My colleague, Simon, had taken a vacation earlier in the summer to Paris with his wife. One afternoon I was sitting in my office and I got a text message from him. He texted, "When you come here for your training, if you want a VERY good burger, try 'Blend' - it's awesome!" I talked to my colleague Ian about going there and while he didn't initially seem to be too whippy to go have a burger in Paris, Simon's exuberance about the place pretty much convinced him that we needed to give the place a try. After getting into Paris via taxi from the airport, checking into our hotel and settling in, we set out to find Blend.
After years of Frenchmen looking down their noses, decrying the burger as "American culinary scourge", they're beginning to become a staple in the French diet as they are in the U.S. Since the culinary arts run deep in France, the quest to make the "perfect" burger has become a holy grail for many French chefs. And Blend founder Victor Garnier is one of those who believed that he could make a burger that the French would favor.
Garnier was an French foreign exchange student living in Malibu (What a great place to be an exchange student!) and he fell in love with American burgers. The In-N-Out "Double Double" became an all-time favorite of his, but then he was exposed to gourmet burgers that featured blended meats. He traveled across the U.S. trying a number of different burgers before going home to France.
Garnier knew that there were gourmet burgers at high-end restaurants in Paris, but he wanted to bring a gourmet burger to the masses. He came up with the concept for Blend and set out to develop a burger that was worthy of French culinary standards.
He turned to artisan butcher Yves-Marie le Bourdonnec, the owner of the famous butcher shop - or boucherie - Le Couteau d’Argent in the Paris suburb of Asnieres, to come up with the right blend of meat for his new venture. Le Bourdonnec has long been a supplier of top grade beef to restaurants in Paris and his philosophy of the best type of burger is a lean mixture (no more than 5 to 8% fat versus muscled beef) and grinding the beef for nearly immediate consumption. Using matured beef from both France and Ireland, Garnier and le Bourdonnec worked for a year to come up with the right blend that would be flavorful, but not so expensive that normal French people would have to dig deep in their pockets to enjoy. The mixture of meat is sent to Blend each day and "minced" (ground) as needed in the kitchen.
Pictured left - Yves-Marie le Bourdonnec and Victor Garnier. Picture courtesy Philippe Servent Photography.
Once Garnier conquered the correct blend for his burger meat, he turned to an American ex-patriot - Camille Malmquist - to help make the artisan buns and desserts that he envisioned in his restaurant. Malmquist was a pastry chef from the Pacific Northwest who worked in restaurants in the U.S. until she moved to Paris in 2008. In addition to working in restaurants in Paris, she is also a writer and has contributed to on-line web sites such as Secrets of Paris and Girls' Guide to Paris and she also has her own blog site - Croque Camille - but she hasn't had much action on that lately. She also wrote recipes for buns and desserts in Victor Garnier's 2013 book Hamburger Gourmet. A girl after my own heart, Malmquist is also a beer connoisseur and her quest is to seek out good beer in what is a burgeoning craft beer scene in Paris.
Garnier then consulted with a French cabinet maker who ended up making the tables and butcher block stools with the Blend hamburger logo embedded in them. With everything in place, Garnier opened Blend in 2012 and it was an immediate hit. It was called by one reviewer as "The Best Hamburger in the Capital." Due to popular demand, a second Blend location was opened in 2013 and a third location opened earlier this year.
Our hotel was less than a 10 minute walk from the original Blend location. Well, it would have been less than a 10 minute had my internal GPS been functioning. I always get screwed up with directions when I go to Paris. My sense of direction is completely out of kilter. And because the streets don't always go North/South or East/West, I have trouble figuring out where I am. (Downtown Minneapolis is the same way for me.) What got me this time was going through the circle at Place des Victories. We took the wrong street spoke off Place des Victories, not once, but twice. Plus it was starting to rain. Ian took a look at the map that was provided for us at the hotel and said that maybe we needed to go another direction. Down a street, then a quick turn on Rue d'Argout and we found Blend. (see map)
It was around 1 p.m. when we got there and, understandably, the place was packed. Blend is not a big place to begin with. It seats - maybe - 30 people if you cram everyone in. There were a number of people milling about in front of the place, but it turned out that many were waiting on orders to go. We stood under a canopy out of the drizzling rain and took a look at an English menu one of the young ladies up front gave to Ian. When a table came open about 10 minutes later, we went inside.
The menu isn't long at Blend - four different burgers, a grilled chicken sandwich and a veggie burger. It was a pretty easy pick for both of us - we went with their signature Cheesy burger that is topped with cheddar cheese, bacon, zucchini pickles, fried onions, iceberg lettuce and housemade ketchup. We both got an order of French fries with the housemade ketchup.
The burgers came out and they were cut in half. The bun was fluffy with lots of air pockets in the crown. The cheese was oozing off the top of the burger. It was a thick burger, I'm guessing probably the equivalent of a 1/3 of a pound. And the taste was, well, it was exquisite. It was different. It wasn't like an American flat-grilled or char-grilled burger. It almost tasted like it was steamed. The blend of the meat was quite possibly the reason. The grind was very fine and held together very well. The total taste of the burger was excellent. This was truly an outstanding burger.
The fries were sprinkled with fresh parsley and they were crispy on the outside and spongy on the inside. They were fine along with the housemade ketchup that had a sweet vinegar taste to it. But the star of the meal was the burger.
Even Ian - who was initially disdainful of Simon's suggestion - said that he thought the burger at Blend was very good. And it was. This would be a great burger place if it was anywhere in the States. Even weeks after we were in Paris, Ian and I are still extolling the virtues of the burger that we both had at Blend. The French are definitely catching up with the Americans when it comes to good burgers.