Interview with Franny’s Burgers

It’s Monday again, so it’s time again for another update in my popular ‘Interview with…’ series. This time it’s with Francisco, the burger blogger. Now you might say, you’ve never come across a burger blogger. That might be true, as I’ve never met anyone else before who is so dedicated to eating, testing and reviewing burgers than Francisco.

It was mere coincidence that I stumbled across his blog. I was looking for information about The Press Room and Francisco had already reviewed its burger – he recommended it! So I left him a comment saying that I’m intrigued and will try this out soon. He told me I was the first person to leave him a comment, so it would be nice to meet up for a burger in real life.

Franny's Burger 2

Many days and a couple of emails later we finally met at BLT Burger (and yes, Francisco ranked this burger as exquisite) to catch up on burgers, blogging and general life in Hong Kong. It was a nice and very informative dinner – we share a number of common interests and hence it was a no-brainer that I joined on of his ‘Fat Fridays’ which is a monthly gathering of industry experts to network. If you want to find out more about this, read the interview below and/or contact Francisco here.

What I love about his blog is that she takes eating, testing and reviewing burgers very serious – he examines the patty, the bread, the seasoning and how well everything goes together. I struggle to write food reviews, as I often ran out of words, after saying I (don’t) like a dish – but he has made a science out of examining burgers. He eloquently writes 500 words that are very interesting, and I promise you, will make you look at burgers much differently. After meeting with Francisco I actually judge my burgers much more carefully now!

For today, let me interview Francisco about his blog Franny’s Burger.

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Why burgers? What is so special about them?
I just simply love hamburgers, people who know me know this to be very true. To the likes of a cartoon character who’s always eating burgers, at times compared to Wimpy, some claim that anywhere I show up I’ll have a burger at hand – it’s not actually true, I don’t carry burgers in my pockets, but I appreciate the thought.

I read about burgers, I talk about burgers, I write about burgers, and I eat burgers – a lot of burgers. I have a passionate interest in anything hamburger related; but above all that magnificent burger flavor, that perfect burger taste balance that comes from a flawless union of bread and meat, of bacon, cheese and vegetables; a union that if properly thought out and cared for will result in a mesmerizing experience – a majestic burger.

Don’t get me wrong though, I enjoy other foods too – I do eat and try all kinds of foods. But, eating more than a couple of hamburgers on a weekly basis, burgers have a special place in my heart. Even when I travel to new places, along with trying the local dishes, I’ll also try the ‘best’ local burger joints; I enjoy trying different burgers, because it seems like each country, each culture, adds their own little uniqueness into the mix – on the flip coin, just as each country has their signature burger, it seems that there is a perfect burger for every person.

Franny's Burger 1

So why are burgers so special?
Above all it has to be that amazing magical burger taste, but thinking about it, there are some underlying reasons why burgers are so significant to me.

First off, I like the idea that everyone, from carnivores to vegans, from the young to the old, from the east to west and north to south, everyone is able to appreciate a good burger in their own way. Food can bring people together, and for me there is no better food to do the job than a hamburger; even people who rarely eat burgers can appreciate a good hamburger every now and again. I guess it’s no different than other foods, but, at least in my eyes, it seems that people rarely turn down a burger.

Another reason, and I’m not sure if this will make sense but, I like to think that a hamburger fits my personality or that if my personality were to be summed up as a food it would be a burger, ‘you are what you eat’ comes to mind. I very much enjoy the simple complexity of a burger – it’s a simple easygoing dish; it has meats, veggies, sauces, and cheese in between two buns. However, when you consider where hamburgers come from, it all becomes slightly more complex. Burger history spans from ancient Rome and ancient Egypt, to the Golden Horde of Mongolia, through Russia and Germany, and then the United States; by now it has become a global phenomenon increasing in popularity. Similar to a burger, I like to say that I’m a simple guy with a complex background. My father is Danish, my mother is Mexican, I was born in Turkey, and by know I’ve lived in seven countries – but with me, what you see is what you get.

Perhaps the more important reason, where it all started, is a personal attachment to burgers. I believe my love for hamburgers started with my parents. My Dad, who owned stock in McDonald’s and who would jokingly say that he owned all the chairs in the company, would take us there on a regular basis so we could ‘support’ the company. Even my older sisters, off at university, would pay tribute to McDonald’s once a month. Everywhere we went, even when we travelled, we’d manage to grab a burger at least once – we tried many different foods as well! As I recall we had more happy meal toys that we could count, and spent many birthdays there, also in Burger King. Even to this day, every year on my birthday, I’ll still enjoy a McDonald’s burger; with a more ‘refined’ burger in the evening. So my parents made me a burger-monster!

My Dad passed away some years ago; me, my sisters, my parents, we’ve always been a very close family – even if we’re all living in different corners of the globe. Dad’s death was hard on all of us, but we’re always remembering him – for me we shared many things, and though I never really had a chance to share a beer with my dad, we had plenty of burgers together. Even though everyone in the family had a different favorite food, we all still enjoy a lot of burgers together – mainly because of me!

