Forks in the Road

Burger aficionado George Motz explores how iconic products are ‘Made in America’

September 27, 2011

Best known for his patty-centric documentary, “Hamburger America,” George Motz explores how iconic American foods such as Krispy Kremes are concocted in the Travel Channel’s “Made in America.”

Burger-philes trust George Motz’s tips on where to find primo patties in all 50 states. Now, the filmmaker behind 2005’s documentary “Hamburger America” and the travel guide of the same name ($20, Running Press) brings his appetite to the Travel Channel with “Made in America” (starts Oct. 4, 8 p.m.). The series trails Motz to 39 U.S. factories — including Krispy Kreme’s Greensboro, N.C., flagship and the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Tennessee.

How did you choose the companies featured in “Made in America”?
We were trying to find stuff that was iconic, fun to make and fun to see on camera. We were also going for a very diverse pool of companies. We included everything from Jelly Belly jelly beans to GE aircraft!

Is there any characteristic these products have in common, aside from just being made in the U.S.?
Some of them actually can’t be made anywhere else but in America. That’s a weird common denominator. For example, Tabasco: A lot of flavor comes from the peppers the company grows, but also from the Avery Island, La., salt they use to age the peppers. Jack Daniel’s is all about the water. The Jack Daniel’s distillery [in Lynchburg, Tenn.] actually sits right on top of an aquifer that has some qualities that make great whiskey. If they lost the water, they’d lose the flavor of the whiskey.

Why does it matter if a product is made in America?
Well, to me, there’s a sense that all these jobs are going overseas, which is true. But it’s important to know that a lot of your products are also being made by the country that you support. There’s a lot of pride that you experience when you know that a product is made in America.

What surprised you about the food companies you looked at?
I learned that Tabasco is aged for three years in whiskey barrels; that was amazing. The Jelly Belly factory is the loudest place. It’s got all these hard candies spinning around in all these sugar drums — you’ve got 50 in a room. It’s ear-shattering. And Ghirardelli Chocolates! You’d think those are made overseas because of the name, but they’ve been made in America [in San Francisco] for over 150 years. It’s one of the oldest chocolate makers in the country, and also the only chocolate company in America that sources its own beans.

Did you want to feature any burger-related companies?
No, because we’re actually working on a whole separate, hamburger-based show for the Travel Channel. It’s in production as we speak.

So, why are burgers so popular lately?
It’s the economy. It’s cheap and easy to open a hamburger joint, cheaper than other types of restaurants. Everyone’s riding the coattails of the successful hamburger joint next door. It’s the same as the boom that happened to the Internet 10 years ago. It was the Internet boom then, hamburger boom now.

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Katherine Boyle | September 27, 2011