A New Burger King Emerges Triumphant at SUPERBURGER

This year’s SUPERBURGER wasn’t so much a Burger Bloodbath, as it was formerly known, but more than a few chins were glistening in the mid-afternoon Montauk sun, anointed as they were with plenty of sweet, sweet burger nectar. My chin included. 

Standing in a fenced off section of lawn on Star Island, feet from the Mega Yacht docks of the Montauk Yacht Club, was to be in a microcosm of the perfect summer get-together: lithe, long-legged beauties accompanied bottomless taps of Amstel Light and Amstel Wheat; games of ping (or beer) pong popped up at branded tables; and the pervasive aromas of hot coals suffused with the sizzling scent of ground meat drippings wafted gently through the air. This is how outdoor grilling is meant to be. 

Despite the fact that all were present to witness or to partake in what was to be a competition between masters of the culinary craft, very little about the event carried that charged, emotionally volatile atmosphere that comes with your standard cook-off. All the chefs were focused, no doubt, but affable and genuinely having a great time talking with friends and fans alike. 

“What more could I want?” said a smiling Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly of the West Village’s Fedora. “I’m here with friends, and this is a good balance between work and play. We’re just here to have fun. Winning is just, whatever. It’s not about that.”

Then what was it all about, I found myself asking. Is it just about standing around on a beautiful summer day, pushing yourself to consume as many insanely delicious meat-bun-condiment concoctions within a three-hour period? Well, as it turns out, yeah pretty much.

“The goal is to celebrate summer and have some good burgers,” said event organizer and progenitor Ben Leventhal, who first started the event six summers ago. “It’s a fun thing to bring the best of these great chefs together and watch them do something different. I think this is by far the strongest field we’ve ever had. The average quality of these burgers is very, very high. These are at least eights and nines, all of them.” 

Even head judge Kate Krader from Food & Wine magazine was smitten by the entrees. “So far, three years in, this is the best year ever,” she opined, speaking between bites into a heavily greased microphone.

The tune of the day seemed to be sticking to tradition, with each chef adding at least one personal twist to their creations, ranging from the somewhat simple (bacon grease for Jesse Gerstein and Dan Aldworth) to the innovative (chorizo and refried beans on Alex Stupak’s Mexican Hamburguesa) to the off-the-beaten path (Zak Pelaccio’s Lamb Burger). The judges were apparently looking to see who could best capture the essence of the consummate ‘Beach Burger,’ which the crowd and myself were blissfully unaware of until the very end. 

For my money, the absolute standouts were Pelaccio’s lamb burger (or lamburger, as it is pronounced à la mode Parisien) with Lady Jayne’s barrel-aged worcestershire sauce, sheep’s milk cheese, salted chilies, and aioli; PJ Calapa’s Butterfly Burger, which came straight to Montauk via Texas with French’s yellow mustard, white American cheese, and, hands-down, the best buttery, toasty bun in the game; and Stupak’s La Hamburguesa, a short rib patty with chorizo, refried beans, Chihuahua cheese and lime mayonnaise. 

Alas, I am no burger judge, and those select few saw things differently. Perhaps my judgment was clouded by Momofuku’s Christina Tosi’s Grasshopper Pie with basil mint foam, or merely by the fact I was unable to take one bite of each burger and throw the rest away for fear of hurting feelings or receiving a reprimand for wasting food. But when the judges cast their lot, the cards fell as followed:

Rated on a 100-point scale, with the points awarded as the judges see fit, first place was decided by a margin of only .4 points while third was a mere 1.2 points behind second; margins that are, as judge Josh Capon so eloquently phrased it, "very small numbers.”

Third place with 82 points was last year’s runners-up Jesse Gerstein and Dan Aldworth, one of two amateur groups in the event. Second place came in at 82.4 and was Harold Moore of Commerce.

And the winner of the Amstel Light SUPERBURGER Trophy and a spot in the New York City or Miami Food and Wine Festival was Seamus Mullen of Tertulia with his Hamburguesa Ligeramente Ahumada; a lightly smoked beef burger topped with smoked American cheddar, caramelized onion jam, and nora pepper ketchup. It was, to be sure, a most excellent burger; the first one I sampled, in fact, and more than worthy to bear the savory mantle of SUPERBURGER. 

SUPERBURGER: Burger Battle Royale with Cheese

Eleven chefs have answered the call this year for the sixth annual SUPERBURGER (aka Hamptons Burger Bloodbath) competition at the Montauk Yacht Club this Saturday, and all are in it to win it. For the first time, this formerly invite-only event is selling tickets, giving your average Joe Lunchpail a chance to rub greasy elbows with the cognoscentis of ground chuck and watch as dreams are fulfilled, hopes are dashed, and burgers are eaten.

