Discovering the Secret Behind Coal Burger

July 21, 2011

I returned to Coal Burger on Thursday.  After eating a superlative burger, I was eager to sample more from the menu.  Unfortunately they were closed; problems with the ventilation system meant that the restaurant was too smoky when the coal-fired oven was operating.

But I did have the pleasure of meeting more of the people behind the restaurant, including one big surprise that explained a lot of things.
Chef Bradford Thompson is the corporate chef at the Grimaldi's organization, working behind the scenes on the food at Coal Burger.
Chef Bradford Thompson
(Photo courtesy Culinary Vegetable Institute)
Chef Thompson is the James Beard Award-winning chef who has numerous other accolades to his credit, including a AAA Five Diamond Award (at Mary Elaine's in Scottsdale), A Wine Spectator Grand Award, and multiple recognitions by Food and Wine Magazine.

Thompson also worked with the legendary Chef Daniel Boulud in Manhattan, helping plan and develop both Cafe Boulud and DB Bistro Moderne.  Chef Thompson also was in charge of private dining at New York's famed Restaurant Daniel.

What is a chef of this stature doing working for a small burger chain?  Developing the menu.  I spoke with Chef Thompson about his participation, and his enthusiasm was palpable.  Here is a man who has built a superb French kitchen in Manhattan, but he is pouring his heart into creating a superlative burger concept, one that can both deliver a $4 burger and be run in a socially responsible manner.
Listening to the chef talk about why the burger was designed as it was, and the other myriad decisions that went into creating Coal Burger was like taking a master class in designing a burger joint.  Clearly, Chef Thompson knows his burgers, and those of us who eat at Coal Burger are the happy beneficiaries of his knowledge and skill.
The chef spoke in detail about why the burger features quarter-pound patties instead of the larger ones favored by many steak houses.  (It's all about the multiple layers of char.)  He detailed the benefits of Niman Ranch beef and the other ingredients he selected.  He even talked about the decision to make Coal Burger an environmentally conscious restaurant, but not to overwhelm the customer with a "green" message. 
Clearly, the vision of a world-class chef has resulted in a very impressive product.  But his knowledge of the entire restaurant business is shaping Coal Burger to be considerably different than its competitors in the burger arena.  His culinary knowledge is a formidable secret weapon.
Unfortunately, Chef Thompson isn't going to be overseeing the Woodlands Coal Burger on a daily basis.  He'll be back in Manhattan, at the helm of his West Village Jamaican restaurant, Miss Lily's Favourite Cakes, and no doubt continuing his contributions to Food and Wine, Gourmet, Art Culinare, and the New York Times.
Copyright 2023 Nurick + Associates