On a little side note, I’d like to ask any readers to look up my father, Bent Skovmand, a steak loving, plant scientist, and conservationist that did a lot of good for this world. Times magazine even said the following about him “while not exactly a household name he has more to do with the welfare of the world’s five billion people than many heads of state”; and in a way all the work he did, had and still does have an impact on the burgers we eat today!

How do you rank them? Do you have a scientific Franny’s Burger rating system that you can share?
My burger ranking is based on a five word system; five out of five burgers, and highest rating is a majestic burger, four out of five burgers is exquisite, then there is decent, followed by edible, and at the bottom, one out of five burgers – I will not finish this burger, there is repulsive. The idea is that the system is simple and relatable to the burger and the experience one might have while indulging on a hamburger. However, I do believe that they should be used as guiding posts for people’s own experiences. As a burger aficionado and self proclaimed connoisseur, I do hold burgers at a higher standard than most.
In terms of the science behind Franny’s Burger rating system; well, when rating a burger what I look for the most is how much care has been given to a burger, has the burger been properly thought out with good quality ingredients, or has the burger been added to the menu simply for the sake of having a burger with little regard to the execution?

To try and determine how much care goes into a burger I’ll judge three crucial aspects:

  1. The burger taste balance, which focuses on how the burger tastes as a whole as well as how well the ingredients play their distinct parts. I believe that there is a clear ‘burger’ taste; when meat patties, bacon, cheese, bread buns, vegetables, sauces come together in a tumble within your mouth – that magical burger taste is created. At the same time, in most cases, you’ll be able to enjoy a glimpse of each of the ingredient’s individual performances. Ultimately, I’ll examine both the burger as a whole as well as the individual ingredients. I should also mention that I weigh the bun and the meat equally, as they are both key ingredients; I don’t believe that a burger can be exquisite or majestic if one of these ingredients falls short. Other ingredients, such as cheese, bacon, and veggies, should be vital, considered as secondary ingredients while not necessary they’ll have a huge impact on the final burger rating.
  2. The burger construction, which concentrates on how the burger is engineered. It looks at how well the burger stacks up and if it maintains its form throughout the devourment. It should be important that a hamburger doesn’t fall apart before the last bite, and that the ingredients are well proportioned throughout. For example, it’s a shame to have too much bun and not enough meat, or vice versa, for the last few bites – the last bite of the burger should always have bread and meat present, and should try to have at least a small percentage of all the secondary ingredients.
  3. And the burger experience, which centers on how well is a burger experienced. A great burger will be one superb fluid experience with little to no bumps during the consumption, while a lesser burger experience will have you asking yourself ‘why?’ more than a couple of times – ‘why is this so poorly constructed?’, ‘why is the meat not the right temperature?’, ‘why are the ingredients bland?’, or ‘why is the patty area smaller than the bun area?’ are all questions that you might ask yourself through a bumpy burger experience, all relating to a burger that has not received proper tender and care.

When a burger has a great burger taste balance, when its properly constructed, and when the experience is a mesmerizing one, then you’ll have yourself a majestic burger.

Franny's Burger 3[Burger at Restoration]

What’s the best and the worst burger you’ve eaten in Hong Kong so far?
So far, I’d say, one of the best burgers I’ve tried in Hong Kong is the traditional beef burger at the MO Bar in the Landmark, to this day it’s the only burger to have received a majestic rating. However, it’s a high end, pricey burger. For a more affordable burger I could recommend the burger at either High Street Grill or Restoration, both excellent burgers, are in a more moderate price range.

The worst one so far, has to be the Aberdeen burger at Aberdeen Street, to this point it’s the only burger to have received an edible rating, the disappointment was even more accentuated by having to walk up the hill to get there. I’ve yet to encounter a repulsive burger in Hong Kong, but it’s out there… hiding, waiting to come out…

But when it comes to food, I think that an important point to consider is the consistency of a burger – I’ll try to check the consistency of a burger every so often, sometimes its there, other times its not – and when its not it can be a little disappointing and annoying. At the end of the day, a burger is only as good as the last time you had it; I’m yet to include any updates on Franny’s Burgers though.

Franny's Burger 4[Burger at Wooloomooloo Steakhouse]

Compared to all the places you’ve lived in, how do burgers in Hong Kong rank in general? Can they match the burgers in the USA for example?
In general I would say it’s hard to find a truly prominent burger in Hong Kong. There are lots of great places to eat in Hong Kong, but when it comes to burgers it’s hard to find something that is exquisite (four out of five burgers) or even majestic (five out of five burgers). It appears that most restaurants have a burger on the menu for the sake of having a burger, it’s great to have a burger on the menu, but restaurants should be more careful about how burgers are planned and prepared i.e. what ingredients will be used and how will they be prepared, and how are the burgers measured and constructed. I’ve also experienced a few cases in which the consistency of a restaurant is simply not there.

