Amanda Downing of Chicago’s Rockit Burger Bar and Rockit restaurant is required daily to imagine new things for the everyday hamburger. And she does, with much excitement and ingredients like mac and cheese with a bun-less burger. She has cool stuff for meatless folks too: try her BBQ red bean burger when in the Windy City!
I’m originally from Illinois too. What is your pet peeve, other than people calling the state Illi-noise, you hear from out of towners about Chicago cuisine?
We’re not just deep dish pizza and Italian beef! Chicago has a wonderful and diverse culinary scene that goes beyond the Midwest stereotypes of just meat and potatoes.
You love a beer with your hamburger. What is a good beer that everyone likes, male or female?
Goose Island’s 312 Urban Wheat Ale is a great choice. Not only is it a hometown favorite, it has a nice crisp taste that seems to be universally liked and it stands up well against a juicy burger.
When you’re bored with the burger side of things, what ingredients do you put to make it exciting again?
I like to think outside of the box when it comes to burgers. I’ll swap out the traditional bread bun and use fun ingredients like fried mac N cheese discs, a sliced glazed doughnut or even two grilled cheese sandwiches! I try to get creative with toppings too including layering different meats like grilled sausage, fried pastrami and foie gras as well as using local artisanal cheeses and interesting sauces like an aioli or mustard that ties it all together.
I have some weird ways I make burgers in the oven sometimes to increase the juicy-ness. What secrets do you have to make a burger more delicious or moister that may seem weird to people but really do work?
I have two secrets to keeping my burgers super juicy. First, I start with a good blend of fat to meat ratio, meaning nothing below 80/20 meat to fat. This automatically gives you a ton of flavor! When grilling, I don’t press down on the patty as it cooks. When you press down you push out all of the juices leaving you with a dry patty. To avoid charring, I turn the heat down and let it cook at a lower temperature. It might take a few more minutes, but it’s worth it!
You also love mac and cheese – LOL, so does everyone in the Midwest – and recommend aged cheddar. Do you think it is worth it for people who live far away from a good supermarket to order cheese in the mail? Will a strong cheese make that much of a difference?
Mac n Cheese is really a universal dish because you can include whatever cheeses you like best. I personally like that Aged Cheddar gives a strong sharp flavor with the creaminess you need for a good Mac n Cheese. Ordering cheeses online / via mail can get unnecessarily pricy, I think it’s better to incorporate cheeses that are local to you. I look for a cheese with some sharpness like a Sharp Cheddar or Parmesan and combine it with a cheese that melts well like a Jack. This gives the dish a balanced flavor with the right consistency.
Other than cheese, what are your fav specialty items you buy in the mail or from little shops that you know really make food all the more special?
I prefer to find specialty items at local farmer’s markets as opposed to online shops. I think it’s a great way to find new sources for product and you can chat directly with the sellers, who can give you a backstory for their offerings. I recently started using a pork stick, which is kind of like a Slim Jim, from a farmer in Michigan called Jake’s Country Meats. I visited their stand at our local farmer’s market this summer and thought they were really interesting. I ended up using them as a garnish for our Rockit Burger Bar Bloody Mary’s and on our cheese boards at Rockit Bar & Grill. I also like going to the Spice House in Chicago, which is a fun place to get inspired. I usually pick up a few different spices that are new to me and play around with them in the kitchen.
Why do you think there aren’t more tough yet cool female chefs like you? I feel like many women now don’t enjoy food at all, but they go into food/lifestyle careers because they want to be famous. One day, they say, “I guess food is how I get there!” Very sad. 😦
There are definitely cool female chefs out there, in Chicago and beyond. Sadly, I don’t think most of them get the recognition that they deserve. I think it’s all about getting out there and being more vocal about your talents and letting people know that there are female chefs who are dominating the culinary scene.