I always love the Burger Bash, and though this year I missed my little sister (Whoopi Goldberg subbed in as host because of a scheduling conflict) it was still pretty great.
For some reason, one I haven’t been able to easily fathom, I haven’t been invited to judge the even tin recent years. But that only gives me greater freedom to survey the state of the burger as represented here. It’s true that the event is highly New York-centric: some of the most celebrated hamburgers in the US aren’t here. And some of the best ones from past years didn’t come back: I especially missed the monumental El Doble, a towering confection of aged beef and raw sheep’s-milk cheese created by Alex Raij of Txikito. My love of that burger was the exception rather than the rule, though. Burgers at the Bash tend to fall into one of three categories. There are the baroque thought-bombs, chefly creations that baffle the senses even of their creators, and which frequently include such ingredients as spanish ham fat and kim chee. There are the back-to-basics burgers, which invariably feature soft white or potato buns, American cheese, and either bacon or the dreaded lettuce / tomato combo, but often elevatyed in some way (aged beef, arugula instead of lettuce, etc.) A third apporach is a kind of hybrid, in which the traditional elements are all there, but boosted with some kind of left-field topping, like the pastrami that Michael Symon plopped on top to win the Miami event last year, or the pulled pork Daniel Boulud put on his DBGB burger. I know these sound bad, and they usually are, but they can be pretty great. The DBGB “piggy” is just much, much better than it should be.
The burgers were uniformly excellent at the burger bash, with only a few chefs turning in stinkers. But the problem was in eating the same burgers, over and over. Unless you are as high as Wavy Gravy, I can’t see how anybody could be hungry enough to enjoy a seventh burger after having just eaten six. And yet we keep doing it. Because the idea of having so many chefs - real chefs, not corporate chefs or hotel chefs or QSR operations guys - doing burgers is just electrifying. But I would recommend a few changes to make the event better.
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1. Bring in the best burgers from around the country! There are some great ones that never make it to New York, and the New York burger bash should be the mother of all hamburger contests. Who wouldn’t want to try some of the celebreated out of town burgers, such as those from The Father’s Office in Santa Monica, Le Tub in Hollywood Florida, or the mighty In-and-Out burger with its cult following? This is a no-brainer to me.
2. Limit the number of traditional burgers. This is a hard one for me to suggest, since I am totally against any form of innovation or creativity when it comes to burgers, but this event, for all its greatness, has become somewhat homogeneous. It goes without saying that no hamburger will ever win that doesn’t have American cheese and a squishy bun, so create an award for a “gourmet” or “specialty” burger. And divide up the field between the two.
3. Don’t give out cut-up burgers. A hamburger is not a pizza. You’re not supposed to start it from the inside. You’re supposed to get that first bite from the edge, where both bun and beef are crusty - not their eviscerated interiors. Just make the burger smaller. Everybody’s only going to eat a bite anyway.
4. Bring back Josh Ozersky as a judge! Nobody loves the Burger Bash more.