One of the aims of my blog is to increase awareness for better burger eating, not only for the individuals, but also for restaurants and the media. People, burger enthusiast or not, should be able to have the best burger experience possible, and restaurants should be able to provide these experiences. And the media, in Hong Kong, should be better informed about what people are looking for when they search for a burger – the worst offender I’ve seen in Hong Kong had the nerve to recommend a smoke salmon bagel to us burger-lovers, using that exact word ‘burger-lover’. Fish burgers can be notable burgers, and I can appreciate a good salmon sandwich, and I understand burgers and bagels fall under the same ‘sandwich’ category, but if I’m a burger-lover do not recommend I try a smoked salmon bagel – it won’t satisfy my burger-cravings!

Compared to the rest of the world, I wouldn’t say burgers in Hong Kong particularly stand out. American burgers are magnificent, and the Europeans are in the up and coming serving great burgers – one of the best burgers I’ve ever had was in Copenhagen, Denmark, a place called Halifax. Still, given the food culture in Hong Kong, I do believe there is plenty of room for improvement – a hamburger is a simple dish, but like anything else it still needs proper attention.

Franny's Burger 5[Burger at Blue Butcher]

If you go on a date, what burger should she order for you? What would you order for her?
I’m very happy with a bacon cheese burger, medium rare, no pickles; which is my favorite kind of burger. I guess it goes without saying that I like a girl that can handle her burgers – and it has happened, I’ve been seduced with burgers before. For her, I’d get the same, a bacon cheese burger medium, up to her if she wants the pickles or not. I have to say, I’ll always suggest burgers for a date, but I’ll usually leave it up to her. But I find that when burgers are suggested, people tend to say ‘yeah, that sounds good!’.

You mentioned an event that’s called Fat Friday. What’s that and who can participate?
Fat Friday, Fat Friday is my favorite day of the week, and every Friday is a Fat Friday for me – it’s my weekly tradition, the one day a week when I have no limits and indulge in everything I enjoy eating; which, for me, usually involves burgers. It has already been a few years since it started, in a previous job here in Hong Kong. My fascination for burgers combined with friendly colleagues resulted in us grabbing burgers at least once a week; and so, towards the end of 2011, Fat Friday began in a restaurant called Ruby Tuesday, one of the few places to serves good burgers in the area.

Even though I’m no longer with that company, I’ve managed to keep the Fat Friday tradition going. I’ll arrange to meet friends on Fridays for a burger, or I’ll even go solo. I even carried Fat Friday with me to my next job, this time however, I began inviting people from the industry, from different companies; once a month, on the last Friday of every month, we’ll gather for burgers (or whatever each person feels like) at Ruby Tuesday. And so it began to grow, starting with six people the invite list now includes over 70 names, with a usual turnout of around 20 people.

The idea of Fat Friday is that everyone can attend and participate, actually I highly encourage that people have themselves a Fat Friday. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people should have burgers every Friday, but their favorite foods. It is called Fat Friday, and not Burger Friday, so everyone can have the liberty to indulge in their favorite foods plus some. I still enjoy hamburgers throughout the week, the difference on a Fat Friday is the extras that one wouldn’t normally have. For example I might have some chocolate with my breakfast in the morning, or a starter before my burger and an ice cream afterwards for lunch, and the same goes for dinner. It’s the one day of the week when you shouldn’t feel guilty about what you’ve eaten – any other day of the week you can be more careful, eat more moderately; but if its Friday, and if you feel like it – get it, cause it Fat Friday! Some might argue that you could just do that throughout the week, but if I did that I’d probably be extremely fat. I exercise regularly, eat in moderation, and have myself Lean Mondays, but every week I look forward to Fat Friday and sharing this tradition, its something to look forward too and it makes the end of the workweek a little more special!

Franny's Burger 6[Burger at BLT]

Do you read other Hong Kong food blogs? If yes, which three would you recommend?
Yes, I do read some of the other Hong Kong food blogs. It’s great that there are so many good places to find information about Hong Kong and all it has to offer; all the different perspectives there are on the foods and restaurants really paint a lavish picture; even with burgers, I’m always interested in what other people have to say and write about them. If I have to recommend three blogs, I’ll tell you the same thing I told my sister, she’ll be visiting Hong Kong and Asia for the first time this coming April, check out bluebalu, The Dim Sum Diaries and Foodie and figure out what you want to see, do, and eat in this great city; for burgers I got it covered!

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Thanks Francisco, it was nice and very insightful talking with you. I’m curious to read more about the burgers you’ve tried and recommend on Franny’s Burger. You can also follow him on Twitter and visit his Facebook page. You can also join Franny’s Burger group on Meetup.

[All pictures in this post belong to Francisco at Franny’s Burger]

PS: Missed a previous interview with a Hong Kong blogger or expert? Check out my series here.

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