“Give it up for the green-chile bacon burger!” star chef Bobby Flay shouts to the guests at his Fourth of July party in Sag Harbor, New York. All heads turn toward the grill, where Flay is holding a spatula in one hand and a platter of perfectly charred burgers in the other—the first of three different kinds of burgers he will cook today.
Flay’s energetic persona and talent for infusing classic American food with robust flavors are evident in his eight restaurants, nine cookbooks, multiple Food Network shows and (when he’s off-duty) laid-back parties. Today, he’s celebrating Independence Day with burgers, burgers and more burgers. “Hamburgers automatically say Fourth of July,” Flay explains. “I take it a step further. These are thoughtful burgers. I treat each component—buns, cheese, garnishes—respectfully.”
Flay, a fifth-generation New Yorker, has been obsessed with burgers his whole life. This spring, he published the cookbook Bobby Flay’s Burgers, Fries & Shakes, with recipes from his new burger venture, Bobby’s Burger Palace. In the past year he’s opened three branches of BBP, one on Long Island, New York, and two in New Jersey; another branch, at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, opens this month. Flay chose these locations for suburbanites who watch his shows and buy his cookbooks but can’t make the trip to his Manhattan or Atlantic City restaurants. Also, he says, “I wanted my burger places to be within driving distance, so I can go to them all the time.”
BBP offers 10 kinds of burgers inspired by regional American flavors, like the Napa Valley, which is topped with fresh goat cheese, watercress and Meyer lemon-honey mustard. The most popular is the Crunchburger, a beef patty topped with potato chips and a double serving of American cheese. His use of distinctive American ingredients distinguishes him from other high-end chefs with burger places. “We’re not trying to create something new or fancy,” Flay says. “We’re keeping the yummy factor. I mean, what smells better than a burger on a grill?”
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For his July Fourth party, Flay commandeers the grill, generously grinding salt and pepper onto raw burgers and flipping them with military precision. After a few sips of his drink—and without creasing his shirt—he serves the green-chile bacon burgers, followed by beef burgers topped with melted cheddar and a sweet-smoky barbecue sauce made with creamy peanut butter. Last off the grill are turkey burgers, which Flay tops with smoked Gouda and simply grilled red onions.
“Hamburgers are finally getting the respect that they deserve,” Flay says as he piles burgers onto a platter and brings them over to the table. “Although some people still take burgers for granted and just slap them on the grill.” One of his pet peeves, for instance, is partially melted cheese on a burger. “I have signs in the BBP kitchens that say melt cheese completely. I hate it when people don’t take those extra 15 seconds.”
As the sun sinks behind the house, guests help themselves to grilled corn on the cob spread with sweet-and-spicy mango-habanero butter and condiments like supercrunchy homemade pickles. At one point, discussion centers on how the BBP staffers at the party stay so trim eating burgers and drinking malteds as part of their jobs. The answer? Lots of running—and for a few, including Flay, morning workouts at a boot-camp-style gym.
This is a day of leisure, though. As everyone lingers at the table, Flay recounts a recent trip to Paris with his 13-year-old daughter, Sophie. The most memorable part of the trip was dinner at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, where Sophie ate langoustine ravioli with truffles. The only damper on the lovely father-daughter experience was the weak dollar: “She crushed me in the minibar!” Flay exclaimed.
To finish the meal, he presented a cobbler made with mounds of sweet local peaches topped with tender buttermilk biscuits. Then there were only three things left to do: pour another drink, retire to the pool and dangle bare legs in the water. This day is a chance for the sometimes-manic Flay to chill out. “I usually cook for 300 or more, so it’s nice to cook for 12, slowly,” he says.
Jennifer Tung is the beauty and health director at Cookie magazine. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two sons.