‘Best Burger in Town'

| 22 Feb 2012 | 02:01

Community members help select M-W’s best slider in first cook-off CENTRAL VALLEY - They were not iron chefs, and the judges didn’t have any celebrity status, yet last week’s slider cook-off at Monroe-Woodbury High School was the closest thing to having a Kitchen Stadium in the immediate area. Rainy weather didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the 18 teams from Mary Ann Kostelnik’s three “Food and Nutrition 2” classes. They gathered under the high school’s main entrance portico to dazzle the judges with their unique slider recipes and vie for the self-proclaimed title of “Best Burger in Town.” The slider - that mini-burger with the maxi-taste - has grown in popularity in recent years, offering burger aficionados a mega-bite sized way to satisfy their cravings. The cook-off would give students a chance to prepare sliders for sampling by a select group of people who would decide which recipe is best. And yes, there were even some secret ingredients. “I like competition,” said Kostelnik. “We said we wanted to do something different. When we were wondering what to do, we felt the slider was the easiest thing to do.” Six student teams in each class demonstrated their proficiency creating a recipe, prepping their food for grilling, preparing it, serving it and explaining their choice of ingredients to the judges’ panel. “They could be as creative as they wanted to be,” said Kostelnik. “But they can’t go crazy. I have a budget.” It didn’t matter if these students had future aspirations of becoming professional chefs or not. Everyone has to eat, and in order to do that, knowing how to prepare food is important. “If you run a restaurant,” said Kostelnik, “you prep for the first few hours even before you open the door.” Patrick Westfall, one of the community judges who’s worked at Cosimo’s Brick Oven in Central Valley for 13 years, agreed. “I’ve eaten many hamburgers in my time, so I think I qualify (to judge),” said Westfall. “And I’ve always been in the (restaurant) business. The kids are doing something ‘outside of the box.’ Nice to judge, nice to be asked and nice for the community.” Best laid plans .... The 11:30 a.m. group arrived with aprons, gloves and prepped burgers, and placed their raw sliders on the charcoal grill in numeric team order. And as any seasoned or novice cook knows, sometimes the best made plans fall apart. That means fast and creative thinking is necessary to salvage the meal. In this case, it was quickly determined the coals - which were first placed on the large grill at 8 a.m. that morning - were useless, with only lukewarm ash covering the grill top. So Kostelnik quickly gathered the teams around the grill for an impromptu lesson about trouble shooting: What does one do if a grill goes cold? Put more coals on it and wait? Or seek out another cooking source? How does limited time to get a meal on the table factor into that? And, don’t forget there are hungry people waiting to be served. After listening to students’ suggestions about what to do, the decision was made to take the prepped sliders to the cafeteria’s kitchen to be broiled. “Bag it out,” ordered Kostelnik to her apprentices, and off they went to complete their task. Not your father’s White Castle hamburgers For this session, community judges Sandy Leonard, Town of Monroe supervisor; and John Burke, Town of Woodbury supervisor, would join David Bernsley, the high school’s principal, in sampling and selecting the best team recipe. Understanding how cooking calamities can happen to even the best chefs, they patiently waited to be served, and focused on what they felt their participation represented. “He (Bernsley) wanted to reach out and get the community involved in school events,” said Leonard. “I love burgers. This is a cheat day for me. Plus it’s one heck of way to take time out from the office.” Her Woodbury counterpart agreed. Quickly, the teams returned with their fully cooked selections, and the judges settled in for six different slider tasting options. And, these were not your father’s White Castle hamburgers either. Leonard enjoyed Kitchen 5’s vegetarian option: portabella mushroom with avocado spread. “It was very creative,” she said. “Instead of meat, the mushroom and avocado spread was very different.” Kitchen 4 team’s presentation of its homemade sauce topping got Bernsley’s attention. “You made this sauce homemade?” he said. “That goes a long way. I’m about to burst (from all the food).” In addition to creativity, taste and visual appeal, describing the work done was also important. Secret ingredient “We made it straight from the heart,” said Ryan Manusco, who represented Kitchen 3. “We plotted the perfect formula. George Foreman himself said it was a mean burger.” Manusco described the burger mixture: a Swiss cheese and bacon blend with ground beef featuring oregano, habanera and picante sauces. Don’t forget the secret ingredient: chocolate, yes, chocolate sprinkles. Despite their unique ingredients, Kitchen 3 didn’t win; that honor went to another team in that 11:30 a.m. grouping. Overall, the team consisting of Michelle Burke, Justin Prendergast, Kyle Price and Kristen Walsh from an earlier session won the title “Best Burger in Town.” Kostelnik was happy with the day’s outcome and expects to build on its success. “We modeled this after the food shows on television,” she said. “They learned how to keep coals hot, how to troubleshoot and find alternatives, how to work cooperatively, to use their cutting skills, create a recipe and present the cooked items properly. We’ll do this again.” That was delish .... And the winner of the “Best Burger in Town” is: Kitchen 2 in the 11:45 a.m. class “The Real Deal” slider Ingredients One pound of ground beef, mixed with: One tablespoon of minced onion Two tablespoons of grated cheddar and mozzarella cheese Three slices of minced/chopped cooked bacon A pinch of salt and pepper Add: One lettuce leaf Two slices of tomatoes Three slices of pickles The members of Kitchen 2 in the 11:45 a.m. class are: Michelle Burke Justin Prendergast Kyle Price Kristen Walsh This is great. It teaches life skills. It’s also great to have people from the outside come to the school and pass some small judgment on what students do. It gives us a flavor of what goes on in the school besides just academics.” Woodbury Supervisor John Burke, one of the judges at the Monroe-Woodbury “Best Burger in Town” contest