Chicago Burger Week: A Butcher's Take On The Burger Scene

A born-and-bred Chicagoan, Melissa "Missy" Corey found her way to the butcher business a bit unconventionally: by devoting a decade to farm-to-table cooking in Portland, Maine. Last year, Corey appeared as a contestant on the Food Network's "Chopped" where she butchered (sorry) her competitors, taking home $10,000. 

Were you interested in food when you were growing up, or was it a development along the way?

I was interested in food for a long time. I had the opportunity in high school to take a month off and do whatever you want — it was called May Project — and I actually did a cooking show with a friend. And then I went to college in Maine and thought I was going to do art among other things, and eventually was teaching art and pre-K and fell into a part-time job as a hostess, and then just slipped into the restaurant industry. It feels really nice to be back in Chicago, and also to be in this area, which has been an historic meat production area for the city.

Do you remember the first patty you ever put together?

It must have been at a cookout in college or something. I think it was really simple — just salt and pepper and maybe some seasoning — and I had a friend in college who taught me their secret: putting a pat of butter right in the center of the patty. Our patties here are really simple, too — just salt and pepper and herbs de provence and porcini powder, to keep from overwhelming the meat with other flavors. (She pauses to accept a bite of Toulouse sausage from a coworker.) Sorry; I'm the official sausage taste-tester.

Pressing patty question: thick, or thin?

I like kind of a meatier, thicker burger. I'm not a thin, two-patty kind of girl, but it really depends on the situation. I'm not a stickler for one way, ever. I'm always open to different combinations. But I kinda like our thicker patties.

How do you dress your burger?

If I could put anything on it at all? Wow. Definitely American cheese. I kind of like that original, sticky gooiness of American cheese. I have to have pickles, preferably bread-and-butter pickles. I like ketchup and mayonnaise on my cheeseburger, or special sauce which is normally a mixture of the two. It can be either one. How about onion rings? I kinda like onion rings, the rodeo burger style. Mustard? No. I'm a mustard on a hot dog kind of girl. I'm a Chicagoan, and I really like my mustard on my hot dog—no ketchup on my hot dog—and ketchup and mayonnaise on my burger.

Being a Chicagoan, the question is always hot dogs vs. hamburgers. What's the big deal?

Chicago's really a sausage kind of city. I don't know if it's just hot dogs anymore; obviously we sell many different types of sausages.

What's your take on the burger boom of the last few years?

I really have thought about this a lot, and sort of have this article going on in my head about the residual American burger, and that for the last 50 years or so, this is something that has popped up as very American. Even if you go to high-end restaurants, you see burgers on the menu, you see fries. They're everywhere. And I don't think that they're going anywhere. It's sort of a comforting thing that's distinctly American, and people love them. It's hard to fight that.

Do you think of the role of a butcher as more of a masculine role, or can it be a feminine role?

I think it's a very masculine role. It's all men downstairs. Our sous-chef is a woman but does a lot of the food production and some butchering, but really, it's just me and about 10 guys. 

More Chicago Burger Week from Amstel Light and Food Republic:

This post is brought to you by our friends at Amstel Light