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Father's Office burger - secret ingredient?

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With great amusement I read the L.A. Times so-called reproduction of the Office Burger from Father's Office in Santa Monica. The burger seems simple enough - premium quality ground beef, a French roll, fresh arugula, Maytag bleu cheese, good gruyere cheese - but the most mystifying element that baffled the Times staff was the "bacon compote" and carmelized onions.

Having gorged on FO's delicious conconction myself more than a dozen times, I could not fathom the presence of ketchup, Worchestershire sauce and liquid smoke in the "bacon compote," as the Times suggested. I even tried making the L.A. Times recipe at home myself for comparison purposes and found that the results were not even close.

While scanning the shelves at Surfas this weekend, I stumbled across a product that showed great promise of being the "secret" ingredient - Stonewall Kitchen's roasted garlic and onion jam. The banter between Inthebiz and WLA about certain items at FO coming from a jar (some tapas items, I assumed) made me think I was on to something. While I don't recall the presence of garlic on the burger, this stuff looks and tastes extremely close to onion concoction that tops the Father's Office burger. By adding big, fat-free chunks of bacon to this it tasted exactly the same to me. It had the right combination of sweetness and smokiness that eluded the Times "experts."

Maybe Sang Yoon makes his own onion jam/compote/whatever you want to call it. I think he probably calls it "bacon compote" on the menu to throw people off the path. But maybe the cooks just spoon some onion jam out of a jar, toss in some bacon chunks and heat it up before slathering it over the burger.

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    Vanessa On The Town

    About a year ago the chef was on Good Food on KCRW. I'm pretty sure he gave a full description of how he makes the burger. Maybe they have that archived somewhere. I thought it was just some sort of carmelization process of the onions that gave it that flavor.

    Anyway, good luck in your search.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Vanessa On The Town

      For those of you who may have missed it, following the article, the chef sent in the following letter to the editor:

      From the L.A. Times,(08/28/02)
      "Nice Try, Chef Says, but Test Burger Doesn't Cut the Mustard"

      Thanks for the nice mention ("Introducing the Glam Burger," Aug. 21). The recipe by your test kitchen made me laugh. Not because it was ridiculous, but because you would try to re-create it. I'm flattered. As for the recipe you published, a good but somewhat hasty attempt. Ketchup and liquid smoke? No way!

      I'm sure your version was great, however the one angle of approach missing is technique. The secrets of my compote are timing and patience during the cooking process. My experience in top kitchens showed me the importance of extracting intense flavors from basic ingredients. I created my burger mindful of my lessons. I think a lot of upper-echelon chefs are letting their guard down and having some fun. Utilizing a chef's talents on basic foods is something I'm happy to see happening.

      Having said this, I would have loved trying your version. If you really want the details, I'll tell you someday over a beer.

      SANG YOON

      Father's Office, Santa Monica

    2. Hi Chris, I actually bought a jar of that a couple of years ago after seeing it in a catalouge. It did make a nice marinade base and I even ate it on toast more that a few times. I saw the letter that came from the chef in the LA Times when it ran, (which may not be long for the site as CH is paranoid about copying and posting things direct from the source). I am going to have stop by and try one of the burgers at FO's. Will the chef go ballistic if you take your own ketchup in with you?

      3 Replies
      1. re: WLA

        THe chef won't even know. You have to order at the bar and one of the bartenders brings your order to your table. Even when I've sat at the bar I've never seen any of the kitchen staff emerge from "behind the curtain" - really makes you wonder what secrets lurk back there.

        Having said that, I do prefer the Belgian-style mayo-based sauce that accompanies the fries over plain ol' ketchup.

        1. re: Chris G.

          What I tend to do with ketchup is add tabasco, (or whatever hot sauce the restaurant might have..I'm always asking them if they have other types) and some extra pepper, (I hope I never find out that pepper is bad for you cause I'm always taking the top off and pouring it in). I will even mix it with mayo to get some sort of spicy Russian dressing. Speaking of good fries, have you ever been to Sawtell Kitchen and tried their appetizer portion of the giant fries they do? I love those things. I am usually order some to be brought out with my dinner and then use them to sop up the curry or whatever sauce I'm having.

        2. re: WLA

          I would just add that when I was there, the guy at the bar (taking orders) was happy to allow the one of the four in our party to sit and watch us eat amazing burgers. She (a devout non chowhound) didn't order one, because they wouldn't make hers plain (she's too picky to even pick the stuff off). She then ordered fries, but canceled that when they said no catsup. When we were overheard discussing her possibly running next door to Louises to grab something (which may or may not have been the right thing to do), but were told, "no way". I'd think twice about bringing in catsup ;)

        3. Years ago I had dinner with a family from Sri Lanka. One of my favorite dishes was nothing more than thinly sliced onions that were slow cooked into a compote of sweet, dark brown, wonderfulness. It tasted so complex but she insisted that it was nothing but onions. Maybe that is what the chef hinted at in his letter to The Times. She did say that it had to cook for many hours for the flavor to properly develop.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Just Larry

            Having made the trip to Father's Office last night to "refresh" my taste buds, I'd guess that this was the case as well. The onion jam/compote just didn't have that "from a jar" vibe. While it could be made from just onions, my guess is that the onions are boiled very slowly in small amount of balsamic vinegar, water and sugar. The Stonewall Kitchen garlic/onion jam works in a pinch for those who don't have the patience when making the burger at home, however.

          2. Everyone is over complicating this. The depth of flavor comes from careful preparation and fine ingredients, not an elaborate recipe. The components are yellow onion, quality, fatty bacon, pepper, salt as needed and a touch of brown sugar. Be sure to pour of some of the bacon fat after rendering. The rest is up to you to discover...