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Mathew Ramsey: Burger Pornographer


Mathew Ramsey: Burger Pornographer

Compound Butter

Porn Burger is a blog where obsessive passion meets flame broiled ground meat. Mathew Ramsey's outrageously creative and often sensual burger names are well matched with his beautifully styled meaty centerfolds. As if running an incredibly successful blog and writing a book weren't enough, Ramsey also created Bar R, a pop up series featuring Porn Burger creations and an empty seat for Bill Murray, just in case. We wanted to get to know the man behind the meat so sit back, grab a burger, and enjoy our chat with Mathew. 

You have a long background in food, photography, and production, but you also mention an interest in food anthropology and culture. Can you give us an idea of your educational background and how that/other past factors led you to pursue your current creative projects?

The road to burger porndom hasn't exactly been a straight one, but where would the fun in that be. Each step has led to the next in completely unexpected ways. I have always found that I'm most content in life, when I can do work where I'm expressing myself creatively. Over the years, how I've expressed myself has morphed from my degree in photographic fine art, to working in film & video production at National Geographic, to pursuing a career in the culinary arts. 

Can you remember the first meal you ever photographed? Is there a meal from your childhood you wish you could go back and recapture?

They say you always remember your first... I don't think I actually do. However, I do remember the first meal I ever made for somebody else... and by somebody else, I mean a girl. Her name was Katie Wilson, and I "like, liked" her back in 8th grade. Inspired by an Emeril Lagasse episode, I made her spaghetti pomodoro. Short story shorter, she broke up with me the very next day. 

What led to the creation of PornBurger? There are so many different dishes to focus on and experiment with, what led you to specialize in burgers? How has the blog allowed you to expand your creative horizons and work on side projects?

I'm afraid my romance with burgers, is rather cliche... Boy meets burger. Boy falls in love with burger. Boy grows up and makes porn site dedicated to burger. When I was 5, my grandma bought me my first Big Mac. I was small, it was mammoth, and I devoured every single inch of it. For better or worse, it was one of my first food "aha" moments, and I've been chasing that high ever since. 

PornBurger was essentially the inevitable culmination of my love for photography, culinary exploration, and a life long love affair with burgers.  I had been wanting a creative challenge that could push me, and the burger was decidedly the perfect muse. When it comes to working in the creative arena, I personally work best when I have confines to work within. The burger seemed the perfect vessel to explore, explode, and reassemble. Did you know... and this is according to science, that the common orgasm and a good burger, are a 99.9932% genetic match? I have no understanding of science, but the internet is pretty infallible when it comes to wisdom.

After a year or so of flying my burger freak flag, I have had a lot of fun opportunities open up. Burgers seem to be a universal language, that cultures all over the world can wrap their lips around. I'm putting the final touches on a PornBurger cookbook as we speak (published by ECCO books, Spring of 2016), and if you're in Brazil this fall, I'm collaborating with a brewery to do a week long burger festival that promises to get debaucherous. 

Bar R was incredibly well received, with tickets selling out almost immediately. Did you expect it to be such a success? How did you plan each menu and how far in advance did you decide the themes for each dinner?

Bar R was a very personal itch that I needed to scratch. Doing an intimate pop up outside the context of an actual restaurant, allows you to make up a whole new set of rules of what a dinner experience can be. Hell, doing a pop up dining experience in your tiny basement apartment, pretty much ensures things will get weird... Themes were built on flights of fancy and seasonal ingredients. I like to think of Bar R as a curated evening of unknowns. Guests know there are 5-7 courses with a PornBurger at the heart of it, and that's basically it. Each dinner is different from the last, with the exception of my crispy gnocchi tater tots and a reserved seat at the head of the table, for Bill Murray. I'm grateful that people are excited about being a part of the experience and am looking forward to another Bar R season this fall. 

What would you want for your last meal and where would you want to eat it? 

 Wait... Am I dying? How bad is it? Somebody bring me a crave case of White Castle Cheeseburgers, a side of seared foie gras, and a cold jar of pickled okra, STAT.  Oh, and invite all of my friends, Bill Murray, and my family... I'm not long for this world. 