Headlining the event is Emile Castillo from The Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien, with competitors Seamus Mullen of Tertulia, Zak Pelaccio of the Fatty Crab, PJ Clarke’s Mike Defonzo, Sarah Simmons from City Grit, Harold Moore from Commerce, Alex Stupak of Empellon, Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly of Fedora, and PJ Calapa from Sweet Afton. Also present will be last year’s runner-up Jesse Gerstein, James Ramsey, and Ryan Solien of the Montauk Yacht Club reppin’ the host venue. Last but certainly not least, Momofuku Milk Bar’s own Christina Tosi will be concocting madcap confections for dessert. Sitting in judgment of these aspiring meat Michelangelos will be Pat LaFrieda (owner, LaFrieda Meats), Lee Brian Schrager (founder and director, Food Network South Beach and NYC Wine and Food Festival), Spike Mendelsohn (Good Stuff Eatery, and Top Chef contestant), Kate Krader (restaurant editor, Food & Wine Magazine), and Josh Capon (executive chef, Lure Fishbar and B&B Winepub).

Event sponsor Amstel Light is bringing the beer, Pat LaFrieda’s has the meat, and Tito’s Handmade Vodka will supply the higher octane imbibables. Tickets aren’t cheap, but even at $135 a pop, you’re still getting more high-concept burgers than you can comfortably eat, free drinks, and the chance to be a part of burger history. For tickets, go to eater.com/superburger. We start fasting Thursday.

Industry Insiders: Kimberly Burns, Literary Maven

Sometimes the person who handles the publicity gets to be as noteworthy as the clients she peddles to the public. Enter Kimberly Burns, literary publicist extraordinaire. Mention her name at any literary event or in the hallway of any publishing house and writers cower behind their spectacles — they know getting her to hype their book could land them a coveted spot on the New York Times Bestseller list. In an era when hard copy has evaporated into thin air and settled onto the digital screen like thick condensation, rest assured Burns will make sure that the written word stays in your face.

(‘DiggThis’)How do you go about making a piece of literature something the world wants to know about? I don’t, the authors do, so my job is easy. I’m in the extremely lucky position that I only work with really good writers. They write a good book and all I have to do is call people who I think would be interested and tell them about it. What an easy gig. How’d you get into it? During grad school I was working in a bookstore at night and I realized, “Wow, I enjoy working in the bookstore more than I do anything else.” I starting running an author series at a bookstore in San Francisco. I moved to LA and started to work in film production, which paid a lot of money, but it felt like my brain was turning to mush. So, I called a friend at Knopf’s West Coast office and asked for a job. I loved doing book publicity so I moved to New York to work at Random House. I was a publicist at Random House, Pantheon and the Penguin Press before I set up my own shop in 2003. Who were some of the most exciting authors you represented when you worked at Random House? This is going back a few but Zadie Smith for her book White Teeth because she was at the beginning of a career and you knew it was going to be big. Adam Gopnik for Paris to the Moon, which is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. He is such a maverick writer and that was his first book. Another one was Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald who was with a smaller publisher before going to Random House. This was going to be his big book and it was, then he died in a car crash two months after it came out, so I feel incredibly lucky to have known him and to have helped turn readers on to his books. What about independently? I work for the PEN American Center, which supports writers and is the world’s oldest literary and human rights organization. They are vigorous in their support of freedom of speech and just genuinely awesome people. I help them with their annual World Voices Festival, which brings 160 writers from around the world to New York, so it’s a great opportunity to see how the world thinks. I worked with Salman Rushdie on his last novel, The Enchantress of Florence. A.M Homes wrote a memoir about being adopted called the The Mistress’s DaughterHardball by Sara Paretsky. How do new writers make it today? It is a very difficult time. I know I sound old school saying this but I think the bookstores and the booksellers really matter. They’re on the frontlines. You go into a bookstore and ask what you should read and the independent booksellers will find you something you love that might actually change your life. I also think word of mouth. That’s what happened with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. It got a great front-page review by Jennifer Egan in the New York Times Book Review and everybody in the industry and all the literary people were excited, but my understanding is that when women started recommending it to their friends is when it really took off. And then of course, Oprah didn’t hurt. Any big projects coming up? I’m working on a debut novel that will come out in June called The More I Owe You which is about Elizabeth Bishop’s years in Brazil. She went to Brazil for a two-week vacation, fell in love with a woman and ended up staying 17 years. The story is amazing and the writer just writes beautifully. I’m also working on New Yorker writer Marisa Silver’s new collection of short stories. The Story Prize, which celebrates the year’s best collection of short stories, is an upcoming event I’m doing the PR for. The PEN World Voices Festival again this year. And, get this, I just signed on with Natalie Merchant – her new album is free domain poetry she’s set to music. It’s her first album in seven years and the music PR people will take care of her but I’m going to try to help get attention in literary circles. Books that annoy you? What really bums me out is stuff like Sarah Palin’s book. A huge seller like that could have created the opportunity to draw people into bookstores, where they’d hopefully find other books actually worth reading, but then Amazon and Wal-Mart discount it so severely. Why would you go into a bookstore to get it? The other thing that bothers me is that it’s a product. She didn’t even write it. I bet she hasn’t even read it. It’s all that kind of bullshit publishing that really bums me out, makes a lot of noise, and takes attention that could go to read books. I’m also beyond bored with all the talk about E-readers. It’s just another format to read something in. What is inside the books or what is downloaded onto an E reader — that is the important thing to me. In the end I think all people really want is a good story that’s well told. Go-to places in New York? Sant Ambroeus or Soba-Ya for lunch. John the maitre d’ at Babbo is a big reader so I love it there. Commerce and Pearl Oyster Bar and I love Giorgione in SoHo.

