Rachael Ray's Burger Bash, part of the NYC Wine & Food Festival, took place last night, and for once the pimple-faced, grease-stained burger geeks became the beautiful people. While Ed and I had full tickets to the event, Adam came along last-minute and got in on a 20-minute press pass, complete with an escort.
Luckily, Ed managed to eventually pull a few strings (AHT is, after all, America's favorite hamburger weblog and anticipated, and indeed helped foster, this veritable burger renaissance that we are enjoying at the moment), and Adam was allowed to stay for the duration of the event, which was fortunate because there was a lot of ground to cover, with almost as many burgers to try as the number of minutes he was originally allotted.
I am sure you will read numerous accounts about all the celebrities who were at the event, but for me the real stars of the show were a handful of burgers and the minds behind them. Meet the burgers, and the burgermeisters, after the jump.
Having said that it was great to see some bona fide celebrity chefs working the grills and griddles themselves such as Adam Perry Lang (Daisy May's), Michael Lomonaco (Porterhouse), Laurent Tourondel (the BLT empire) and Tom Colicchio (Craft).
Even Al Roker got in on the act flipping burgers himself over a merciless flame. But I found the top three burgers came not from celebrity chefs but from two places that are well known to AHT readers—Shake Shack (Randy Garutti) and White Manna, as well as the Eater.com-backed upstart team of "Chef Jeff" Schwartz and Mo Koyfman.
While most of the beef used was furnished by Allen Brothers, I felt it was no coincidence that two of my top three picks used custom blends from Pat La Frieda, the gold standard when it comes to burgers.
Now I should state for the record that I am a big proponent of a basic griddle-cooked burger served on either a generic squishy bun or a potato roll with American cheese so it was no coincidence that White Manna was my first destination and served as a barometer for the orgy of beef that was to come. Truth be told the burgers that Ronny Cohen of White Manna was turning out were not the equal of what you get in his Hackensack, New Jersey, location—different griddle, different beef—but I still found them a delight. Mark Pastore, vice president of Pat La Frieda Meat, scratched his head when I lavished praise upon the little sliders. "It just tastes like a roadside burger," he commented.
"Exactly" I retorted.
Of course the burger that Pat La Frieda produces for Shake Shack was utterly superb. It lost none of it luster by crossing the East River, Randy Garutti and his crew turned out a burger that tasted identical to the one they serve in Madison Square Park.
If I was enthusiastic about those burgers, I found the more elaborate offerings of some of the more renowned chefs less than stellar. I am not going to get into specifics because the circumstances were not ideal and the resulting burgers not necessarily indicative of what one would get at the actual restaurants, but bun malfunction and beef obfuscation was prevalent.
Ed Levine laughed when we grabbed a fancy-pants burger that was served on brioche, and I said that I hated it even before I tasted it—and that I should be barred from ever reviewing a brioche based burger again, so abhorrent do I find the sugary bread.
All in all it was a hugely entertaining evening. The burgers, wine, and beer flowed freely and it was great to meet (or should that be meat?) up with a veritable who's who of the hamburger world in New York and beyond. It was also a real treat to be able to eat two of my favorite burgers—Shake Shack and White Manna—together.
I would love to see this event grow to the point were we will see burgers from across America competing in a similar fashion to a barbecue competition.
Or maybe AHT should sponsor a national burger cook off. What do you guys think?