I read that you are interested in working on a show that is looking to use food as a way to explore new cultures, traditions, etc. How do you feel about shows like Chef's Table, Mind of A Chef, No Reservations, etc. and how do you feel your show will differ in its representation of different cultures and food?

You know, all three of those shows are perfect examples of what intelligent food programming can be.  We are living in a culinary golden age, the likes of which have never been seen before. There's a whole world of techniques and ingredients, both old and new, that are suddenly at our finger tips, and I'm frothing at the mouth to explore them all.  On top of that, so much of our history has been shaped by what we eat. There's a good chance that what you had for dinner, is part of the greatest story never told, and I want to help share it.

Your work often blurs the lines between food and art, do you consider yourself more of a chef or an artist, or a combination of both? 

I don’t think the two words are mutually exclusive. Personally, I see cooking as an act of creative expression with food being the ultimate artistic medium. A composed dish, engages every single one of the senses and is the only medium that physically becomes a part of you upon experiencing it. So I guess I'd say... I'm more of a chartist (soft ch)?

What was your craziest experience on a photo shoot/project? 

Before I was doing food, I took some time to shoot/document an illegal gold mining town in remote southern Ethiopia. The country has a rich history of gold and it's believed by some, to be the source of King Solomon's mines.The town itself, was a beautiful cocktail of deeply embedded orthodox spirituality contrasted with absolute human depravity... A total wild west. Gold has a strange talent for corrupting good intentions and corroding moral lines. My hotel doubled as a brothel and a butchery, and breakfast usually consisted of dipping a cut of raw beef into hot sauce.  My days were spent chewing chat (a mild narcotic), and photographing the human spirit in it's rawest form. I had guns pulled on me, met child prostitutes, befriended a gun smuggler (unknowingly), and descended 90 meters below the earth into constrictive dark tunnels, on hand made ropes, where miners would spend 12-14 hrs of the their day.  It was an experience that gave me incredible perspective and forever changed me. 

If you could have dinner with Bill Murray but you couldn't cook it yourself, what would you plan for your evening together?

Off the cuff, my gut instinct would be to dine at one of those Indian restaurants in Manhattan's "curry row" (6th street in East village) and wing it from there. Spicy curries, a cold six pack of BYOBeer, and about a billion christmas lights... Ooo baby.

What is your favorite kind of pizza?

Haha, I see what you did there. I want to go on record and say "FUCK Deep dish". I believe that strongly. That said, I'll still eat it. I recently had the opportunity to hang out in Sicily with my girlfriend, and unsurprisingly had some of the best pizza of my life. I realize how douchey that makes me sound, but that crust still haunts me in wet dreams. For awesome pizza in the District, Etto satiates all of my Neopolitan needs. They make their own cheese and even mill their own flour for fuck sake. When I feel like indulging in the dark arts of pure guilty pleasure with zero fucks given, I'll order shitty delivery pizza with pineapple, jalapeños,  pepperoni... and a side of garlic butter for dipping. 

You've expressed a lot of interest in exploring food culture. What is your dream culinary anthropology trip? 

Oof, I have a very long laundry list. but I'd love to return to Nepal and spend some time with the legendary honey hunters of the Himalayas. They tend these wild bee hives on incredibly sheer cliffs, with bamboo poles and rope ladders. Everything about their way of life excites me. I've also been meaning to throughly eat and drink my way across the Mexican state of Oaxaca.  We'll see which happens first.

Big plans for the future???

I'm extremely excited about the PornBurger cookbook hitting shelves this Spring. In the meantime, I'm working on doing some raunchy popups around the country, potentially producing my own burger sauce for public consumption, and getting my online food porn rag, called SWALLOW, off the ground. It's all up in the air. As for tonight, I'm looking forward to simply cruising a joint and grilling some pizza all by my lonesome. 

Check out Mathew's blog Pornburger and follow him on instagram to keep up to date with all his cooking adventures!