Ekim Burgers

Posted: 11:08pm / 31.07.2013
WORDS BY BETH - PHOTOS BY ALICE

I'm allowing myself a bit of a fist pump here, I feel like I've observed a kiwi in the wild, or I'm one of the scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider who finally found evidence of the elusive Higgs Boson (don't worry, I won't be presenting this story in comic sans). because as far as elusiveness goes, Mike Duffy from Ekim Burgers is the king. 

I've wanted to interview Mike from day one - there's something about that cheeky smile of his and weathered laugh; you know he has great stories. So about a year ago I sent an excited email to explain my Eat & Greet idea, but nothing. A few months after we launched, another email, more silence. While out on a regular Ekim pilgrimage I handed him my card and he gave me his (a number scribbled on a paper plate). But after a few unreplied texts, it was clear this guy was playing hard to get.  The watershed moment, however, was one Sunday after a hankering for an Honest Rob and those chips with that insane homemade tomato sauce. He had strayed from his caravan so I pounced. He looks at me through suspicious eyes and asks “what do you get out of it?” THIS, I tell him, just these moments when I get to meet my food heroes and sit down over a coffee and find out what makes them click. The change in Mike was instant, he visibly relaxed and we had a few laughs, shared stories and talked about burgers, beer, partying and life (listed in order of importance!). As you can imagine, some of those stories were not fit for print, but I also discovered a humble and very driven man who, despite what he tells you, is clearly passionate about his burgers and the people he interacts with daily.
   

Why a small orange caravan in Lyall Bay? (UPDATE: they've now moved see new address below)

It is a good way to run a business.  Without having a landlord you can remove a third of your fixed expenses. So we can provide a better product for cheaper, because we aren’t lining some rich wanker’s pockets. A caravan is great because if something doesn’t work in one place you can move it to somewhere else until it does work. It is a really flexible business option.

Why do you think there aren’t many food trucks in Wellington?

It is a very particular skill set, putting something like that together. I had done a little bit of building, a little bit of engineering, was keenly interested in cars, had worked in kitchens for years and had a bit of money in my pocket. So I don’t think you get those five things in the same person very often. I’m not a great cook and I’m not a great engineer and I’m not a great businessman either, but I was adequate with everything to pull this off.

Well I’m going to have to disagree with you, I think you are a great cook.

Well, you know, I’m never going to win a Michelin star for flipping burgers.

What makes Ekim special?

People - the people that come and hang out at the beach. The people that work there. It is only as great as the people that support it. They are great people; they are looking for something different than the mainstream. They know my name, they know Carmel’s name - we are human, after all. You go to Burger King and it’s just stamped out of a log of shit, there is no character and it is the character that makes it.

Did you always want to open in Wellington?

I always wanted to open in that exact spot. Originally it was coffee and a few other things, but it turned out that burgers were what the city wanted.

So I only recently worked out that Ekim was Mike backwards!

Yeah, it is a good one, eh! It is the people who are good at anagrams or do the crossword that work it out, or who smoke a bit of pot. People who have time to think. It was hard to choose a name - we wanted to use something that was unique - I didn’t want to be “the” something. Ekim is one word and catchy, it ticks all the boxes. I didn’t know this, but one of my customers told me that Ekim in Turkish means “I am”, so Ekim Burgers means “I am burgers”, which is really fitting.

How long have you worked in a kitchen for?

Since I was 16, so 19 years.

What made you want to cook?

It was something to do. I needed to get out of the job I was in. It was one of the only polytechnic courses I could get into because I don’t have anything beyond school certificate. 

What made you keep doing it?

The people. It is a party industry and that is what I loved about it. That is what kept me coming back, off the streets and out of trouble. You don’t get the broad and international cross section of people working in an office. It sounds like a cliché, but everyone in a kitchen speaks the same language. When you get people who are working alongside each other, it’s like going into battle.

Who has influenced you along the way? 

So many people from so many places. There are little things from lots of moments in life that combine together to make you who you are. Maybe somebody’s mum makes a fucking good lasagne or some kitchen where the chef was a wanker or a waitress said something that stuck - it comes from anywhere.

Who do you admire in the industry?

I have people I look up to in life that are working hard for whatever it is they are working hard for. Anyone that is a grafter, that wakes up and works hard. Carmel, I have an enormous amount of respect for her. She is 25 years old and is a solid hard worker, I draw strength from that. I think if they can do all that and have that passion, then I can do it too.

What challenges do you face?

My own demons. I’m always asking myself: how far do I want to take this? When is enough? Can I stop? Have I gone too far? Have I gone far enough? Just trying to keep myself in check, knowing when to take a day off and knowing that I can’t change the weather. I am my biggest challenge.

Do you have trouble finding ingredients?

Na. Veggies, meat and a bun - there is only so much you can do.

Do you have a favourite burger?

I don’t eat any of them! I’m over it. You make 300 a day, the last thing you want to do is eat one.

What do you love about burgers?

Burgers are non-pretentious. It is everyman food. Everyone has eaten a burger, there is no fancy name for it, no elitist snobbery about it. It doesn’t matter if you earn a million dollars a year or if you are on the dole, you can still appreciate a simple $5 burger for what it is.

What do you hate seeing in a burger?

Pretentious wank. I hate some chef in his whites serving me a neatly placed toasted sourdough bun on a plate with hand-cut chips and an apple remoulade. I hate pretentious shit when it comes to burgers. I guess from the other side, I hate seeing factory made shit, fast food has taken simple food and turned it into junk. There is no need for it to be filled with trans fats, sodium and preservatives.

What ingredient/s could you not live with out?

Gin, vinegar and blue cheese. I love strong flavours. I don’t like the taste of water - I like a strong pilsner. I like things that make your face screw up.

What do you love about your customers?

Everyone has their favourite burger. They come in once and try one burger, come in a second time and try another, come in the third time and they go back to one of their first two options. Everyone knows what they like. (Points to a guy in the cafe) This guy here, always orders a Lil' Mike, every time.

How do you deal with special orders?

There are 26 burgers on that menu, surely people can find something they like. I’ll take something out and replace it with something else, but I wont take something out and replace it with two things. Because when it’s busy we are doing a burger a minute. There are three of us in there - one person is doing drinks and milkshakes, one person is doing salads and chips and the other one is doing burgers. So if someone wants to change the burger completely, it is too much. 

What would you have for your Last Supper?

A nice seared tuna on a niçoise salad.

Do you have a favourite junk food?

I love gummy lollies.

Do you have a vivid childhood memory around food?

Mum always encouraged us to cook. I was making spaghetti bolognaise from when I was six years old. Making my lunch from when I was 5.

Where do you like to eat in Wellington?

Maranui - I have a lot of respect for Matt who has really made a name for himself at that place.

What is the future for Ekim?

Global domination. Na, not global, but definitely more around town. We are going to build a couple more vehicles for around town. I don’t want to be just burgers so I want to do a few different things out of different vehicles and bring street vending to Wellington. So that Wellingtonians can enjoy this city for what it is. They aren’t cooped up in a cafe, or if they only have $10 in their pocket they can go out and get simple honest food.

Much like Mike, his orange caravan can be elusive. So it pays to check their Facebook page. They're currently now in a new loctaion on Cuba Street...but you know, like Mike's mood, this is subject to change! s

253 Cuba Street
Wellington