Kick Off Burger Mondays with Jen Beckman, 2011 Winner!
Every Monday, we'll be highlighting what's been going on with Sutter Home Build a Better Burger. Last week, we announced the finalists who will be coming to Napa Valley on May 18 to compete for our beef grand prize of $100,000 and our alternative grand prize of $15,000. From now through Summer 2013, we'll be talking all about burgers on Mondays and Thursdays! Today's blog post is from our 2011 Beef Grand Prize Winner, Jen Beckman. Jen gives you an insider's look at the process, how it was to enter and tips on how to prep your recipe for entry starting April 1, 2013. Remember, California residents are allowed to enter this year's contest! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Getting to the Burger Build Guest Blogger: Jen Beckman Sutter Home announced this year's finalists for the Build a Better Burger competition last week. Reading over their recipes, with my mouth watering, I was struck by the incredible flavor combinations on display. Tahini-Pistachio mayonnaise. Bloody Mary Sofrito. Nuggets of Spam in a gochujang-glazed beef burger...and lots of crispy, salty fried elements. It looks like a great year for burgers! But these finalists were chosen from a pool of thousands of burger hopefuls, many of whom came up with burgers just as succulent and drool-worthy as the chosen ten. James McNair and his intrepid team of testers and tasters had the task of choosing the finalists from the masses. I have no insider information about how he accomplishes this, but from my multiple experiences not being selected, and my single experience of making the cut, I offer this advice to the 2013 hopefuls: Brainstorm a combination that is new, but still familiar. Rather than just piling a bunch of out-there ingredients on your burger, go for a concept. This year's contest features “concept” burgers inspired by favorite meals, taken to a new level. Two use breakfasty, brunchy flavors to tell the judges what they are tasting. Two lamb burgers each draw flavor profiles from lamb-loving regions of the world. The flavors make sense together, even without taking a bite. Each of the finalist burgers makes sense, just with a read-through. Test! Once you submit your entry, it is set in stone. You can't add a little extra mayo to make your chunky sauce stick together, or throw in a few dashes of hot sauce to perk things up. I am really good at tasting things in my head, but I had to actually test early versions of my winning burger last year to realize that the acidity of a fried green tomato wasn't enough to offset the richness of the sweet corn cheese mixture, and that I needed some vinegar in there. Hey there, fried pickle! The stakes are high at BBB, so the applicant pool works hard. You need to, as well. Sell it, right from the beginning. Watching a re-run broadcast of a BBB competition on Food Network, I was struck by how 2006 winner Camilla Saulsbury told a story when presenting her Born in Berkeley Burgers. She sold her burger to the judges with her tale of going to the Cheese Board Collective with her father, and of the Meyer lemons that grew in her neighborhood. 2001 winner Kristine Snyder cheekily wrote a wine-sipping step into her recipes. So when I sent in my entry, I told the judges how my Screen Porch Burger was inspired by lazy evenings at my parent's farm, eating just-picked vegetables in a headnote at the top of the recipe. And I tried to bring that engaging style that had worked for past winners to the judges' table, at the competition. Many of this year's finalists have started their own “sell,” sending us to ethnic enclaves and imagined parties with their flavors and their words. There is no single path to the finalist's circle, but neither is it pure luck of the draw. Taking the time to refine your entry from a great idea to a tight concept, well tested, and well packaged for the judges will go a long way in improving your chances of experiencing the high-stakes wine and burger spectacular that is the Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Competition.