Photo: Richard Koek

New York: Top 10 Oddball Dishes That Work

imageIt all started in the Lower East Side back in 2003 — before the skinny-jeaned hipster invasion — when now-celeb chef Wylie Dufresne opened wd-50. Melding science and food, the molecular gastronomer has since inspired many to experiment. Of course, not everyone’s into mad food science, but most chefs like to get a little edgy somewhere on the menu. ● Cookies @ Momofuku Bakery Milk Bar (East Village) – David Chang could get a vegetarian hooked on pork belly, so imagine what the man’s dessert spot can do with a cookie. Among the most drool-worthy: cornflake-marshmallow-chocolate chip, corn, blueberry cream, and compost cookie (so fabulously odd that the chocolate chip, pretzel, potato chip, coffee ground, and graham-cracker crumb-concoction is trademarked). ● Onion soup dumplings @ Stanton Social (Lower East Side – You’ll just have to focus on its deliciousness and put aside the fact that there’s enough cheese in this dish to give you a cholesterol problem.

● “Ragu with Odd Things” @ Commerce (West Village) – The name says it all. The “odd things” in this hearty, tomato-based dish refer to oxtail, trotters, and tripe. ● Fried apple pie @ Smith’s (Greenwich Village) – We’ve got fried pickles, fried olives, fried asparagus … we’ve even got fried mayonnaise thanks to Wylie Dufresne. So why not apply pie? Plus, it comes with cinnamon whipped cream. ● Solids (edible cocktails) @ Tailor (Soho) – Who wouldn’t want to get a buzz from gin fizz marshmallows, white Russian breakfast cereal, and absinthe gummy bears? ● Foie gras & hibiscus beet borscht gelée with blood orange @ Corton (Tribeca) – The smooth foie gras torchon — encased in a thin layer of hibiscus and beet gelée and served, moon-shaped, with a salad of beet gelée and blood orange — is just one of the many lusciously innovative options at this prix-fixe-only spot. ● Spicy cayenne hot chocolate @ SalonTea (Upper East Side) – In addition to supposedly speeding up your metabolism and improving blood circulation, it aids in digestion; this sure beats the garlic, celery, and beet concoction from the local health store juice bar. ● Frozen desserts @ Fabio Piccolo Fiore (Midtown East) – Anyone who watches Iron Chef on a semi-regular basis knows that nothings gets the judges more excited than ice cream and sorbet experimentations. Taste for yourself what they’re ooing and ahhing about at Fabio where the rotating flavors include fig and honey, cucumber, rosemary, cactus berry, pineapple mint, tomato vanilla, and goat cheese. ● Hamburger spring rolls @ Delicatessen (Soho) – Burger + flaky dough + condiments…could there be a more ingenious combination? ● Eggs benedict @ wd-50 (Lower East Side) – Dufresne has long touted eggs benedict as one of his favorite dishes, so it’s little surprise that his innovative take on the classic stands out: two cubes of deep-fried hollandaise sauce with toasted English muffin crumbs and two columns of egg yolk, each covered with a crispy bacon chip.