Interview: Chef Paul Shoemaker (Juicy Lucy)
735 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017
213 683 1030
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Paul Shoemaker has a fine dining pedigree, with his longest L.A. stints at Water Grill, Providence and Bastide. In 2011, he opened a solo venture, Savory, in Malibu. He closed the local, seasonal restaurant in November, and is now focusing on concepts like Juicy Lucy, which just opened downtown at Figat7th, and has big plans for pizza, fried chicken and fine dining. On January 7, we met in the Figat7th food court, and he explained his methods.
Tell me about Juicy Lucy.
It’s basically a stuffed burger, and I wanted to create the ultimate, perfect juicy lucy…It’s your basic lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, caramelized onions. I like iceberg for that crisp texture, as opposed to butter lettuce or leaf lettuce. Iceberg is needed in an old fashioned burger. I was trying all kinds of cheeses in this juicy lucy, but the only cheese that gives you the ooze is the American cheese. I can’t help it. I tried cheddar. I tried Brie, blue, Munster, Epoisses, I tried it all, but somehow they break down to a liquid form, while somehow American just stays oozy. What we do back there is use a grass-fed patty, two three-ounce patties, and we stuff it with American cheese, about two ounces of cheese, pinch the edges and cook it in a C-Vap oven at about 135, so it’s a medium, medium rare temperature. That’s enough to melt the cheese on the inside. From there, it’s transferred to a C-Vap drawer and a C-VAP is sous vide-ing without a bag, a controlled vapor oven. It cooks off humidity. I like using Hawaii vs. Palm Springs. I cook it like being in Hawaii. It’s a moist heat. Palm Springs is a dry heat. What I’ve learned is that in a C-Vap, you get perfect cooking from end to end without shrinking the meat or overcooking it. If I put in a six-inch patty, it comes out a six-inch patty. If I were to take a six-inch patty and put it on the grill, all the juices and all the fat come out of it and you lose it all. The reason why I like the C-Vap is because you keep all the love in. It’s already cooked at the perfect temperature. You just tataki it, sear it briefly, to get a little color on it.
Out of all the different burger styles, why did you gravitate towards the juicy lucy?
I wanted it to be unique. The concept was quick gourmet. I wanted people to see all the ingredients made before their eyes, each step down the line. That’s part of the ambiance nowadays. Instead of taking an order and waiting for a number, I had this concept where you order and watch your food, step-by-step, being made. After being in an office all day, or being out all day, it’s nice to see the level of food on the rise, all the ingredients are farmers market ingredients. Everything’s from Oxnard. The furthest we’re raising is from Fresno, Mary’s Farm. Santa Ynez, grass-fed. Maybe Petaluma for our milk for our shakes.
What about other burgers on your menu?
I’m offering a turkey burger with turkey from Mary’s Farm. We have a salmon burger that’s organic salmon from Scotland. It’s very delicious stuff…You have the option of putting on a Brie fondue, but I just feel turkey with avocado, and all the love on there, you really don’t need it. With the salmon, pickled red onions and arugula is enough. We also offer chef burgers that we create. We offer the Wolfmother, which is your Brie, blue, we added some applewood smoked bacon and mushrooms and arugula. Kimchi burger, we call Catch A Fire, after Bob’s first album – we’ve got Marley on back there – so it’s umeboshi aioli, kimchi and the patty. You have the option of throwing a fried egg on there. I do agree with that one. That one sells pretty well…It’s a burger world right now.
Did you have a connection to the juicy lucy. Had you been to the places in Minneapolis?
No. I haven’t been to 5-8 or Matt’s Bar or any of those places. I just did plenty of research. I’m not really happy with what I see or hear about. I wanted to take it to the next level…You have people come here, they’re from Minneapolis, and say, “Juicy lucy is not true without tater tots,” but I still want to do it my way. I don’t want to serve tater tots, because they’re frozen. The fries are Kennebec fries, hand cut. We don’t even have a freezer back there. I don’t believe in that. Everything’s done fresh every day. The aiolis, the whole-grain mustard, everything’s made in-house. The salmon’s ground in-house. We ground our salmon this morning. We grind our turkey in-house. Everything but the meat. All the cheese is made in-house with white wine.
Are you planning Juicy Lucy expansion?