This Biker Chef Is Making Hot Dogs on the Back of a Harley Davidson


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This Biker Chef Is Making Hot Dogs on the Back of a Harley Davidson

Starting out grilling hot dogs on a gas canister welded to the back of a Harley Davidson, Brazilian-born Leon Borja now serves his prime beef sausage creations from a custom-built barbecue trailer in East London.

If the words "pork" and "beef" tattooed across his knuckles didn't give away the fact that Leon Borja is something of a meat enthusiast, his triple-stacked beef burgers make it deliciously obvious.

Starting out grilling hot dogs at biker meets on a gas canister welded to the back of his Harley Davidson, Borja now spends his weekends with a custom-built barbecue trailer stationed outside Mother Kelly's, a taproom and beer shop in East London.


Leon Borja, Brazilian founder of London motorcycle-barbecue stall Harley Dogs. All photos by the author.

Borja is from Brazil and trained as a chef there before moving to the UK. With enormous mutton chop sideburns and an arm full of inked vegetables, he has that familiar Latin American spirit that makes you feel like a good friend the first time you meet him.

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As London's ongoing gourmet burger obsession spawns ever more complex concoctions, it's the simplicity of the burgers at Borja's Harley Dogs stall that makes them stand out. His patties have just three components: beef, salt, and bone marrow.


Borja's triple-stacked "Mother Burger" with bacon, onion, and bourbon jam.

"When I am thinking about a dish, I don't want to have much more than five ingredients," says Borja, whose career in the kitchen has taken him through Angola, two stints on cruise ships, and dozens of eateries in his homeland and the UK. "I've worked in places in England where there is like 17 ingredients on a plate, I just don't like that."

Topped with American cheese slices and wedged in a classic sesame seed bun, Borja's burgers include minimal but welcome flourishes. Namely: shredded potato chips and a homemade bacon, onion, and bourbon jam that ensures every eating experience ends in sticky fingers.


Borja's custom-built barbecue trailer grill.

His "Mother Burger" is also triple-stacked as standard—a feature he says goes beyond Instagram freak food pics. The caramelisation caused by searing meat provides another layer of flavour. Times that by three and you have a seriously good burger.


"For me, it seemed obvious to do a triple stack because I would have three times the amount of caramelisation," Borja explains.

He's right. All four people I take to sample the Mother say it's the best burger they've ever eaten.

As the Harley Dogs name suggests, Borja hasn't abandoned the dish he started out cooking either, with two 12-inch hot dogs mainstays of the menu. While the "Pedigree" is a classic American-style dog with fried onion and pickle, the "Stray Dog" is inspired by popular hot dog recipes in his homeland, and uses a spicy sausage produced by Hackney-based Brazilian butchers Casa De Carnes.


The "Stray Dog" hot dog with spicy Brazilian sausage.

Speaking to Borja, it's clear he takes serious pride in the quality of his food. He tried 25 different hot dogs before settling on the beef sausage from Gilbert's Kosher Foods in Milton Keynes for the Pedigree hot dog, while the meat from his burgers comes from Aubrey Allen, one of the Queen's official butchers. On his quest to find the right bread, he says he tested 45 different suppliers before settling on the London-based Bread Factory.

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Borja also tries to keep prices to a minimum and was only forced to abandon a "pay as you feel" system in recent weeks when he noticed that it was often those who could afford to pay the most who were determined to pay the least.

"I basically had ten City Boys come in all suited-up, order ten hot dogs, and try to pay £10 for them," he says. "When you see the time and care I put into preparing and presenting those hot dogs, then you taste how good they are, and you try to give me a pound for each one? That's just offensive."


Diners at Borja's hot dog stall outside Mother Kelly's tap room in East London.

Another table, however, paid Borja £20 for a single hot dog, so he is determined not to let this mar his opinion of London diners.

"There are many many more good-hearted people in the world than there are dickheads," he adds.

While Borja has dreams of one day establishing an open-air food and music venue, for now he is just keen to get his food into as many mouths as possible. He says applications to appear at a number of well-known music festivals this summer were rejected, but that he is on the lookout for smaller festivals to ride into and pitch up at.

"Smaller festivals would be good because everything there is more memorable," he says. "I want my food to be remembered."