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.