As we strolled out of Burger Bash among throngs of 3,500 or so people — “Our largest crowd ever!” gushed host Rachael Ray — a guard asked, “Did you vomit?”
Did we, what? Were we green? Careless with our napkins? Waddling out — overstuffed?
OK, the latter.
Burger Bash, one of the Food Network and Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s signature events on the sands outside Lincoln Road’s Ritz-Carlton on Friday night certainly proved an excuse to overindulge.
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About 30 restaurants showcased their most creative burgers and competed to win top honors from a series of celebrity judges that included music producer Emilio Estefan, sportscaster Jill Martin and Run-D.M.C.’s Rev Run. Chefs also jostled to win the highest honor, a people’s choice award voted on by the folks who spent $250 a ticket to feast on all that meat. Sponsor Heineken Light popped open 10,000 bottles of cold brew to wash it all down, according to Heineken USA communications director Bjorn Trowery.
Twelve votes out of 2,000 cast by the public separated the three finalists — with the two runners-up differentiated by one vote, an incredulous Ray said from the stage.
At the end, JR’s Gourmet Burgers of Miami Springs won the night’s coveted Heineken Light People’s Choice Award. Chef Jesus de la Torre Jr. won for his “That Guy’s Burger,” a beaut featuring a seasoned Angus patty, cream cheese and guava ketchup tucked between two slices of white bread, all wrapped in bacon.
Burger Bash presenter Schweid & Sons’ The Very Best Burger Award went to Little Jack’s Tavern from Charleston, South Carolina, for its slider-sized burger drenched in gooey American cheese and served with herb French fries.
South Florida returned to the winner’s circle with the Red Robin Best of the Bash award going to Tucker Duke’s Lunchbox from Deerfield Beach. The eatery, which also has a Boca Raton location, won for its $13 Marmaduke burger. No mutt, this one. The Marmaduke is a chuck and brisket blend with bacon and fig chutney, melted brie, shaved red onions and arugula served with a side of jalapeño bacon mac and cheese.
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews also announced the winner of its Golden Robin Award. The $10,000 scholarship prize went to The 305 Burger, submitted by Florida International University chemistry major Given Suman. The competition is part of an annual partnership between burger chain Red Robin, the festival and FIU’s Chaplin School.
Suman’s 305 Burger marries a classic American burger with a Cuban sandwich. How’s that? Try a fire-grilled beef patty with melted Swiss cheese, thinly sliced smoked ham and dill pickle chips. Then splash down with mango-infused mustard.
“We served about 1,000 burgers,” Suman, 19, said after the event as he clutched his trophy and oversized check facsimile. A $10,000 scholarship will buy a lot of supplies.
“It’s really exciting and a lot of relief for the next few semesters,” Suman said. “It’s an honor. I’m just a chemistry major and they chose mine and we spent the whole event serving burgers.”
Of course, chemistry is paramount when blending ingredients. And it’s also a bit of what makes Burger Bash such a distinct offering at the festival, according to celebrity judge Estefan.
“Tonight is about bringing Miami together, celebrating the United States, the American dream and different flavors,” Estefan said from the judge’s stand. “This country is about that.”
Mixing and matching. For instance, Quality Meats of Miami Beach offered up a Bacon PB & JJ Burger — as in, peanut butter and jalapeño jelly mingling on meat.
Chef Michael Mina of Pizza & Burger at the Fontainebleau dished up a Cuban Frita treat. This specialty was made of beef, chorizo, smoked paprika, aioli and crispy potato all garnished with a side of chile chicarrones. “Miami in a burger!” said chef partner Adam Sobel.
Successfully navigating the Burger Bash is also what it’s all about. A group of four college buddies, led by April Dojnia from Miami Beach and Tommy Geary from New York, had a strategy all worked out: split up, hit four booths, and then meet in the middle. Each takes a bite of the gathered burgers.
“Saves us time and we try them all,” explained Dojnia. Then the foursome go on a beer run.
Believe it or not, Burger Bash wasn’t all about beef. Chef David Silver of Beyond Meat presented his Beyond Burger, a plant-based protein, at the event.
“People love meat, and they attend Burger Bash because they love the taste and mouth feel of burgers. So this event is really the perfect place for us to share the Beyond Burger,” Silver said of a patty sold at more than 200 Whole Foods Markets nationwide. “Looks, cooks and tastes like a beef burger with the upsides of plant-based protein.”
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