Have burgers taken over Wellington On A Plate?

Has our nation’s capital been hijacked by an obsession with buns and patties? Samuel Flynn Scott investigates.

Visa Wellington On A Plate (WOAP) erupted into controversy this week as some chefs spoke out about the audacity of hamburgers being more popular than fine dining. It’s true that this year’s event, the biggest in its 10-year history by some measure, did seem rather burger-centric in the social media feeds of Wellington’s Hungry Hungry Hippos.

The gripe is that the ‘Dine’ menus offered by many restaurants are suffering in sales when faced with the wrath of meat-bread-mageddon. I can fully understand this. Running a restaurant is hard-out at the best of times and events like WOAP can be a boon or a strain, depending on how things pan out. It’s also quite pleasant reading an article where one of the biggest scoops is that Meat Direct has “sold a lot of mince”. Ahhh, mince.

The difference this year to those previous was that for the first time, restaurants were allowed to enter the official Burger Wellington event without also running a set-price, multi-course “Dine” menu. This, as you’d expect, meant a massive uptake in burger entries. Much-loved spots like Maranui Cafe in Lyall Bay (surely one of the best-located cafes in the world) decided to get involved with WOAP for the first time. Shepherd, perhaps my favourite Wellington restaurant, abandoned its duties altogether and transformed itself into Goldburger for the two-week duration of the festival, which finished on Sunday.

Burger Wellington (Photo: visawoap.com)

I truly take no sides in this fight. I can see where the disgruntled parties are coming from but quite frankly, people FUCKING LOVE BURGERS. Goldburger sold something along the lines of 4,500 burgers. Add in all the Garage Project beers (they’ve somehow created a situation where just about every burger sold has a GP beer match – marketing and sales genius at work there) and sides of fries, and you’re looking at pretty decent turnover. Shepherd Elliott of Shepherd is an innovative chef equally capable of pushing a tasting menu at WOAP, so you have to think there’s a reason to go all-out burger. That reason is the will of the people.

One thing brought up on talkback radio on Wednesday morning was that the “millennials have taken over the event with their burgers”. Maybe the burgers are all they can afford and it’s bringing more people into the concept of dining as an event? And also, WTF? Burgers are a millennial food? Everyone loves burgers, young and old. That’s just daft.

Proof that burgers bridge the generation gap (Photo: Getty Images)

On a side note, while everyone was eating Wellington burgers, I went to a relatively good Auckland burger chain and they gave me a burger with no meat in it. I didn’t realise until I got home. I sat there eating a bun with lettuce in it while scrolling through pictures of the Wilson Barbecue whole beef short rib burger and the Tommy Millions chicken and waffle burger. This may have been the worst day of my life. My Instagram feed was just burger-burger-burger-burger-burger-burger-burger-burger-burger-burger-burger-burger.

… And you could be cynical about that, or you could think “WOW, PEOPLE ARE LOVING EATING ALL OF THESE COWS!”

I did have the thought that a Mince Pie Wellington event could really help elevate that icon of New Zealand service station dining. But again, it could put a lot of strain on the mince supply.

#burgerwelly madness on the ‘gram

In all seriousness, there are incredible and deeply culinary events happening at WOAP (the Hiakai Hāngī, Martin Bosley’s work with prisoners for the Rimutaka Gate to Plate events) and the oxygen in the room may get a little swallowed by all the burger talk. These events often have hefty prices, but also a story behind them. I truly want them to get more media coverage. They are worthy and interesting, pushing the boundaries of food, pushing diversity in the industry, and giving people experiences that a burger might struggle to compete with. So for that reason, I’m gonna lay a little truth on you all:

YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG AND ONLY I CAN TEACH YOU HOW TO MAKE THE BEST BURGERS FOR FECK ALL MONEY IN YOUR OWN HOUSE IN ABOUT 20 MINUTES.

That’s right sheeple, the burgerati have fooled you all. Burgers are not a competitive sport. I’m not even sure that many of the entries meet my definition of a burger. If you mix stuff into your meat then it’s a sausage or a meatball. That’s the just the law. No need to argue with me about it. I am right, you are wrong.

This, I tell you no lie, is all you need to get that California evening breeze burger purrrrrfection yourself:

  • Some ground beef – freshly ground chuck is best. Make sure it’s fresh and don’t buy ‘premium’ mince as it doesn’t have enough fat and it’ll suck.
  • Good pickles (like the expensive ones – McClure’s, Kruegermann, B&G ‘NY Deli Style’)
  • The cheapest burger buns (go to hell fancy buns)
  • Melty cheese (like Chesdale Tasty. Maybe pre-sliced Swiss if you want tang)
  • A very very thin slice of a white onion
  • Some butter and oil and salt and normal cooking things. I’m not your dad, go buy butter.
  • Ralph’s famous burger sauce. Ralph is my son — if you don’t have him around to make your burger sauce, it’s a bit like this:
    2 tablespoons mayo
    1 tablespoon ketchup (Heinz or death)
    1 tablespoon mustard (American yellow or Dijon – nothing seedy or too hot)
    1 ‘splosh’ of pickling juice from your pickles
    A good shake of Old Bay Seasoning — totally optional, I like that celery salt buzz

Two key ingredients, and the finished product (Photos: Samuel Flynn Scott)

Shape your patties from the beef. Add NOTHING. Do not overwork them. Place them on a lightly oiled, well-salted piece of cooking paper. The patties should be thin and a touch larger than your bun. Rub the top with the faintest hint of oil and season that side. They need a lot of salt, so don’t be shy here or your burger will suck. I know smash burgers are the current thing. These will be like those, but just slightly more shaped so that they’re the right size for your bun. Put them in the fridge for about 20 minutes or so.

Make your sauce and get your other bits in one place.

To cook your patties you need one of these three things: a commercial hot plate (I assume you don’t have that), a barbecue with a flat plate, or a cast iron frying pan. A regular pan won’t do the job. Go buy a cast iron pan or, I dunno, go to Macca’s or something. You also want a secondary pan going for your buns. Now, this is important: I only try to make one at a time if I’m cooking at a stove. There just isn’t room in those pans to cook more than two patties and one bun at once. You’ll fail, and I don’t want you to fail!

Once your cast iron pan is really hot (heat it slowly on a medium heat), put two patties in there and breathe in the aroma of death on fire. Add a shaving of white onion to the top of one patty. It will steam slightly as the other side cooks. When one side is brown, flip those bad boys. The onion, now softened, will cook in the most marvellous way. Not charred, not caramelised, but sort of confited in beef juice. Add a slice of cheese to each patty. Once the cheese has melted your meat is probably nearing medium and needs to get the hell off that pan. Place the onion patty on the other bad boy and put them aside to rest for just a moment.

Your bun should have gone in your other pan by this point on a medium-low heat. Butter those buns, and while they toast, maybe sprinkle a few flecks of water onto the surface of the pan. It helps give them a steamy shine, much like they do when they cook on a crowded hot plate in a diner.

Smear your bun with burger sauce on both sides, add your beef, cover it in no fewer than three slices of pickle and no more than five (OK just give it four).

Done burger. Trust me.

In conclusion, this is the either the best burger ever or I am but an arrogant fool. The only way you can prove me wrong is to cook this burger and then also eat every entry in next year’s Burger Wellington event. I will, of course, join you to ensure fair judging. I’d quite like to attend all the Dine events too. Also every food event in Auckland. I’d quite like to eat every meal on earth and then explode like Mr Creosote. Wouldn’t that be heaven?


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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