Chef Adam Fleischman
Umami Burger | Los Angeles, CA
Before Adam Fleischman fell in love with umami, he had a long affair with wine. But his first love was the written word. Fleischman studied literature in college and prepared for a life in journalism. A trip to Burgundy after graduating sparked a culinary and oenophilic fire in the fledgling journalist, so he focused his writing on food and wine.
Fleischman became immersed in the wine world after writing on the subject. He worked for several prominent Los Angeles wine retailers and also served as a wine consultant to Tesori Imports, a top importer of European wines with distribution in seven states. Fleischman was responsible for hand picking quality wines for import to the US, a role that not only involved objective evaluation of flavor profiles, but also assessment of their appropriateness for the American market. Later Fleischman founded and ran some of LA’s first wine bars, BottleRock and Vinoteque.
Detecting the myriad flavors in wines was an ideal primer for Fleischman’s introduction and eventual fascination with the fifth taste, umami. Infatuated with so-called savory flavor, Fleischman developed a restaurant concept wholly dedicated to it—and to an all-American classic, the burger—and opened his first Umami Burger in La Brea in 2009. Three more locations have quickly followed in Los Angeles alone. But Fleischman isn’t resting on his laurels. He plans to share his love for umami and expand his burgeoning savory empire all over the globe.
Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to get into the restaurant industry?
Adam Fleischman: I’m self-taught. I’ve always been more of an enthusiast than a professional. Before this I was in the wine business for three years and before that I was in business, not in food. I opened [Umami Burger] just for the fun. We're having so much fun it’s like you never have to go to work—it’s all just fun.
AB: What is the concept behind Umami Burger?
AF: It's focused on the umami flavors. We took all the umami flavors and made an American burger place with all the umami thrown into it. All the items are naturally high in umami and we do fun stuff to bring it out in the food.
AB: What gave you the idea for Umami Burger?
AF: I was just inspired by umami. I wanted to work with that flavor profile. I looked at all the American foods that had umami. Pizza and burgers are the highest so I decided to start with burgers.
AB: Is there any umami in cocktails?
AF: There are no alcohols that have umami in them. You could do green tea in your cocktail. Bloody Mary would have umami and you could put anchovies and kombu in cocktails.
AB: You also started BottleRock right?
AF: I was the founder of BottleRock, but then I sold it. It was one of Los Angeles’ first wine bars. We had 500 wines and you could open anything by the glass, which was a new concept for Los Angeles. It’s still open. I think la is underrated because a lot of the restaurants aren’t high end enough to be on the radar.
AB: What is your background in the food industry?
AF: Here in Los Angeles I started in the wine business. I worked in wine for four years. We were doing food at the wine bar, so I had a lot of food menu design experience.
AB: Did you start with one location?
AF: I started with one.
AB: How quickly did you open the others?
AF: We opened the first in February and the other three are just opening now. So far there are two open.
AB: What are some other burger restaurant concepts that you admire or that inspire you?
AF: I think they are all terrible, that’s why I did my own.
AB: What advice would you give to other people who are starting a restaurant?
AF: Just don't listen to any advice—that's the best advice. That's what I did.
AB: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
AF:Just on a personal level I'm friends with all of them. It's a small community in LA and everybody knows each other.
AB: How would you describe your philosophy on food and dining?
AF: Just thinking things through from all the different angles. I'm a concept guy, and then other people run with it. My philosophy is to have a great concept and execute on it.
AB: What goes into creating a dish?
AF: It usually begins with an ingredient or an idea and we think about it in a million different ways. After it is conceptualized then we test it out and see if it works and if you have a finished dish. I'm chef and owner; not management but everything else.
AB: What is the biggest challenge facing your restaurants?
AF: Just keeping up with the demand.
AB: What is the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your career?
AF: Lose concepts that you created to other entities. Like all the concepts I created that I'm not involved in; there are like eight or nine of them.
AB: If there was one thing you could do over what would it be?
AF: Really nothing. I've only been in food a couple years and it’s all been pretty good.
AB: What has been your proudest accomplishment in your career so far?
AF: I would say opening during a recession and being really successful in that time.
AB: What does success mean to you?
AF: I think with food success is really about popularity. If nobody is eating it then you can’t be a success. Even weird food gets eaten. I say having a steady stream of patrons.
AB: What’s next for you? Where will we find you in five years?
AF: We're going to do more Umami Burgers wherever we can—in other states and other countries. And then do a pizza concept and then retire in five years. You can't do food forever.
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