Crafting great burgers has been one of the most satisfying experiences in Marcus Samuelsson's culinary career. This from a man who earned three stars from The New York Times and oversaw President Barack Obama's first state dinner.
"As a chef coming up, I always had this love affair with the burger," says Samuelsson, who got his start at a three-star Michelin restaurant in France. "We work with this French food all day. But at night we want a burger.
"It's something you can really put your personality into," says Samuelsson of burgers. "You can't do that with beef bourguignon."
And so Samuelsson — who was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden and learned to cook across Europe — embraced the burger, which he calls "the most iconic meal in America."
But like the rest of his cooking — a fusion of European sensibilities and American and African ingredients — Samuelsson's burgers blend cultures. And he says he has a rich palette from which to draw.
"When you do the history of the burger, you realize that every country and culture in the world has something like a beef patty with bread and a pickle," he says. "It really shows how unified we are as a people. We want something comforting. We want some heat on it."
"And we want something pickled on it. And that's essentially what a burger is."
To celebrate this American institution, The Associated Press in May launched its 20 Burgers of Summer series. The first seven contributions from celebrity chefs and food experts run the gamut from Spike Mendelsohn's tribute to news media in his 24/7 Burger — so over the top it's just a hair shy of overwhelming — to Martha Stewart's pared-down, almost Zen-like Japanese Chicken Burger.
Each week through September, the food world's biggest names will add to the AP's collection, featured online in an interactive graphic with photos, downloadable recipes and a history of the hamburger.
Because of its iconic stature in the United States, bison meat is the base of Samuelsson's burger, topped with a fried egg, heirloom tomatoes and a spicy ketchup spiked with horseradish, smoked paprika and chili powder.
Also pushing its protein capacity with an egg, as well as bacon and corned-beef hash, Mendelsohn says his burger is the sort needed to fuel the people behind the world's largest news organization. Because, er, nothing says great burger like wall-to-wall coverage of war, politics and upset celebrities, right?
Despite the (lack of?) inspiration he was handed, true to his burger master cred — his Washington burger joint, Good Stuff Eatery, has become a hotspot for the likes of first lady Michelle Obama — Mendelsohn came up with a winner.
"For the people that never stop," says Mendelsohn of the 24/7 Burger, first in the AP's series.
"Whether you're embedded with troops in Iraq, photographing the animals of Africa or live from the White House, here's the burger that will keep you going any time of day," says Mendelsohn, whose ode to burgers, "The Good Stuff Cookbook," recently was released.
But this burger is easy to love even if you don't live life reporting on deadline. Try this and other burgers created by celebrity chefs Rick Bayless and Tim Love, Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazine founder Christopher Kimball and Southern food writers Matt and Ted Lee.