Food Writer's Diary

How Red Robin got Laurent Tourondel to develop a burger

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Red Robin held a contest of its own at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival Burger Bash, and the result is a new premium burger.

Chef Laurent Tourondel, who won critical acclaim at Cello restaurant in New York and then achieved great popular success with his BLT Steak restaurant and its spinoffs (BLT Fish, BLT Prime, BLT Burger etc.), and his colleagues designed a hamburger for Red Robin, and the casual dining burger chain only paid them $10,000, which is cheap from a product development perspective.

The Smashed Smoke Burger is made with New York Cheddar cheese, red onion, black pepper bacon and a house-made “ketchup” that’s really more of a chutney, according to Denny Marie Post, Red Robin’s chief menu & marketing officer.

It was one of 12 hamburgers that Post tasted at the recent South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash. Red Robin invited all of the competitors in the annual ground beef extravaganza to enter the burger chain’s own competition, with the agreement that the winning burger would be featured on the menu later this year, and whoever created it would get a cool $10,000.

“We saw this as an opportunity to have a burger with an interesting provenance,” Post said.

Red Robin got a dozen takers, and so Post, Red Robin culinary director Scott Weaver (newly arrived at the chain from The Cheesecake Factory) and Mo Rocca, host of the Cooking Channel’s My Grandmother’s Ravioli, walked around shortly before the bash started and tasted them all.

Team Tourondel’s burger was the 9th one they tasted.

“Mo said he was wondering if he could make it to the end, and this burger gave him a second wind,” Post told me.

Although it’s really just a take on the classic bacon-cheese burger, Post said the high-quality bacon and the chutney-like sauce, with raisins and other components “really set the whole thing off.

“As they were cooking it, they applied a smoky baste,” she added. “It really came together in a wonderful, wonderful way.”

She said there was a mixed bag among the other entries.

“There were a lot that were very basic, and some that were torturedly complex — with truffles and lobster and things that sound good conceptually, but when you take a bite, they don’t do it.”

Tourondel’s burger will be part of the line of premium burgers that Red Robin plans to test later this year.

Post said she’s confident that Weaver and his team will be able to make the burger successfully at all 475 of the chain’s restaurants, including making the sauce in-house.

“We make a lot of our sauces fresh in the restaurant,” she added. “And there’s something to be said for the chef-craft that comes from creating sauces from scratch.” 

She added that it’s probably not worth the effort to have the sauce manufactured offsite for a limited-time offer.

As for the pepper bacon, that could possibly be a new SKU for Red Robin. “That’s something our guests would likely like to try on other things,” she said.

March 4: This blog post has been edited to correct typographical errors and remove a repititive quotation.

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Food Writer's Diary is a blog written by Bret Thorn, senior food editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, which covers culinary trends and his adventures.

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Bret Thorn

Bret Thorn is responsible for reporting on culinary trends in foodservice for Nation's Restaurant News. He joined NRN in 1999, after spending about five years as a journalist in Thailand, where...
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