Talented Trill Burgers chef and co-owner wins 'Impossible' Chopped episode
Add another Houston chef to the roster of local Chopped champions. Trill Burgers chef and co-owner Mike Pham won the “Burger Impossible” episode that aired earlier this week on the Food Network.
The son of Vietnamese immigrants, Pham said on the show that burgers helped him feel more American during his childhood. His professional roots with burgers go back to Savori Burgers, a restaurant in Orange County he opened when he was just 22 years old. Prior to teaming up with Trill Burgers partners Bun B and California restaurateur Andy Nguyen, Pham worked at a number of restaurants in Southern California, including Providence, a fine dining restaurant in Los Angeles that currently holds two Michelin stars. Of course, he was on stage with Bun B when Good Morning America named Trill Burgers America’s Ultimate Burger spot in 2022.
“Burgers are my passion. I’ve spent every waking moment thinking about burgers,” Pham said during the episode. “The key to a perfect burger is balancing sweet, sour, bitter, savory, and saltiness in them.”
In the appetizer round, Pham and his competitors received a basket that contained cheesesteak-stuffed pickles, salsa verde, thick cut bacon, and wagyu beef cheek. He turned that into a Southwest slider with salsa verde apple chutney that used a patty made with beef cheek, bacon, and cheesesteak. Cooking the bacon before adding it to the burger grind earned praise from judges Tiffany Derry, Justin Sutherland, and Geoffrey Zakarian.
“The burger was really nice,” Derry said. “The flavor is delicious. It feels very Americana.”
Moving to the entree round, Pham’s basket contained leg of lamb, three kinds of cheese, crunchy garlic with chili oil, and pearl onions. He made a lamb burger that he topped with cheese fondue and pearl onions that he caramelized in the garlic chili oil.
The judges criticized the burger for having too much cheese and not enough chili oil, but they chopped Philadelphia chef Pat McHenry for overcooking his lamb burger.
In the final round, Pham squared off with Atlanta chef LaMara Davidson to make a dessert “burger” using french fry cookies, cherries, honey butter, and chocolate rice cereal. While Davidson merely created a chocolate coating for the cookies and sliced the cherries, Pham stood out by turning the cookies into a pate a choux dough and dipping the cherries in chocolate. The dish wasn’t entirely successful — the judges thought the dough was undercooked — but Pham’s creative approach to the basket ingredients pushed him over the top.
“I believe this win proves I’m of the best burgers chefs in the country — maybe even the world,” he said at the end of the episode.
As for the $10,000 prize, Pham plans to use it to start a program at Trill Burgers that will teach young people about working in restaurants. Trill Burgers partner Nick Scurfield tells CultureMap that the program is still in the “idea stage” but that Pham is committed to making it happen.
Pham is the second Houston-area chef to win an episode of Chopped this month. Amrina chef Jassi Bindra won an episode titled “Oh My Squash.” Other Houston chefs to win on the show include Erin Smith (Feges BBQ), Justin Turner (Bocca Italian Kitchen), Shannen Tune (Craft Burger), and Evelyn Garcia (Jun).