Meet Byron’s Head Chef, Fred Smith
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  2. Meet Byron’s Head Chef, Fred Smith

Meet Byron’s head chef, Fred Smith

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We chose to kick off the UK tour of our chef series with Byron – after all, who hasn't fallen in love with at least one item on their menu? Courgette fries, anyone?

And of course, the first thing you want to know when you meet someone like Fred Smith – Head Chef at Byron – is what his day job actually looks like.

"Today," he says, "I'm recovering from eating nine chicken burgers."

It's 4:45 on a Friday afternoon, and we're sat at the back of their Haymarket restaurant. This is where Fred has his own fridge, freezer, gadgets and, most importantly, creative workspace. In short, it's where the magic behind his Hamburger Specials and deceptively simple menu happens.

Fred's notched up a loyal following of burger lovers since his Head Chef stint at Chelsea gastropub, Admiral Codrington. As a consultant, he then set up "a place called Flat Iron" (a much-queued-for Soho steakhouse), and had his own pop-up - the Beef Cartel - long before pop-ups became a thing.

Credentials much? We made it our mission to find out what the meat maestro does in pursuit of burger perfection.

1,000 burgers and counting

When you're in charge of a menu like Fred's, 'homework' is periodic research trips abroad with Byron founder and fellow burger fanatic, Tom Byng.

"When we go to America, we get started at 10am and eat in a different restaurant every hour until 10 o'clock at night. You have to wade through a lot to find the little gems."

But little gems Fred does find. On a recent visit to NY, he discovered a burger in Brooklyn which he puts in his top-five-burgers-ever-eaten list - and this, coming from a guy who admits to having got through near enough 1,000 unique burgers.

"It was this pizza joint in Brooklyn called Emily. They make 20 burgers a day, so you have to get there early. They open at five thirty so, of course, we were there knocking at five."  

And the burger bringing in the door-knockers is their Emmy burger - a 7oz patty in a pretzel bun, topped with caramelised onions, cheddar and house sauce.

"It's an absolute lesson in how you make just a couple of ingredients into something amazing." Which is why, he tells us, he's been eating non-stop chicken burgers - to make sure simple doesn't mean complacent.

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The trip to Tokyo

The most recent stop on Fred's travels was Tokyo, the birthplace of Byron's latest special, the Bunzilla burger. He talks us through its creative conception, starting out in Tokyo's famous Yakitori Alley.

"They skewer meats - usually chicken - over some sort of chargrill, and there's this incredible smell of caramelised soy."

And so came to be the Bunzilla's soy-glazed beef patty. The shredded cabbage followed - inspired by the Japanese accompaniment to katsu.

The next component of the burger was born from a memorable miso-glazed cut of pork.

"And what's pork at Byron? Bacon! So we added miso-roasted bacon. It's like an absolute punch in the face, it really smacks you for six."

But for every special that lands on the menu, there are six that don't.

"Each idea has to go through various trials. We have 60 restaurants - it has to work for all of our chefs, and be accessible for all our customers. We can't just stick foie gras and Alba truffles all over it!"

Looks simple, tastes not simple

Ask Fred to pick the Byron hamburger he's most proud of and there's no hesitation whatsoever.

"The Chilli Burger. It's the first special I created for Byron and it's much, much harder to do something that's really brilliant and simple."

And simple is the name of the game for Fred. As the hamburger is essentially "a classic comfort food", he doesn't believe that straying too far from that is a good thing.

The Chilli Burger sounds simple enough, but there's an incredible level of detail in each carefully-chosen ingredient.

The green chillies are cooked from fresh every day for exactly two minutes - just long enough to dampen the heat slightly, but not long enough to become too sweet. The chipotle mayonnaise is mixed from scratch to give just the right creamy kick.

Fred prefers his Chilli topped with Byron's very own take on the classic burger cheese - his own creation, Freddar™ Cheese, designed to have just the right melting quality and plenty of flavour.

As well as the Chill Burger, Fred lists B-Rex, Freddar Dawg and the Bunzilla as the specials that have meant the most to him.  

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Re-creating the Byron vibe at home

We hope you're reading this because you like Byron - and we'll guess that you're a fan of Deliveroo, too. So we asked Fred how he thinks you can get that Byron experience, even when you're eating at home.

"For me, Byron is about coming to eat and have fun with your friends. As much as it's about great hamburgers, it's about sitting round with friends, laying things out on the table and sharing. So stack up on sides - onion rings, coleslaw, bunch of dips, wings."

Funnily enough, that's just what our team Friday lunches look like too.

WIN yourself a Byron cookbook

As Fred will tell you himself, there aren't many people in the UK who've eaten as many burgers as he and Tom have. So it makes sense that they've teamed up to produce Byron's first cookbook. Definitely one to grab if you fancy trying your hand at their famous courgette fries or legendary B-Rex burger (or, of course, if you're further than 2km away from your own Byron restaurant).

Entering the competition is easy - just let us know your name and address here and we'll pick winners next week.

THIS COMPETITION HAS NOW CLOSED

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Plus, it makes a great last-minute gift too -  you'll find the cookbook alongside the burgers on Byron's Deliveroo menu.

And his final thoughts on channelling your inner Fred? "Good cooking is about lots of little things done well," he says. "There's not one big huge secret that's going to change everything, it's the accumulation of little simple tasks, each done very well. That's what I genuinely believe. It's also about eating out… If you're cooking food, you've got to eat good food."

If all that burger talk has got you peckish, you can always head over to Deliveroo to find out what's cooking near you including all your American food favourites.

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