Crammed inside of the 200-square-foot Burgerlords kitchen, Otium restaurant's chef Timothy Hollingsworth is assembling a burger with eel and shishito peppers. This is not normal for Burgerlords. This is not normal for Hollingsworth.
The French Laundry alum is the first special guest of the Burgerlords new monthly pop-up series, Burger Merger, bringing together food and art. The concept makes sense considering the 'Lords also double as players in the LA art scene.
Before opening their Chinatown burger shack with Kevin Hockin, brothers Fred and Max Guerrero stepped away from the restaurant industry to open Slow Culture. "When we took a break from restaurants to open the gallery, we did that for two years and then were like, Wait, we're not putting to use what we know by doing a restaurant," Fred said. "We know how to open restaurants. And now it's vice versa."
As Burgerlords approaches its one year anniversary on October 15, the owners decided to bring together their skill sets with the Burger Merger.
"With the gallery, we have access to so many amazing artists after three years," Fred said. "We should be using that to our advantage and partnering with the restaurant."
The first collaboration will feature food by Hollingsworth and merchandise by artist Travis Millard. Next month, it could be anyone.
"It'll bounce around, maybe not even chefs, maybe personalities," said Max on potential Burger Merger partners. "It's hard to follow up with Otium. Once you start at the very top, how do you keep going throughout the year after someone like Tim? The goal is just to pick a bunch of different people with different ranges."
Monday marks the launch of the pop-up, with burgers from 6 to 9 PM and cocktails from 9 to midnight at General Lee's, a bar just across the Chinatown plaza. Every instillation of the Burger Merger will feature two burgers, one vegan and one meaty. The special burgers will be available every Monday of the month from 11 AM until they run out.
Burgerlords has occasionally offered a limited Eastern Bacon Cheeseburger, a vegan spinoff on the Western Bacon Cheeseburger from Carl's Jr. The creation lead Hollingsworth to consider nostalgia a source of inspiration for his Burger Merger dishes.
"I did construction as a kid and we ate a lot of fast food when I was growing up and in high school," Hollingsworth said. "Carl's Junior was the one I went to."
Ultimately, the lauded chef looked to his recent trip to Japan instead, and made a barbecued eel burger with shisito, scallion, and avocado. For the vegan version, he'll pair the Burgerlords vegan patty with rainbow carrots, pippin (a green mole), and habanero onions.
The Burger Merger couldn't really take place in a better spot. Chinatown is one of LA's most prominent intersections of art and food.
"I think it's always had a history with galleries and Chung King Road with art," Fred said of the neighborhood, "With The Broad opening up, that's definitely helped connect Chinatown to more of the art crowd."
"I think that chefs are artists. It's so creative. It's so personal what they're creating," Fred said. "I think now as food and food culture has become an "it thing" somewhat, it opens up the opportunity for us to give it this visual aspect. These are always things we've been passionate about, it's what we want to do."
If anything, the Burger Merger will serve as a way to break the monotony of running a tiny, burger-centric operation.
"It's hard being in this thing, this little fish tank," Max said. "It gets old really fast."