Some chefs make their way to the kitchen from a completely separate career. But New Orleans native Adam Biderman has always been there. Since he was 17 years old, Biderman's been in the back of the house, making the arduous trek from dishwasher at Michael's Mid-City Grill up the ranks of the line. Proving himself a capable leader and clear culinary talent, Biderman moved to Atlanta and a job at Holeman & Finch, where he worked under 2007 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Linton Hopkins for six years.And while it was hard for the on-the-job-trained chef to leave the tutelage—and Southern pride—of Hopkins, Biderman eventually brought his gastropub knowledge from Holeman back to New Orleans and the kitchens of his youth, where his talent was founded.
Atlanta's loss proved New Orleans' gain. After a stint at 2003 New Orleans Rising Star Chef Donald Link's Herbsaint, Biderman decided to go it alone. And in August 2011, he opened The Company Burger, a restaurant that celebrates a staple of culinary Americana without skimping on sophistication like so much of its competition, which earned him his own 2012 New Orleans Rising Star designation.
Not only does the burger haven celebrate a national treasure, but Biderman's making sure it's all done with a chef's care. This is, no doubt, why The Company Burger has become as famous for its high-quality Holeman-esque burgers as for its rainbow-hued mayo selection. Add to that the stellar onion rings, and incredibly healthy beer list (this is a fast food joint, after all) and you've got a formula built to please—clearly the work of a back-of-house native who made his way to the top of the pile.
Interview with Chef Adam Biderman of The Company Burger – New Orleans, LA
Nicholas Rummell: What's the toughest thing you've had to do in your job?
Adam Biderman: Opening Holeman and Finch. We had two chefs de cuisine, but the other one quickly fell by the wayside. The second hardest thing was making the gumbo at Herbsaint. That was one of the hardest things I've had to do. I made all the batches and worked the line. It was a great experience. My job security lay in that gumbo.
NR: How about now, with The Company Burger?
AB: Biggest challenge would have to be sticking to our guns and executing the vision of what The Company Burger is. [It's about] making sure it is a very focused product and that it's what the New Orleanians expect a burger to be: no lettuce, no tomato, no cooking to temp. The challenge was to make sure everybody I work with gets that message, and then to pass that off to the guests. [But] we nailed it, we absolutely nailed it.
NR: How do you inspire your staff?
AB: I don't hire someone, I indoctrinate someone. At our first team meeting, I took every member of staff through the process of making the burger (cutting, grinding meat, making paddies, cooking paddies, making own burger). Every step I was telling them why we do things the way we do. If you tell people why you are excited about it, they take over and they say, 'hey, this guy isn't crazy.' Well, maybe a little. But it's about mitigating the craziness.
NR: Were you able to indoctrinate the customers?
AB: It's been trying. The customers were a different story. About 99 percent have totally responded positively, but there are a couple people who won't come back or will leave, and that's fine. I can only do so much to win over people in this business.
NR: Are you planning any changes to the business?
AB: I've thought about it because I can't not think about it. Of course, being the [2012 StarChefs] Concept Award Winner creates the pressure that I have to expand. But I don't want to be a franchiser, I want to be an operator. You spend so much time building a culture, you lose some of that when you franchise. I don't want anybody else being a part of this business; this is my business. One of the biggest bullet points on my business plan before opening was that we cook what we cook where we cook for a reason.
I do want to have more than one of something. Hopefully it will be The Company Burger. I have enough nutball ideas running out of my head, so something will happen.
NR: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
AB: Seeing those doors open everyday and people come in. Having people smile everyday. Having a place that provides a living. I worked with [Chef] Donald Link for a year, and having him say that my cheeseburger in 2011 was his favorite meat, that was great. It's been one big knock out of the park.
NR: If you had one thing you could do over again, what would it be?
AB: I have absolutely no second thoughts about who I've worked with. Linton [Hopkins] is one of the greatest, most influential people in my life, in terms of how to treat people, working hard, creativity, etc.
NR: What would you be doing if you weren't cooking?
Something horrible I'm sure. I couldn't make it in school, so it was either sports or cooking. I'd probably be a bartender somewhere, or working for my family's jewelry store (which would make me like a zombie). Maybe I'd run out into the mountains and just walk the earth.