For an international burger chain, Shake Shack has a remarkable focus on integrating their stores into the cities where they take root. Central to this mission is culinary director Mark Rosati, who partners with local vendors and creates unique menu items for each city. Eater spoke with Rosati on Shake Shack's opening day in Austin about what he learned from Texas cuisine and how he came to partner with local powerhouse Uchi.
How do you find local purveyors and chefs to work with?
The first time I get off a plane in a new city, open eyes have served me well. We have Shake Shacks in Dubai, Istanbul, London. For some of them we have partners who want to show you around. I say, No thanks, I want to wander into a coffee shop. If it's good, I talk to the barista, and they tell me where they like to go off-shift, and then I got to the wine bar they recommend, and I ask the bartender there where they like to go for baked goods. I want to know what the locals like. A barista at Houndstooth recommended several Austin chocolates including Kiskadee, which we now serve.
After a day or two of doing that, I start to get a sense of the city, the part I react to, like if I'd lived here for a year or two, these are the places I would go. That's important because sometimes, you can get caught in a touristy mindset.
I try to make dishes based on what I would be excited to be eating. Sometimes it's high end food, sometimes it's good, simple, tasty food. The fact that Uchi's down the road from here is really reflective of the neighborhood, too.
I want to know what the locals like.
How did you develop the Austin menu items?
There were a few chefs I'd crossed paths with, one of them is Paul Qui and Deana [Saukam] too, I saw them in Copenhagen for the MAD Symposium. The more we talked the more I got excited to come here and check it out.
I wanted to pay homage to the roots the food here. The idea of taking Kreuz's cheddar and jalapeno sausage and griddling it, the cheese almost cauterizes. So you when you bite it into it, it gets nice and drippy and oozes out. I realized that would be a lot of fun.
Everyone I was talking to kept saying, Uchi, Uchiko. I found the sushi there to be very traditional, but Tyson's not afraid to push seasoning. When some might be more restrained with soy sauce or sea salt, he'll give it that one more brush or flake on top, that's what makes it so exciting. I wanted to go there and just have a few bites -- I'd been eating all day. But instead I had ten dishes, and they sent me three desserts.
The inspiration would end up in something down the road. Whether it would be a taco, I'm not sure. But the salsas, and the chorizo, the way the eggs are cooked, the flour tortilla, it started a creative idea in my mind.