Welcome to our new series, How It’s Made, where we pull back the curtain on how our gourmet food products are created. Here, Gloria Tai, our food development sourcing manager, shares the story of how we developed Bourbon Pub Burger Collection products, made in partnership with chef Michael Mina.
Who doesn’t love a good burger? Give me a greasy spoon standard or a white napkin version any day. That’s why we collaborated with our friend and nationally renowned chef Michael Mina on a new line of sauces inspired by his burgers.
We have long held a special fondness for Chef Michael, whose home base is right here in San Francisco, where his eponymous restaurant has garnered countless fans here at Williams Sonoma headquarters. Chef has launched restaurant concepts across the country—STRIPSTEAK, Pabu and Bourbon Steak among them—but the one that excites us the most is a summer shoo-in: his burger concept at Bourbon Pub, a restaurant in Northern California that reinvents pub fare and elevates game day classics, like the hamburger. It took several rounds of tasting alongside Michael and his executive chef, Adam Sobel, creating a half-dozen different burger seasonings and toppings to pair with some of Bourbon Pub’s most popular recipes.
The Product: Classic Burger Seasoning
Our inspiration: Chef Michael has his own take on secret sauce, and it’s a blend of onion, tomato, mustard and vinegar. We wanted to create a burger seasoning based off of the sauce that gave the patty those same flavors.
The challenge: It was difficult at first to translate some of the ingredients, like tomato and malt vinegar, into a dry seasoning. We found we had to constantly ask ourselves: Are these flavors truly represented in a different format? Ultimately, the correct amount of salt—which really helped to draw out the nuances in these flavors—turned out to be a key part of the formula.
Why it’s a winner: This seasoning truly is a perfect combination of all the things you love in a classic burger (tomato! onion! mustard!) all wrapped up in the patty itself.
The Product: Truffled Caramelized Onions Topper
Our inspiration: Balsamic onions are a big part of the burgers and sandwiches featured on the Bourbon Pub menu; we wanted to offer our own creative take on that topping. We love the combination of onion and truffle, and asked the chefs if they could customize their recipe for us to feature that intoxicating truffle aroma and flavor.
The challenge: It was tricky for us to get the right consistency and balance of flavor between the sweetness of the onions and the subtle but unmistakable scent of truffles.
In fact, this took us several rounds of development to perfect—but in the end, we were delighted with the outcome, and we had the Bourbon Pub team’s stamp of approval.
Why it’s a winner: Slow-simmering onions tames their bite and adds natural sweetness. We took that to the next level by adding a splash of red wine vinegar to add another layer of complexity, as well as black truffle pieces, which add an unmistakably savory, umami-rich note.
The Product: French Onion Burger Seasoning
Our inspiration: The Bourbon Pub menu has everything from Egyptian-style hummus to Moroccan-spiced lamb. We took a note from its global playbook and came up with the idea of the rich flavors of French onion soup taking center stage in a burger.
The challenge: We wanted to hit certain specific notes with this seasoning, such as toasted onion, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Achieving that required a few iterations; it took a while to strike the right balance of onion and cheese.
Why it’s a winner: Whether you like them raw, grilled or cooked down, onions are a go-to burger accoutrement. But when the flavors are incorporated into the patty? Forget it—you’ve got a total win that just screams soupe à l’oignon.
The Product: Summer Fruit Relish
Our inspiration: When we thought of our favorite meat and cheese boards, one fact always rang true: fruit was always a supporting backdrop. That’s when we realized: Fruit makes perfect sense on a burger!
The challenge: While we wanted to highlight the relish’s apricot and cherry flavors, we also wanted to emphasize the condiment’s savory Dijon and mustard seed notes, and that wasn’t easy. In a few early versions, one stone fruit would dominate over the other; we had to find the midpoint where both flavors came through equally.
Why it’s a winner: Thanks to its sweet-savory quality, this relish manages to make any burger more intriguing.
The Product: Chili Cheese Burger Seasoning
Our inspiration: At a restaurant that’s been known to offer chili cheese fries smothered in American cheese, it only seemed fitting that we create a blend inspired by the snack.
The challenge: How can you go wrong with chili cheese as a seasoning? We nailed this formula on our second try after adding a pinch of salt.
Why it’s a winner: If spice is your game, then this seasoning, mix of cheddar, ancho chile pepper, garlic, cumin and paprika, is the one to try; it’s my personal favorite of the three.
The Product: San Marzano Tomato Relish
The inspiration: We wanted something tomato-based that stood in contrast to the average squeeze bottle of ketchup, envisioning a relish made with San Marzano tomatoes, Champagne vinegar, cayenne and black garlic.
The challenge: Hands down, this product was the most difficult to develop. This was partially because we work with tomato flavors a lot, and we really didn’t want to just create another tomato sauce. And this was also partially because there were fewer components, and each brought a flavor that was highly specific.
Both San Marzanos and and basil boast inherently bright, clean notes, but the actual product required some cooking to achieve a relish consistency, and that process can dull those flavors.
Why it’s a winner: Ultimately, we cooked this relish down the very least amount of time needed to retain the singular flavors of fresh tomato and basil. Offset those with the rich caramelized quality of black garlic and a kick of heat, and you’ve got a wildly versatile keeper.
After all that tasting and testing, here’s what I’d recommend: Pair the seasonings and condiments together. I particularly like the combinations that Mina and Sobel suggest: Classic Burger Seasoning with Truffled Caramelized Onions, French Onion Seasoning with Summer Fruit Relish, and Chili Cheese Burger Seasoning with San Marzano Tomato Relish. Or, for something different, sprinkle your fries with the different seasonings, using the burger toppers as dipping sauces. Their versatility will surprise you!
Learn more about Michael Mina, his new Bourbon Pub collection and his secrets to perfect burgers.