A featurette on the city’s great burger boom, Grilling Glasgow is a fun and intriguing examination of a local food trend and the people who contributed to it. The documentary includes interviews with Nick Watkins from El Perro Nego, Danny McLaren The Mad Chef, Andy Yates from Meathammer Ltd, Ylli Dushi from Bread Meats Bread and Ben Dantzic of Burger Meats Bun and Street Food Putter Club.
The film focuses on the period of 2012-2015 when there was a flurry of openings that generated unbridled enthusiasm for gourmet burgers across the city, giving rise to new restaurant businesses with personality and attention-grabbing pop-ups. You can watch the short film below.
We spoke to film-maker Alex Watson about this burger biopic.
Could you tell us about the people behind Grilling Glasgow?
There’s three of us, we’re really close friends. Myself, Craig McLeod and Steven Doherty. We have all been friends for a long time. I’m a journalist at my day job. When I was still at Uni, I made a documentary for part of my course, and while we were making it – this is a few years ago now – we kind of said, “Oh we all love burgers and Glasgow has a great burger scene. Wouldn’t it be great to make a documentary about that?” And it was just a bit of a pipe dream for a long time, and then eventually last summer, we just decided to do it.
We did a lot of organisation and some bits and bobs here and there, but for the most part we all just took a week off work and Uni and got together and made it.
So, it was an idea that just kept cropping up, probably over meals in burger restaurants?
Yeah. Exactly. We all were super into burgers and we really enjoyed the James Vs. Burger blog and obviously there was like all this new stuff going on in Glasgow. Especially around the time of 2014 and 2015, which is really the time period that we focused on in the documentary.
We just kind of talked about how great it would be, and then once we started sending out emails, everybody was really up for it. And we managed to get all the people that we wanted to be in it to agree to do it.
That time period was the Great Glasgow Burger Boom where all of these new places seemed to be opening up and people were really elevating your average burger and making something a bit more interesting. Do you think we’ve reached peak burger, or is this still an emerging trend in Glasgow?
I think the first wave of it is over, but I think there’s definitely still a lot left in it. El Perro Negro, for example, is a really strong one. Everyone’s always really excited about his pop-ups and so, if he goes to a more permanent business then I think that will bring another wave of burgers.
Why do you think people have such an affection for burgers as a comfort food?
That’s something we asked a lot when we were making the documentary. I think it’s just you can do so much with it. That’s what all of the chefs that we asked said. You can really put your own stamp on it.
But, at the end of the day, it’s still a simple thing that pretty much everyone enjoys. It’s satisfying and a nice, comforting thing to eat.
At the same time, you can really take it to wherever you want, and I think that’s probably why people are so enthusiastic about burgers. If you’ve got good quality products, which was a big deal for all of the people that we spoke to, then even just a typical cheeseburger tastes really great. So, you should do whatever you want with it, really.
Can you tell me some of your burger highlights while you were researching the documentary?
Burger Meats Bun was probably my all-time favourite, when it all started out. Obviously, the burgers were all amazing, but I loved all of the design that they had. Their aesthetic. I think they were just really strong, and I’m sad that they’re not around anymore, although they are still doing burgers at Streets Food Putter Club.
El Perro Negro is probably, I would say, the best burger that I’ve had in Glasgow or in my whole life. And I’ve had a lot of them. So those are probably my main highlights, I would say.
When you were speaking to these folk that are involved in the burger scene, is it quite competitive in Glasgow, are they all trying to outdo each other? Have they all got an eye on what everyone else is doing?
Yeah, I mean I think that they all certainly were at one point. I think there’s a few front-runners that have stood the test of time now. Obviously Bread Meats Bread is doing extremely well. But, I think that’s what I kind of like about the era that we covered in Grilling Glasgow – they all were aware of each other, and it was friendly competition because they were all small and independent. It wasn’t like, “We’re going to dominate you”.
It’s just that thing of, “We know you’re there. We’re going to do this different.” And that was quite a nice and friendly back and forth. Whereas now, obviously there’s not as many small places doing burgers like that in Glasgow, or even in Scotland. So I hope that comes back.
So, looking at the documentary itself, can you just tell me about the people that you spoke to, and who we should look out for?
We spoke to about ten people in total. We basically wanted to have all of the big burger restaurants involved. So we had Burger Meats Bun, Bread Meats Bread, El Perro Negro, the Meat Hammer – who used to do burgers in Nice ‘n’ Sleazy. He’s in Dunfermline now, so we were interested to speak to him about why he’s gone there after Glasgow.
We also wanted to speak to a butcher or someone actually made the product. So we spoke to a guy called Jonathan Honeyman, who owns the Aberfoyle Butcher. He was the first guy that Burger Meats Bun went to and Bread Meats Bread used him as well.
He was almost the Godfather of the gourmet burger in Glasgow during that period. That was really interesting. He talked us through all of the technical parts of the process. The importance of where you get your meat from and that kind of thing.
We spoke to Danny, the “Mad Chef” from Bloc, he’s a big character.
I definitely think so. We are keen to do other projects. I’m not sure about food trends, necessarily. I don’t think we would just start pigeon-hole ourselves by doing that, but if there was something that we were interested in and we knew enough people … I think the main thing that came out of this for us, is that you really see the passion that people have for whatever it is that they’re into.
And, obviously, all these people, they didn’t really know who we were. We could have been anyone. But they gave up their time and chatted to us and invited us into their homes and businesses. So I think that when you find a topic that people are just really passionate about, that’s kind of the avenue to explore. That’s probably how we would decide what we were going to do next.
Additional images via Pickled Productions