Bobby Flay (pictured) opens Bobby's Burger Palace at… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
Bobby Flay has a theory about Father's Day:
"All guys think they can grill," he said. "They're going to take the reins whether they have the skills or not."
But don't worry. Flay's not going to pass judgment on your burger — he'll even give you some tips.
But when it comes to the hamburger he sells in his own restaurants, Flay isn't so forgiving. And it makes no difference whether it's prepared for guests at Bar Americain, his pricey Manhattan restaurant, or at one of his casual Bobby Burger Palace operations, he says. Flay takes his burgers dead seriously.
"The way we treat a burger is different from everybody else," Flay said. "We're not trying to be the best fast-food burger. We're trying to be the best burger you can buy, period, at any cost."
It's that kind of attention to detail, bordering on the obsessive, that Flay thinks separates Bobby's Burger Palace from the specialty burger pack: "A burger should not be taken for granted."
Take, for instance, the melting of the cheese. Flay sees this botched all the time, by professionals and home grillers, who take the burger off before the cheese is melted. An extra 20 seconds on the grill, or griddle, Flay said, makes all the difference in the world. And to make sure his kitchen staff never forgets it, posted in the kitchen of every Bobby's Burger Palace in huge neon letters is a not-so-gentle reminder: BOBBY SAYS: MELT THE CHEESE COMPLETELY.
And then there's salt and pepper.
"First of all, it drives me crazy when people mix the salt and pepper together like it's one spice. That's not seasoning. That's just guessing," said Flay, sitting in his newest, and largest, Bobby Burger Palace, one of the culinary attractions at the new Maryland Live Casino.
"I use kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper. I use the kosher salt because I can feel it in my hands and crush it in my fingers as I'm seasoning. And I season from up high," Flay said, fluttering his hands two feet above the table, "so that it distributes very evenly instead of clumping too close together."
Bobby's Burger Palace flanks the main entrance at the Maryland Live Casino, which opened last Wednesday to enormous crowds. Having Flay's kilowatt name attached to its casino has helped the Cordish Cos. position their casino as a class act, to patrons and to some extent to Anne Arundel County voters who approved the casino in a 2011 referendum.
Hours before the casino's official opening, Flay was running a publicity gauntlet with the agility you'd expect from a seasoned celebrity chef. But Flay didn't come to Hanover just to charm the press. He had spent the morning drilling his new kitchen staff on the finer points of burger building, starting with his seasoning.
"It's the first thing I did this morning when I came in," said Flay, who didn't like the way the crew was seasoning burgers. They got his salt talk.
Flay's true-love burger may be all beef, but he stands by his turkey burger, which can be prepared in any of the restaurant's regional variations. However, if you're looking for a vegetarian burger, look elsewhere.
"Veggie burgers don't exist in my life," Flay said. "I haven't found a good one yet. I don't want to eat lentils and quinoa pasted together … I'm just not interested in that."
Flay prefers to focus on things he likes and knows he does right.
"Not everybody can afford to spend $100 in my high-end restaurants, so the fact that you can spend $7.75 here and have a burger makes me feel good that I can create an experience that basically anyone can come to," Flay said.
If Flay has made the great burger experience accessible, he knows that this Sunday, at least, dads will be doing it for themselves.
"On Mother's Day, mothers get breakfast in bed. On Father's Day, fathers have to work the grill," Flay said. "It's a good thing."
His own father was no wizard at the grill or in the kitchen. Neither was his mother, for that matter. "He has three things that he makes; she had five things," Flay said. "I grew up in the '60s and '70s. There wasn't a big food culture in America."
Flay learned to cook by working in great kitchens and studying in culinary school. He's always finding ways to make a better burger, he said. For instance, he makes a "well" in the burger with his thumb before throwing it on the grill. A perfectly formed patty will get flattened out by a spatula; not so with his technique.
"I fake the burger out," Flay said.
It's not so easy for Flay to fake out Sophie, his 16-year-old daughter, he admitted. Unlike other celebrity chefs, Flay does not dispense heart-warming stories about families that cook side-by-side.
"My daughter doesn't love to stand next to me and cook," Flay said, "because she's got this idea that she doesn't have to worry about cooking because 'my dad's got it covered.'"
Bobby's Burger Palace
Where: 7002 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover
Hours: Open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m to 2 a.m.