Chef Tony Rosenfeld got his start cooking in such high-end Boston restaurants as L'Espalier, but he's known today as the culinary mind behind Boston's b.good burger chain, an attempt at healthy — or at least healthier — fast food.
Rosenfeld is also an acclaimed cookbook and recipe author, focusing mostly on simple, grilled delights. I spent a day in Rosenfeld's world recently, and I went home with two burgers in my stomach and a tupperware with four pork shops for my fridge.
The man likes his meat.
How B.Good Makes A 'Booorger'
I met Rosenfeld during the lunch rush at b.good's Harvard Square location.
In the back, a young grill man named Sergei had a dozen burgers on the fire, half a dozen chicken breasts, and two orders of grilled asparagus. I asked how he was holding up; he replied with something enthusiastic but unintelligible about "booorgers."
"Sergei, his smile is stronger than his English, but he's one of our stronger grill guys," Rosenfeld said as he watched proudly from the sidelines.
The kitchen felt more like a diner, or short-order environment than a fast food joint. Sergei had ground all of the beef himself that morning and he doesn't just grill burgers to order — he actually forms the patties to order with this fancy little wrist action.
"It's a little ballet," Rosenfeld said. "The one thing that we would hope we do is that we are training people, really, how to cook. It means once in a while you can get an uneven sandwich or fries, but the tagline that John, one of my partners, he always talks about, 'food made by people, not factories.'"
Since they launched their first store in Back Bay in 2004, Rosenfeld and his partners have opened six more b.good locations around Boston, with more coming this summer. But their concept of offering locally-sourced, seasonal fast food is only just now coming to fruition as local suppliers come on line.
"There's been a huge movement, not just to grow vegetables locally, but to have meats that you can source locally," Rosenfled explained. "And as a restaurant that has a relatively small price point, for us it's just really exciting that we can work with local farmers and bring something that's still a reasonable price."
That said, Rosenfeld still pays a premium for New England beef — 20 to 25 percent over the national suppliers.
Beefy, Smokey and Delicious
Rosenfeld typically gets to each b.good location once a week, and taste-tests an array of menu items. This time, I got to help him out.
"This is our seasonal burger, some wild mushrooms on there and then there's smoked cheddar which comes from the same farm that produces a lot of our cattle," Rosenfeld said proudly as we tucked in.
"It is beefy, it is smokey, it is delicious," I pronounced as Rosenfeld's face turned slightly flush. The flavor was strong, despite the modest fat content of b.good's ground beef.
"We try to shoot for about 90/10 [lean to fat ratio]," Rosenfeld said. "There's plenty of people who will say you need to have a burger that's 80/20 or even fattier. And there's definitely a place for those burgers, but we also think there's a place for a burger that's a little leaner. You could eat a burger here once a week, I do, and I'm doing OK so far."
An Empire Of Meat
B.good is one part of a small empire that Tony Rosenfeld is building. He's a contributing editor to Fine Cooking magazine, and writes mostly about basic, quick food for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, among other publications. His first book: "150 Things to Make with Roast Chicken (And 50 Ways to Roast It)" is a love letter to the unpretentious and practical weeknight meal.
It's all helped him buy a beautiful little 19th-century merchant's house near the water in Marblehead, Mass.
Following inspection at b.good, we headed into Rosenfeld's home kitchen to try out something from his new book, "Sear, Sauce, and Serve: Mastering High-Heat, High-Flavor Cooking."
"Pretty much anything that you can stir-fry, saute, grill or broil is in there, at least the quick-cooking cuts," Rosenfeld said of his new book, as he cracked open his refrigerator. "So I've got center-cut pork chops, four of them. I was gonna grill them, and then make a couple quick glazes."
Most of Rosenfeld's sauces are quick combinations of pantry ingredients, like the honey and chipotle pepper glaze he whizzed up in his food processor for the pork (recipe below).
For my part, I find that every honey-based sauce I've ever tried on pork has burned on me.
"The biggest question is when you apply it," Rosenfeld advised. "The glazes that I add in this book, they all get added toward the end of cooking."
Rosenfeld said the "old-school" marinade recipe would have you sit in a barbecue marinade before throwing the meat on the grill.
"You put it on the grill, five minutes in the chicken is nowhere near cooked and it's completely charred," Rosenfeld said. "So what I try to do is get that meat cooked perfectly and then just give it a quick basting."
On Rosenfled's back porch, the chops hit the grill. With only a couple minutes left in the cooking, Rosenfeld bushed on the glaze, which immediately started to brown.
"You can already see around the sides right now, that caramel is happening and it's kind of bubbling up on the sides of the pork chop," he observed.
But just as sweet sauce started to burn, Rosenfeld brushed on another layer to protect it. The result — after three bastings and a couple of minutes — was a laminated, glossy finish.
"Ok, we're all done," Rosenfeld said as he pulled the chops onto a platter, his tone of voice betraying some not-entirely-confident feelings about the meat's doneness.
"I'm always worried," Rosenfeld admitted. "That's the fun of grilling. It's always a little minor miracle when everything comes out just right."
"Let's see...it's pretty nice. It is pretty much a nice medium-well," Rosenfeld said with relief as we cut into the chops. They were explosively juicy and delicious.
"What's the common thread between this cooking and what you do at b.good?" I asked with a mouthful of pork.
"I think it's all approachable food," Rosenfeld replied. "I'd love to think that maybe some of the people who eat at b.good, the meals that they're not eating out, hopefully these are the kind of things that they'd like to make."
In Rosenfeld's case, these are definitely the kind of meals he likes to make.
"Once upon a time I would have thought that my niche would have been, kind of, wearing a french toque," Rosenfeld said. "But you know, pork chops are what I like making. And I like glazes, and I like really good simple food."
Chipotle Honey Glaze
This glaze, quick and full of smokey flavor, is a staple in my kitchen. It's ridiculously simple, holds for a while in the fridge, and goes great with everything from grilled chicken to broiled shrimp skewers.
YIELD: 1 CUP, 4 SERVINGS
PREP TIME: 3 minutes
COOK TIME: N/A
1 canned chipotle, minced, plus 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, mix to combine all the ingredients; season with salt and pepper to taste.
PAIRINGS: Brush on grilled chicken parts, pork chops, or even pork ribs if you're doing some low and slow grilling. Serve with corn bread (make it out of a box, nobody will know the difference) and sautéed collard greens.
SHELF LIFE: Up to two weeks in the refrigerator; make a double batch to have on hand.
From "Sear, Sauce, and Serve: Mastering High-Heat, High-Flavor Cooking," by Tony Rosenfeld, reproduced with the author's permission
This segment aired on May 30, 2011.