When Gita Seaton left Le Club Chasse et Pêche to help reboot the old New Palace diner in Mile End in late 2010, burgers were not front of mind. The notion, as Seaton herself wrote, "was to develop a business that demystified food by making the experience of dining with us accessible and affordable — while still offering a quality product in a relaxed environment." Burgers were not necessarily part of the equation.
"I didn't want to be a burger restaurant. I didn't put a burger on the menu until two or three months in." It was a momentous decision. Seaton's menu is chock-full of crowd-pleasers — matzo ball soup, crab cakes, wedge salad, mac and cheese, grilled hanger steak — but her burger accounts for a big chunk of the restaurant's business.
"I wanted to do a Chicago-style, Italian beef sandwich. We still have it on the menu and people love it. But at a certain point, my partners fought me on the burger. I was super nervous because I felt like if I was going to make a burger it had to be a really, really good burger. I wasn't confident. I came from a high-end cooking background and nobody taught me how to make a burger. I knew it had to be classic and super good. I'll make you a hamburger but it'll be ONE hamburger."
Actually in the end I did a lot of things they tell you not to do.
"That was the idea. One kind and that's it. I talked to the chef at M:BRGR, Colin Griffin, and did a bit of research online. A classic burger should only be salted on the outside, after the fact. But I decided I would pre-mix my meat with salt and aromatics, so it would have flavour all the way through. I didn't want heart or organ meat — I didn't want that iron aftertaste. I only use chuck, close to 25% fat. Those were my guidelines. I did want some filler to create a certain texture, so I use a bit of breadcrumbs. Actually in the end I did a lot of things they tell you not to do."
Considering it now comprises 40% of sales, it's safe to to say that Seaton nailed her burger formula. A gift and a curse? "Yes!" laughs Seaton. "But I think the burger helped introduce people to the restaurant. Eventually they come in and try something different. I think of it like Claude Pelletier's scallop [at Le Club Chasse et Pêche]. My burger is sort of the equivalent. It's afforded me my restaurant."