could not help but notice the growing French appetite for hamburgers. Yes, hamburgers! And it was not bifteck haché, served with a side of frites, it was the one we all know quite well, a minced meat patty sandwiched in a bun. 

The French burger craze has been a phenomenon in the past years. It started like a new fashion in Paris, but it proves that it was not a seasonal fad. There was even a Parisian magazine Paris-Burger launched in 2013, dedicated solely to burgers, which still exists. Apparently, the founder and editor-in-chief, Julien Lacheray, was a visionary, and despite the risk of becoming repetitive and boring, the magazine managed to survive, and obviously contributed to the hamburger awakening of the French reviewing hundreds of burgers in the capital. Nowadays, the wonderful French baguette sandwiches are more for the tourists; wedges of Camembert tucked into a crusty loaf, or the classic “jambon beurre,” the ham and butter baguette, do not seem to be as popular as before. Hamburger has a more honored status now; for most French, it takes place of a good dinner in a traditional sit-down restaurant. Many bistros include at least one burger in the menu, along with foie gras and other French fare. Even at the corner McDo in Tours, the waitresses were serving the orders to the outdoor tables; it was not even completely self-service. The American hamburger, the once scorned fast-food grub becomes the chic “Le Burger,” a cool new item on French menus. 

While Le Burger invades France with all its very American condiments such as mayo, ketchup and mustard, we must remind that two of these inseparable accompaniments do have a French connection: the mayo and the mustard. The latter is obvious, France is a heaven of mustard-lovers like myself, but mayonnaise for many, despite its very French sounding name is always very American, I mean not the home-made version, but the one that comes in a plastic bottle or a jar. 

Mayonnaise is technically a thick sauce, almost in gelatinous consistency, made by emulsifying egg yolks with oil, vinegar and seasonings. There are many stories about its origins, one attributing it to the cook of Duke de Richelieu. The cook whipped up a new sauce due to lack of cream during the Seven Year’s War in Port of Mahon, in Minorca, and called it Mahonnaise. 

Andrew Smith, one of the foremost researchers of American food history, gives a detailed account of its diffusion in the U.S. where it began to appear in cookbooks in early 19th century. Mayonnaise made its first appearance in an upscale restaurant later in the same century, in Delmonico’s in New York; interestingly, the hamburger also appeared in Delmonico’s in 1834 as Hamburg steak. One of the pioneers in selling mayonnaise as a bottled condiment was Richard Hellmann, a German native of Vetschau, south of Berlin. He started working for Crosse & Blackwell Company in London, before he moved to New York. There he met with Matt Martinez, a Frenchman whose family owned a food manufacturing business in Paris. Later his friend’s family business would influence Hellmann to start selling mayonnaise in big scale. In NYC, he eventually started his own food store, together with his wife Margaret, another German immigrant, daughter of a delicatessen shop owner. In a visit back in Europe, the couple visited Matt, and they were inspired by the way they delivered food directly to the customers, rather than expecting customers to come to the shop. Even mayonnaise was delivered in wooden butter boxes to the door of the customer. 

Hellmann was yet to put his mate Matt’s mayonnaise idea into practice, but with an unfortunate twist of fate, his ideas could have sunken deep down in the ocean forever. On the way back, they were offered a place in Titanic’s first maiden voyage, but opted for a smaller ship that was cheaper. Luckily the idea of mayonnaise survived. When back in the U.S., Hellmann concentrated on how to have the condiment keep longer. Additives were not even known then, he experimented by putting more salt into yolks, involved engineers in getting the most state of the art equipment to emulsify the ingredients and thought of putting the condiment in wide-mouthed jars. He labeled it Blue Ribbon as a sign of perfection, because at state fairs, blue ribbons were awarded for first place winner products. This was a wise marketing strategy; the product surpassed its rivals easily by the ribbon trick. By the end of the 1920’s the company was producing three tons of mayonnaise per hour. 

The French may be still whipping their own mayonnaise at home, but today, the bottled mayo, as American as it could be, is coming back to France, to where it originally belongs, hidden in a bun! 

Recipe of the Week

The most unexpected mayo recipe is a creation of Mrs. Paul Price, wife of a Hellmann’s sales distributor: Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake. My daughter was disgusted with the idea, but it works amazingly well. I was only convinced when I found out from an article of Andy Smith, which my friend Nick Malgieri, the iconic American baking author, once made a tower of the cake, shaped as a mayonnaise jar. Here is a version: Whisk 1 cup of Hellmann’s real mayonnaise with 1-cup buttermilk in a bowl (instead of buttermilk, a sour ayran would also do, or milk with 1 tsp vinegar), add a dash of vanilla extract. In another bowl mix the dry ingredients; 2 cups flour, 1-cup sugar, 2/3 cup cocoa, 1½ teaspoon baking soda. Mix the dried ingredients into the mayo mix. Pour the cake batter in a prepared round cake tin; bake for 45-50 minutes in pre-heated oven to180°C. When cool, transfer to a plate and dust with icing sugar. 

Fork of the Week

Hellman’s has a range of sauces, newly launched in the Turkish market; chef Maksut Aşkar makes a divine tarhana-garlic mayo recipe. Just squeezed from the bottle mix 4 parts garlic mayo, with 2 parts cooked tarhana (1 part tarhana cooked with 1 part meat broth +1 tbsp tomato paste); sprinkle with sumac and here you go to invade Turkish palates!

Cork of the Week

Hamburger & mayo combo calls for a beer; but this chocolate cake definitely calls for a dark stout. In Turkey, look for Gara of Garaguzu, a velvety, almost chocolaty coffee-like dark beer which will be just the right choice.