The Man Behind the World’s Best Burger
Josh Capon, the executive chef and partner of New York City’s Lure Fishbar, B&B Winepub and El Toro Blanco, talks about the importance of consistency and quality in the restaurant biz, how to make a great burger and his favorite Manhattan eats.
AndrewZimmern.com: You’ve worked in several esteemed kitchens in NYC and abroad. Which experience has had the greatest impact on your career?
Josh Capon: Without a question working with David Burke at Park Ave Cafe back in the day. Not only did he teach me how to cook great food, but more importantly how to be creative and have FUN with food, which translates to the guest’s overall experience.
AZ.com: A seafood restaurant, burger bar and pan-Mexican restaurant… What’s the biggest challenge of running three completely different concepts? Biggest reward?
JC: I think consistency, which for me is the true definition of quality. At the end of the day it’s about the guest’s overall experience, which has to be as good, if not better, every time they return. There are a billion restaurants in NYC, you gotta give them a reason to come back. The biggest reward is when I hear from a guest, “Hey I was at one of your restaurants last week and you weren’t around, but it was awesome!” That always makes me feel great.
AZ.com: You’re a 3-time NYC Wine & Food Fest Burger Bash winner. Secret to wooing the burger-loving audience?
JC: Yes, I am the three time BURGER BASH CHAMPION of the world and I have the heavy weight belt to prove it! I think first and foremost is serving a great, well-executed burger that they can relate to and second is engaging and entertaining them when they get to your booth. They come to eat but also to have a good time. The bash is such a great event cause it’s fun!
AZ.com: What’s the key to a perfect burger at home?
JC: I think the key to great burger at home is no different than in a restaurant. Start with great meat and a solid bun. Cook it with LOVE and have some fun with it. Next time, instead of serving a plate of cooked burgers with buns and condiments on the side, create YOUR OWN whopper if you will, and dress them from top to bottom and serve it your way. I guarantee your guests will get a real kick out of that and be talking about it all summer!
AZ.com: Favorite guilty pleasure food?
JC: The one and only CHIPWICH! I went a year of my life where I ate one every day (6 days a week) after work till one day the guy at the bodega suggested a FROZEFRUIT. What can I say, I am not exactly svelte! It’s bad enough I hear it from my mom and my girlfriend, I didn’t need to hear it from the guy at the deli. I returned it to the freezer and found another bodega a few blocks away!
AZ.com: What’s your go-to meal to cook for your family?
JC: Tough one since my wife does most of the cooking these days and I am not home for dinner during the week. The summer time is really my time to shine. That’s when I grill my face off outside on the deck in Dewey Beach, DE! Greatest city in the US of A (just don’t tell anyone). Big fat ribeyes and rack of lamb, my little girl Amanda’s favorite; barbecue chicken and ribs (both my kids love ribs and I love watching them eat them, just a fun food to eat); fresh corn off the grill; summer tomatoes and charred red onions.
If I was cooking at home, especially in the apartment, I would say any one-pot meal – paellas, arroz con pollo, stews, barigoules with fish, shrimp or chicken. Super tasty and easy clean ups!
AZ.com: Five New York City restaurants you can’t get enough of?
JC: First – and it’s not with us any more but I couldn’t get enough of it and miss it everyday – Chinatown Brasserie. Best Chinese ever in NYC and we miss it every Sunday night!
Second, I will group them together, but Lure, B&B and El Toro Blanco. Granted they are my places but I eat at them all 5 days a week and really can’t get enough of them. Lure is consistently great seafood, some of the best oysters and sushi in the city. B&B has one of the best burgers in the city (if I do say so myself) but forget about the burger. My good buddy and one hell of a chef, Paul DiBari, is running the kitchen and it’s all great! Pork ribeye, duck lasagna, Southern fried cornish hen, a kick ass steak tartare! And of course El Toro Blanco, just high-quality Mexican food done right. Great food, drinks and atmosphere. We are only 8 months old but I am really proud of what we are doing over there.
