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November 20, 2017

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Q+A: Smashburger founder Tom Ryan talks holidays, food trends and healthy dining



Smashburger founder Tom Ryan loves the holidays.

Click to enlarge photo

Smashburger founder Tom Ryan.

Click to enlarge photo

Smashburger founder Tom Ryan.

As the creator of the McGriddle and the Stuffed-Crust Pizza, Smashburger founder Tom Ryan is equal parts marketing wiz and mad food scientist (literally — he holds a PhD in flavor and fragrance chemistry).

With his Las Vegas-beloved burger chain (there are nine locations here) now rolling out decadent holiday offerings like the Salted Caramel Shake, I couldn’t help but wonder what the self-professed holiday enthusiast was cooking up for his own Christmas dinner.

I spoke with him about his plans, healthy cooking tips for the New Year and his predictions for the food trends of 2014:

What is your favorite dish in a Christmas dinner? Are you traditionally tasked with any one item?

I love to cook big meat ... a standing rib of beef, a huge ham or a leg of lamb. This year, since I’m with family in Minneapolis, I’m doing a big ham, glazed in Gran Marnier, honey, cinnamon and a rosemary garlic crusted leg of lamb. I always get the task and honor of the center of the plate decision for these holidays. With choices like this, I rarely claim a favorite!

Smashburger recently unveiled a local craft beer and burger pairing menu for its Southern Nevada restaurants. Do you have any recommendations for interesting food and drink pairings for upcoming holiday meals?

In general, wine is the choice for us during the season. I always try to find some new wines for all to try. This year, I’m serving a Dumol Syrah with the lamb and a Pesquera Ribera del Duero with the ham. Great wines that stand up to the big flavors I work for in these entrees.

What healthy eating tips do you have for the New Year — especially for burger fans?

Healthy eating ... well, we try to eat light all day in advance of any holiday feasting. We serve lots of fresh fruit, Greek yogurt, etc. I’ve also started braising many of the greens and vegetables we serve in fat-free reduced chicken stock. This develops a ton of flavor and lets me be a little more indulgent with my sauces and desserts.

Creative takes on flavor are your specialty — do you have any cooking tips or tricks on how to enhance flavors in healthy dishes that folks might otherwise be turned off to?

Here’s my couple of flavor tips for light cooking: I use a ton of fresh herbs in lieu of oil, butter and cream. I use Greek yogurt whenever a recipe calls for cream, sour cream or butter. I saute a lot of fresh greens, kale, mustard, escarole in chicken stock, then break eggs on top of the saute before serving. The soft yolks deliver a ton a flavor and richness without lots of fat and calories.

What food trends do you predict or are excited for in 2014?

Food trends ... I expect to see more Third World cuisines hit new strides. Indian, Moroccan, etc. I also expect to see more exotic foods get mainstreamed, like goat, secondary catch fish species and Third World vegetables. I also believe the craft beer innovation will continue to grow and diversify. I also believe natural, organic and sustainable principles and demand will continue to strengthen.

Conversely, what food trends do you hope will die in 2014?

I think of food like music. I would hate to have a genre or era of music die. I think in all creative venues, things will wax and wane, so the market will take care of itself. I just get excited thinking about the next round of amazing tastes, flavors and techniques!

Do you have a favorite healthy eating recipe to share?

This is simple but great with roasted meats:

Braised fresh leeks

6 leeks

32 oz. chicken stock

1 garlic clove, minced

Fresh herbs ... parsley/rosemary/thyme

Trim bottom and tops from leeks, leave about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of green. Wash well and quarter lengthwise. Place in a rectangular baking dish.

Place a couple of each herb sprig and the minced garlic in the chicken stock in a saucepan. Reduce stock to half volume. Pour reduced stock over leeks, cover with foil, and bake for at least 1 hour at 350 degrees.

These develop a wonderful, light oniony flavor that makes for a great coupling for roasted beef or lamb. Enjoy!

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