‘Duck & Dumpling’ Expert Scott Drewno Dishes on the Key to a Great Burger, Garbage Plates & More
Cooking burgers is not Scott Drewno’s forte. The executive chef readily admits as much during our one-on-one interview (“I cook duck and dumplings, man!”). But while Drewno’s main focus at the highly acclaimed Asian fusion restaurant The Source may be different from what he’ll be grilling up this weekend at the 2016 D.C. Burger Throwdown, when it comes to burger battles, he’s batting 1.000. Drewno’s one and only competition was the inaugural Brainfood Burger Battle where he took home not one, but two trophies, winning both People’s and Judges’ choice back in 2013.
In his interview, Drewno tells us what he’s cooking up this Sunday, who’s been talking the most trash and, most importantly, he explains what a “Garbage Plate” is (and how many of them he’s eaten).
This is one in a seven-part interview series with the competitors in the 2016 D.C. Burger Throwdown taking place Sunday, May 15, 2016. Additional interviews will be linked here as they are published: Matt Adler, Scott Drewno, Travis Weiss, Alex McCoy, Ryan Hackney.
Executive Chef, The Source
Without giving away any secrets, can you let me know what you’ve got planned for the 15th?
I don’t care, I’ll tell everybody. They can’t make what I can make. [Laughs] I’m not worried about giving any secrets away. I’m basically doing a szechuan burger. Szechuan spices in a burger. So there’s szechuan peppercorns, chiles, a little spicy pickles, I don’t know, maybe a little pork belly on it.
How much time have you spent planning the burger?
Well, I haven’t made it yet. I just have the idea. I’m going to make it this week.
Your first test of the burger will be this week?
Yeah, I’m planning on doing it Friday. [That was last Friday -BD]
Who are you looking forward to beating the most in the competition?
100% Matt Adler. The guy talks the most shit. That’s the guy I want to beat.
So, has there been a lot of trash talking?
Everybody a little bit. But Matt’s like “the only reason I got in here is to beat you.” So, you know, talking mad smack to me. So, that’s the one I’ve got my eye on.
I know you did the first Brainfood Burger Battle, but have you done any other burger-related competitions?
No, that’s the only one.
And you won two awards there, right?
Yeah, we’ll take it. [Laughs] I should have retired. I shouldn’t even do this one. But Matt was talking so much shit to me, I had to do it. I don’t cook burgers, I cook duck and dumplings, man! I don’t know what I’m doing in a burger competition. But I love a good competition so, of course, I had to get in there. And obviously it’s for a great cause, most importantly. That’s why we do it.
What’s the key to a great burger? What one thing brings a burger all together?
It can’t be one thing. You can have the best meat grind and enough fat in the meat and enough beefy flavor, you can have brisket in there and you can have chuck, but if you have terrible bread, the burger is going to be terrible. It’s like any sandwich. It’s more of a combination. The meat needs to be pretty fatty to bring out flavor, you’ve got to have great bread, you’ve got to have acid with the pickles. There’s no one singular thing to a great burger. The full package is what makes a burger great.
Thick, ½ lb or bigger patties or diner-style, smash-griddled patties?
I prefer diner-style, smashed patties. A lot of burger purists might scoff at that but I like a really good sear on it so it’s charred on the outsides. Generally when you’re searing like that, it’s hard to get a medium rare temperature on that.
Ketchup on a burger? Yes or no?
Tough question. I’m definitely a yes for mayonnaise. I’m 100% behind mayonnaise on a burger. I like a little ketchup on the side. Occasionally, a little dip in the ketchup.
I’m down with mayonnaise. I’m not sure where I stand on ketchup.
Ketchup changes the taste of the burger. I don’t want ketchup all over my burger but that sweetness from the ketchup is important.
How do you like your burgers cooked?
I definitely go medium rare if I’m having a bigger burger.
What’s your favorite burger in the D.C. area? Do you have a go-to?
Matt Adler’s burger. [laughs]. Good question. I’m going to plead the fifth on that.
What’s the best burger you’ve ever eaten?
Fast food burger is definitely In-N-Out. I’m an east coast guy but I give the shout out on fast food to In-N-Out Burger. Double-Double, Animal Style is definitely my jam on burgers. I love the burger at Corner Bistro in Manhattan. Down and dirty at two in the morning. I have fond memories of many a night eating that burger at Corner Bistro.
What’s your favorite cheese to have on a burger?
Oh man, American, for sure. Processed American cheese.It’s like when you have a cheesesteak, you don’t put provolone on that shit, you put Whiz. Processed Whiz, man!
What are your go-to burger toppings?
Caramelized onions. Pickles. And then I like cheese and mayonnaise. I don’t like a burger too convoluted. If tomatoes are in season…a really in-season tomato is beautiful. The worst thing is if you get a burger and there’s a green tomato on there.
What’s the best beer to have with a burger?
A cheap lager is the best.
Fries or tater tots?
Tots all the way baby.
Burger Days started with my friends and I trying to discover all the burgers in D.C. so we’d pick a day and then just eat burgers from morning to night. Our record is like seven or eight burgers. My question to you is, what are the most burgers you’ve eaten in a day?
Oof. There’s this thing in upstate New York called the Garbage Plate. A Garbage Plate is two cheeseburgers, no bread, and they sit over a pile of half macaroni salad and half home-fried potatoes. There’s a triple-ground chili sauce that goes over top of that, then mustard and chopped onions and it’s served with a hunk of French bread on the side.
I once ate three of those in one day. So that’s six burgers in one day.
You are three Garbage Plates in one day??
Yeah, in one day. It was so disgusting. I woke up, ordered one. Had one in the afternoon and then had one at like two in the morning.
Oh wow. That’s amazing. That’s wonderful.
OK, finally, is there anything you want to say to your Throwdown competition?
Who’s taking second?
The 2016 D.C. Burger Throwdown is this Sunday, May 15, from 3 – 7 p.m. at The Commodore Public House & Kitchen. Tickets are available at bit.do/bbthrowdown.