Matty Matheson has a strong claim to being the most beloved chef in Canada. The acclaimed restaurateur, celebrity chef, Internet personality, TV host, and best-selling cookbook author, whose restaurants are some of the most popular in the country, is known as much for his jubilant disposition as for his top-tier culinary chops, and he’s almost single-handedly reinvented the public perception of an A-list food personality. He’s built a cult-like following on the strength of his recipes and establishments. But his most enduring achievement is that he’s made being a “celebrity chef” actually cool.
As Matheson’s restaurants continue to draw lines around the block in Toronto and beyond, he’s taking his reputation for good eats to an even bigger scale. Enter the Best-Burger-Ever Burger, Matheson’s new, limited-edition collaboration with A&W Canada. This limited-time grass-fed, prime-rib burger, designed from the ground up by Matheson himself, will be available at select A&W locations across Canada as of April 25th. As the burger is set to arrive in stores, Complex Canada caught up with Matheson to talk about his inspiration, burger trends, and what you can do to improve your own burgs at home.
How did this collaboration come together?
It was an easy yes for me. They were like, “We want you to do a grass-fed, prime-rib burger, what do you think you can do with that?” I wrote out a long list of different things that I might want to do, and what was able to be done, because obviously not everything is possible, and then sent the list back, like what do you guys think of this stuff? I just wanted to make something that was genuinely fucking fire.
Tell me about the recipe.
I believe A&W is a kind of mustard-forward burger, which is iconic, and I love it. I was like, what if we do like an aioli, a really good garlic aioli? And change the bun, we got this brioche—I wanted it to be like a donut, soft, toasted. I didn’t want raw onions, I wanted the vibe of a prime rib dinner, so I wanted grilled onions. I wanted real cheddar, not American cheese or anything like that. And then I really wanted to put onion rings on it, because their onion rings are so iconic, but that didn’t really work out. So then we were just trying to figure out how to do that, so I was like, “Yo, can we do fried pickles? Can that happen? Is there a world where we can have fried pickles?”
“It’s obvious that every burger I make is the best burger ever.”
Why fried pickles?
Well, I couldn’t do the onion ring that I wanted, but I didn’t want raw onions, and just putting pickles on, that’s lazy, not thoughtful. But then I thought, a pile of fried pickles, that will work really well with the onions and the aioli. That’s fire. That’s delicious. It kind of slapped right away. It was good to go.
How did you land on the name?
We were running through names, riffling off different names, and I was like, this is kind of the best burger ever—should we just call it the Best-Burger-Ever Burger? It was one of those things where we were like, yeah, let’s go. That’s kind of it. It was a really fun process. Everyone was so sweet. Even when we posted yesterday about it, I’ve never worked with a brand where I’ve gotten this much positive reinforcement. It just shows that people love A&W. I’m proud of that burger. It’s real good.
One of the things I find fascinating about this is it’s being made on such a huge scale. Was it a challenge to make something that had to replicated so many times in so many restaurants?
There’s a thousand stores in Canada. Everything is a ripple effect. For example, the onion ring. I wanted to put one perfect onion ring on it. But to do that, every single A&W, every time someone orders it—what if they don’t do that? There were a lot of conversations like that. You want it to be the same across every store. I want it to be the same, A&W wants it to be the same, the customer wants it to be the same. That’s at the forefront of the problem solving from the beginning. Like, I wanted to do a kind of cheese sauce, but there’s a thousand stores. They can’t have a big-ass cheese sauce boat floating around at a thousand A&Ws.
What was your experience with A&W growing up?
I grew up in Dartmouth, and A&W was the burger my parents would take us to. It’s in my mind as the burger of my childhood. It’s such a Canadian thing—I talk to people in the States, and they’re like, what, the root beer company? We know them as the burger company. I loved as a kid getting the Teen Burger. You’re young, you thought, yeah, I want to be a teenager! Teen Wolf! You got to be part of something. It was such a clutch move, to get the Teen Burger.
“People at home put like, ketchup and mustard and Worcester sauce in the meat, and they’re f*cking the whole thing up!”
And root beer. That felt so adult, it’s like “beer.”
And it’s in a mug! I like root beer more than anything. As someone who doesn’t drink, anywhere I go, root beer. A&W has the most fire root beer anywhere.
You’ve got the brioche bun here, but I feel like, on the whole, the trend in burgers these days is more about the potato bun.
It’s a little more substantial. And once it’s toasted, it’s there. It’s a prime rib burger, so you want to have that substance. A potato bun or a milk bun, it’s too cushiony. It wanted that full donut vibe. It’s toasted, buttery, steamy. It just goes with the grass fed prime rib and makes sense. It was the only option for me. It was fire.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d offer people making burgers at home?
It’s about keeping things simple. I’m a one-sauce type of person. This has the garlic aioli. Sometimes people put too much sauce on burgers, you want something that’s just enough, it’s there, but you can taste the juicy burger. I don’t even like burgers with lettuce and tomato—I want the burger to be a burger and I can have the salad next to it. Warm lettuce is not nice. People at home put like, ketchup and mustard and Worcester sauce in the meat, and they’re fucking the whole thing up! Just grill it or smash it. I don’t even love grilled burgers.
Really? You think grilling burgers is no-go?
Well that’s it, it’s such a preference thing. That’s why it’s a joke calling this the Best Burger Ever. It’s a tip of the hat to the World’s Best Coffee type statements that you see. Like, it’s obvious that every burger I make is the best burger ever.