Third: Il Buco Alimentari. WOW, Justin Smillie is crushing it! Anytime of the day, you’ll find well-prepared food calling your name.
Fourth: Ai Fiori, Marea and Michael White’s new place Costata…..off the charts! Best crudos and pastas ever. Seriously, some of the best food in NYC! Michael White is El Fuego!
Fifth: ABC Kitchen and Cocina: Dan Kluger is putting out some of the best market driven food in the city with great clean flavors. The newest one, ABC Cocina has small plates with some latin flare that pack a lot of flavor and some heat as well.
Since NYC is so big, it’s fair to just ask for a few honorable mentions:
The Lafayette: Andrew Carmellini and Damon Wise are blowing some shit up at the new Lafayette, an absolutely gorgeous restaurant with a pastry shop and bakery when you walk in that is scary cause everything looks so good. I have only been a couple of times but so far everything has been great and I am really looking forward to exploring the menu.
Mile End Deli: If you like sandwiches, trust me, this place is not just good, it’s GREAT!
Blue Ribbon Izakaya: The Blue Ribbon boys have been around for a long time and do what they do well, but I think their latest venture is their best. It’s big and roomy with a menu to match. There are so many options to choose from, one of the best chicken liver mousses you will ever have, great sushi and cooked preparations, and just like all their other places, they’re open late and we love that!
The Nomad: Cool, classy and elegant but very chill with great food!
One out-of-Manhattan mention: Brooklyn Bowl for just a good ole time! Great food, by the Blue Ribbon Team, good music and bowling! You can’t not have a great time!
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
JC: Always a lot of fruit, so when I get hungry late night I don’t eat anything too dangerous.
Josh Capon is the seasoned executive chef and partner behind Lure Fishbar, B&B Winepub and El Toro Blanco in New York City.
Capon’s interest in the culinary arts was cultivated from an early age with memories of home-cooked meals at family gatherings and various jobs held in the food service industry. While attending college at the University of Maryland, he spent his free time preparing meals for eager friends and fraternity brothers. Capon followed his passion for cooking and transferred to Johnson & Wales University. While in culinary school, Charlie Palmer selected Capon as the culinary “extern” at Aureole, Palmer’s acclaimed Manhattan restaurant.
After graduating in 1994, Capon accepted an offer from Palmer to assist in the opening of The Lenox Room. From there, he went on to work for David Burke at the Park Avenue Café, where he was offered an exchange opportunity to work in Europe. He spent the next year honing his cooking skills in seven different restaurants throughout France, Italy, Germany and Spain.
Drawing upon his epicurean experiences abroad back in New York, Capon became the sous chef at The St. Regis Hotel’s Astor Court under Chef Gray Kunz in 1997. While reconnecting with Charlie Palmer, he was named executive chef of Alva, Palmer’s American bistro. Capon left Alva in 1999 to work for Matthew Kenney as the executive chef for Matthew’s. Kenney then tapped Capon for Canteen where he served as executive chef for three years.
In 2004, Capon became the executive chef of Lure Fishbar, a sophisticated seafood restaurant with a standout sushi bar owned by John McDonald and Joshua Pickard. In 2010, McDonald and Pickard asked him to be a partner at their newest restaurant, B&B Winepub. At B&B, Capon serves a satisfying menu of classic dishes as well as inventive takes on favorites for the upscale American wine pub, also in SoHo. In 2012, Capon opened El Toro Blanco in New York City’s West Village as chef partner, where he has created a pan-Mexican menu with an emphasis on seasonal grilled items.
Capon is the three-time winner of the People’s Choice award at the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash event for his “Bash-Style” burger, a juicy patty topped with American cheese, pickles, caramelized onion and bacon jam. He has appeared on numerous television shows including The Chew, Rachael Ray Show, Live with Regis and Kelly, CBS Early Show, TODAY and Food Network and has been featured in The New York Times, New York Magazine, Time Out New York and other media outlets.
Capon currently resides in New York City with his family. He enjoys spending time with family and cooking with his two kids, Amanda and Max.