Build a Better Burger Contest Winners – 2003

Build a Better Burger Contest Winners – 2003

As a test, Sutter Home and co-sponsors California Avocado Commission, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and Tabasco divided the pros from the home cooks by creating a Professional Division. And in co-sponsorship with the United States Potato Board, a Best Potato Side Dish category was added.

The cook-off theme celebrated the 30th anniversary of the invention of White Zinfandel by Sutter Home CEO Bob Trinchero, so the cook-off event team turned back the clock to capture the look and feel of 1973. The staff and contestants wore matching tie-dyed T-shirts. The Judges, all editors of America’s top food magazines, showed up in vintage clothing; James McNair decorated his faded jeans with smiley-face and flower patches, topped it off with one of Sutter Home’s tie-dyed shirts, and carried a fringed leather bag that he’d bought in his New York hippie days in 1972. Peace-sign pendant necklaces were presented to the 500 guests who attended the cook-off, once again a fundraiser for City of Hope’s Breast Cancer treatment programs. An Austin Powers impersonator entertained the crowd and The Dave Martin House Party Band, one of the most sought-after bands in northern California, provided high-energy disco sounds for celebrating and dancing.

Susan Mello, a classical soprano from New York City, returned to the competition for a second try for the prize and hit the high note this time, winning the Grand Prize with her lamb burger inspired by her former Greek neighborhood and the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Chef Justin Ward grabbed the Best Professional Burger prize, while Elaine Sweet, a veteran contester and member of Cooking Contest Central’s Hall of Fame, cooked up the Best Potato Side Dish.

Once again, Chef Jeffrey Starr and his team prepared enough of each competing burger recipe for guests to sample and vote for their choice. Nikki Norman, another veteran contester and member of Cooking Contest Central’s Hall of Fame, was the People’s Choice winner.


James McNair’s staff screened the recipes and a panel of independent food experts assisted him in choosing two finalists from each of five regions for the Build a Better Burger® contest, and one finalist from each region in the Professional Division and the Potato Side Dish competition.

Event Manager

Michele Moline, Event Manager, Trinchero Family Estates


  • Grand Prize: Susan Mello, Jackson Heights, New York – My Big Fat Greco-Inspired Burgers
  • Best Professional Burger: Justin Ward, chef-owner, Harvest Restaurant, Atlanta, Georgia – Andouille-Shrimp Burgers with Creole Honey Mustard
  • People’s Choice Award: Nikki Norman, Milton, Tennessee – Buttered Pecan Buffalo Burgers with Cabernet Cranberries and Herbed Mayonnaise
  • Best Potato Side Dish: Elaine Sweet, Dallas, Texas – Really Red Jackets with Tomato Chevre Gratin

Other Finalists

Build a Better Burger®:

  • Margee Berry, White Salmon, Washington – Noteworthy Northwest Burgers with Reved Up Raspberry Ketchup
  • Loanne Chiu, Fort Worth, Texas – Indian Masala Burgers with Cucumber Raita
  • John Hanrahan, Winlock, Washington – Bahn Mi Burgers
  • Karyn Hentz, Arlington, Virginia – Kokomo Burgers
  • Daniel Howard, Lockport, Illinois – Guava Jack Burgers with Roasted Pepper and Avocado Salsa
  • Jay Kakuk, Plymouth, Minnesota – The Cobb
  • Mary Beth Harris Murphree, Tyler, Texas – 3 Times the Garlic, 3 Times the Flavor Burgers!
  • Peter Thomas, West Hartford, Connecticut – 321 Hamburgers

Professional Division:

  • Harry Crane, Executive Chef, Kraft Foodservice, Glenview, Illinois – Machego Melt with Chipotle Avocado Aioli
  • Craig Priebe, Executive Chef, Henry Crown and Company, Glen Ellyn, Illinois – Double Blue Berry Burgers
  • Fred Ramos, Printer’s Row Restaurant, Chicago, Illinois – Venison Burgers with Tabasco Chipotle Mayonnaise
  • Howie Velie, C.E.C., Charlottesville, Virginia – Grilled Buffalo Chicken Burgers with Fresh Bleu Cheese Dressing on a Cornduster Kaiser

Potato Side Dish:

  • Liz Barclay, Annapolis, Maryland – Hot Potato Tort
  • Lillian Julow, Gainesville, Florida – Baker’s Potato Pie
  • Carole Resnick, Cleveland, Ohio – Mushroom, Artichoke, Roasted Pepper, and Olive Tart in a Crispy Potato Crust
  • Douglas Root, Kennewick, Washington – Chipotle Potato Salad


James McNair, Head Judge
Martha Holmberg
Ellen Koteff
Krista Montgomery
Susan Spungen
Tina Ujlaki
John Zehnder

Build a Better Burger Contest Winners - 2002

Build a Better Burger

Build a Better Burger Contest Winners - 2002