Throwdown Host Travis Weiss On Meat Respect, American Cheese & His Favorite Burger [SPOILER: It’s His Own]
It’s near impossible to think of Travis Weiss and to not to think of burgers. His Instagram handle is Burger Ambassador. He has a little black book full of ground beef blends. And for the better part of the last two years, he’s been creating all-new burgers on a weekly basis.
The man lives, breathes (and eats) burgers.
As executive chef of Falls Church’s Mad Fox Brewing Company, Weiss developed some of the area’s most creative beefy masterpieces (like the chimichanga-Reuben-burger mashup, the Reuburgerchanga) as part of its “Epic Burger” program. Now, as director of culinary development for Proof Hospitality and executive chef of Rebellion and The Commodore Public House & Kitchen, he’s taken his talents across the river where he continues to churn out fun and inventive beef-and-bun creations every seven days.
Hosting the Throwdown at his newly-opened restaurant, The Commodore, and armed with a new burger grind that he calls the best he’s ever eaten, Weiss sounds confident heading into Sunday’s competition. During our interview, he talks about pre-competition prep, sings the praises of his competitors’ burgers and ponders if there’s such a thing as “home ice advantage” in a burger battle.
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, Rebellion and The Commodore Public House & Kitchen
Without giving away any secrets, unless of course you want to, can you let me know what you’ve got planned for the Throwdown?
[Laughs] Actually I can’t because I don’t know yet. We have some ideas. I think you’re probably going to see bacon jam come back into the picture. There may be some foie gras involved. But, actually, we don’t know yet.
Considering you don’t have a burger finalized yet, how much time have you spent planning it?
We’ve been working on it since this thing came about. So about a month and half, probably. We have a good idea. We’ve narrowed it down to three different options. We’ve been doing some R&D and some tests, trying to envision what the judges are going to like best.
Who do you think is your biggest competition in the Throwdown? Who do you want to take down the most?
[Alex] McCoy. Oh, I’ll take them all down ‘cause they’re all talking shit. But I think McCoy is the biggest competition because he’s such a well-rounded chef. He does fried chicken, he does Thai food, he does burgers. I just went to Crisp last night and ate the entire menu. It was amazing.
So, there’s been trash talking. How’s that been?
Yeah, but not a lot. The whole [Throwdown] started by trash talking, originally. I think [Matt] Adler has been running his mouth the most.
I know you did the DC BRGR Battle last year but have you done any other burger competitions before?
Just that one and the Burger Days Burger Week last year. This will be my third one.
Are there any special routines or processes you and your team go through to get ready for one of these things?
Make lots of burgers and eat lots of burgers. The good thing is we’ve pretty much perfected our grinds. That’s the biggest part of the burger competition, the burger itself, not all the shit that goes on top of it. I think that gives us an advantage because we work so hard on our grind. Some of these guys are doing all these fancy toppings but I think if you have the best possible grind and it’s cooked right, you don’t need much else to make a damn good burger. That’s one reason why I respect [John] Critchley. You turned me on to his burger [at Brine]. It’s pretty simple but it’s damn good.
That leads right into my next question: what’s the one element that can make or break a burger?
Cooking it. 100%. The way you cook it. I’m not saying grilling it or flat top, I’m saying if you grill it and let it get all plump and then press it and lose all the juice — you’re bruising the meat, making it all tough. One-hundred percent, over the bread, over the cheese, over anything else…even over the grind, it’s cooking it properly. Treating the meat with respect. Nothing else comes close.
Thick, ½ lb. or bigger patties or diner-style, smash-griddled patties?
Ketchup on a burger? Yes or no?
Depends. I do sometimes. I’m more of a mayonnaise guy.
How do you prefer your burgers cooked, temperature-wise?
If it’s a grilled burger, medium rare. If it’s a flat top burger, perfect char, perfect caramelization on the meat. Whatever temperature as long as it’s caramelized.
What’s your favorite burger in the D.C. area, outside of your own?
Oh man, that’s a tough one because I don’t want to give any of these boys credit right now. But that Royale at Crisp is pretty fucking silly, dude. That’s a damn good burger.
Is there one burger you’ve eaten in your life that stands out among all the rest?
Yes, my new one here [at Rebellion]. The 1836. It’s the perfect burger.
What’s your favorite cheese to put on a burger?
I’m really digging the white American, man. It’s bipartisan almost. It can go on a grilled burger, it can go on a flat top burger. It really plays well with a lot of different toppings. Certain burgers you have to design around the cheese because it’s smokey or sour or bitter or blue. White American is great because it melts great, it’s creamy. It holds its viscosity and stays thick so it doesn’t all drip off the side like cheddar. White American is my go-to right now.
What are your go-to burger toppings? If you walked into Five Guys, what would you order?
Raw onions, mayonnaise, bacon, pickles, shredded iceberg and American cheese.
What’s the best beer to have with a burger?
It kinda depends. If you’ve got something with a lot of salt, a lot of bacon, stuff like that, I always like [Mad Fox’s] Orange Whip, a good IPA, with the burger. It balances it out. I was drinking a Gose at Crisp and that worked pretty well, too. It was a little acidic so it helps cut through the fat. But you need a mild one — you can’t get a super sour one or it’ll be too much. But, man, I’ll pound through a 30-pack of Miller Lite and eat burgers.
Fries or tater tots?
Fries. Fuck tater tots.
OK, you know the whole Burger Days story where we go out and eat burgers all day. Our record is seven or eight. My question to you is what are the most burgers you’ve eaten in one day?
We’re not talking White Castle, right? We’re talking real-deal burgers? During Burger Days’ Burger Week last year, I did five in one day.
Nice. And finally, is there any message you want to give to your Throwdown competition?
Can it be formed as a question?
Is there home ice advantage in a burger competition?
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.