“What time does this bloodbath actually start?” asked a young woman hovering by a grill in the Hamptons’ East End. Flesh was burning and blood cooked as people waited anxiously for the fourth annual en vogue cook-off, The Hamptons Burger Bloodbath, to officially begin. But there were no fisticuffs or knife fights at this year’s culinary mayhem (nor any fellatio mishaps, or accidental snorting of Ajax in the kitchen). Everyone in attendance appeared to be in jubilant-spirits as the event, which has gained serious momentum since it started, began heating up in the August afternoon. “It gets bigger and better every year. We have five great burgers this year,” said Ben Leventhal, managing editor of NBC’s lifestyle content and the host of the afternoon. “It should be interesting to see who wins.” What’s the competition? A simple concept born of simple food: hundreds of free gourmet burgers, four judges, five contestants both local and professional, and nearly two hundred animated guests primed to indulge in some of the finest burger eating on Long Island. All of the contestants were instructed to cook with the same beef, sponsored by Pat LaFrieda, and all were encouraged to customize flavors and add fixings as they saw fit, so long as they hewed to this year’s theme: Beach Burger.
This invite-only feast lasted for several hours and was set on traditional red and white-checked picnic tables that were spread across the spacious lawns of an exclusive summer beach home. Photos snapped, smiles were exchanged, and bottled drinks of every blend were handed out—including the very appropriate sponsor item BluePrint cleansing drink for an after burger colon wash. Everyone here knew everyone’s name (there was only one stranger). A few guests had even gone to grade school together.
By the time the grills were raging, word whipped around the party that the press was floating about, and the crowd became instantly quotable. “I ate so many fucking burgers last summer,” mentioned Joanne Wilson, a blogger who’s been “involved with the internet for years. I write about everything. I’ll write about this event too.” Perhaps she’ll allude to the lack of recycling bins at this year’s party?
One man asked if there was sufficient material to write about. “Are you getting what you need?” he asked. He then filled in the silence with, “I’m sure you’ll get what you need. How many beers deep are you?”
From across the yard, Josh Capon shouted, “I’m starving. Let’s eat already!” Mr. Capon, 2009’s Bloodbath Burger champion and head chef at Lure Fishbar in Soho, believes that a good burger represents”a lot of love and a quality product.” Mr. Leventhal echoed this sentiment, adding his thoughts on what distinguishes one burger from another. “It’s not just the condiments. It’s the intangibles, too. Today should be fun.” The four panel judges sat at a table with a tightly woven crowd eagerly awaiting their response. The lineup included Pat LaFrieda, the supplier of the meat, Kate Krader editor at Food and Wine, Lee Schrager of the Food and Wine Festivals, and the aforementioned Josh Capon. “It’s going to be a difficult choice this year,” added Lee Schrager. But in the end it was house resident Mo Koyfman and his classic American burger that won the competition. The crowd rallied in applause, and he absorbed every bit of their adulation.
His winning treat was responsibly dressed in local tomato, pickle, lettuce, American cheese, ketchup, and Dijon mustard (subtle subversion), all stuffed between a lightly-grilled bun. His intent was to stir up judges and guests’ nostalgia, and ultimately to remind everyone that Americana wins again. But the other burgers had their own unique flavors, too: house resident Cobi Levy (of Charles and the hotly-anticipated tapas spot in the old Beatrice space) concocted a spicy Asian burger; Joe Tremblay of Sag Harbor’s Bay Burger brought out their Bleu cheese Bacon favorite; New York City’s new American restaurant, Whitmans, represented by Larry Kramer and Dan Hartwick, put together a ‘’juicy Lucy” stuffed with pimento cheese; and Westside NYC’s restaurant, bobo, featuring chef Patrick Connolly, unloaded a unique corn-squash spread for their bun.
The attendees continued to discuss their favorite burgers well after the panel doled out its decision. One young woman sparked up a heady conversation about the famous cultural critic Jean Baudrillard. (Perhaps the beef excited her imagination?) She said she found it fascinating how Baudrillard depicted modern American life as merely a series of illusions that will slowly disappear.
As the August light began to fade, the crowd dispersed to various after and after-after parties. Smoke rose up from the smothered coals.