The burger scene has been on a high for some years now – Byron has celebrated its 10th birthday, MEATliquor’s Dead Hippie was revealed to be the most ordered Deliveroo dish in London, and US brands are continuing to cross the Atlantic to set up right here in Old Blighty. But how long can this last? According to The NPD Group, the popularity of burgers will lead growth in both visits and consumer spend for the next two years at least. As hosts of the National Burger Awards, naturally, we’re very pleased to hear this.
Such news makes a day of celebrating burgers – and the chefs that create them – all the more worthwhile, and so we welcome the return of the National Burger Awards to the Islington Metal Works in London on Wednesday 21 February 2018, where 16 chefs compete in a live final to be crowned the winner of the best burger. Now in its fourth year, it has truly become an event full of passion, skill, suspense and celebration – not to mention sending everyone home smelling of burgers. With so much anticipation, check out what we’ve got in store for you this year.
Does your meat compete?
This year, the live final will see 16 chefs take part in three timed challenges – to cook their own burger, to cook a technical burger with ingredients provided for them by the event’s sponsors, and to cook a burger with ingredients they will only see 30 minutes beforehand, called the Booker Mystery Box Round, which is sponsored by Booker Wholesale. In the evening, awards will be given out for the Technical Burger, Booker Mystery Box Burger, Chef of the Year, and Burger of the Year, the latter of which will win the grand prize of £1,000.
Chefs previously awarded at the National Burger Awards have represented the likes of Hubbox, Chiquito, Mac & Wild, Lockhouse and Las Iguanas.
“It was a real privilege for us to win the National Burger Awards,” says Glenn Evans, head of food development at Las Iguanas, and National Burger Awards winner 2017. “Our Buenos Aires burger showcases some of the best ingredients and recipes from Argentina combined in one amazing meal. Winning the award really put the burger on the map in terms of a recognised signature dish from Las Iguanas.”
The National Burger Awards gives operators the chance to market and sell an award-winning burger to their customers, so this year’s finalists have it all to look forward to. Judging their creations will be Gourmet Burger Kitchen head of food Tim Molema, Las Iguanas head of food development and last year’s winner Glenn Evans, The Telegraph restaurant critic Kathryn Flett, LADbible presenter Kate Ovens, The Burger List blogger Matt Ester and Casual Dining Magazine editor Tristan O’Hana.
“I’ll be judging the burgers on whether you can still taste the quality of the meat through all of the other toppings and ingredients,” says Ester. “Meat quality is my number one factor when it comes to burgers, and no matter how many toppings you stuff the burger with, I can still tell if it’s not up to scratch. There’s always a new burger joint opening in London, but the best ones are the ones that have taken the time to find the best cut, blends and ageing process. I’ve been working in the world of burgers for four years now and I’m definitely not bored of them yet! It’s still one of the biggest aspects of my life and the thing I am most passionate about. After attending the awards last year as a guest, I am thrilled to be a judge this time round.”
The Technical Burger round will be judged by the sponsors that support the National Burger Awards – Electrolux Professional, Branston, Danish Crown, Farm Frites, Speciality Breads, Arla Pro and Buffalo Trace.
“The National Burger Awards drives innovation in the industry as it promotes stiff competition among the chefs and provides a hub for innovation,” says Lorna Kimberley, head of marketing at Mizkan, which owns Branston. “It’s also a platform to showcase the next generation of flavours and trends directly from the chefs themselves – demonstrating what’s hot now and what’s ahead.“
The National Burger Awards has become recognised for not only showing off the latest in burger creation, but also giving chefs an opportunity to show off their skill, celebrate their industry and meet other like-minded chefs.
“Allowing chefs to come together at events like this not only applauds the talent we have in this country but also allows vital networking,” says Farm Frites UK and Ireland marketing manager Nic Townsend. “Competitions such as this are a really fantastic way for chefs to showcase their skills and gain the recognition they deserve.”
Farm Frites and Mizkan are examples of new and returning supporters of the National Burger Awards, showing the standing that it has in the industry, but also its evolution. The finalists this year may have to do even more to impress on last year.
“We were especially impressed by the enthusiasm and inspiration shown by the finalists,” comments Buffalo Trace marketing manager Tim Giles. “Creating a great burger from scratch is just as challenging as creating a great cocktail, and we saw the same kind of innovation that we see from top bartenders when we run cocktail events.”
“You can have all the creativity in the world, but if you don’t nail the burger basics, chefs will struggle to progress in the challenge and I expect competition to be pretty fierce,” says Speciality Breads managing director Simon Cannell. “I’m looking forward to seeing the attention to detail when it comes to the cooking of the patties, the preparation of our brioche rolls and the organisation of the toppings. It’s the small things that make a big difference to the taste and appearance.”
As well as celebrating burger creation and chef skill, The National Burger Awards looks to observe the standing that burgers now have in the industry. Gourmet and premium burgers are menu highlights across many, many different types of operations, and if they are as key to attracting customers as The NPD Group suggests, then they need to be honoured.
“Burgers are a major part of the restaurant scene,” says Anna Bradbury, head of marketing and communications at Danish Crown. “Research shows burgers are still the number one item on the menu for diners across the country, and diners are still getting excited by new, inventive varieties. From decadent gourmet burgers with melt in the mouth patties and premium toppings, to the ultimate ‘dirty burger’, it’s the signature item on the menu that can really give a restaurant a point of difference.”
“Burgers are the menu staple for the casual dining and pub sector,” adds Arla Foods shopper marketing manager Catriona Mantle. “It’s such a great vehicle for customisation and adding value through different cheeses, sauces or buns. It can hold so many different flavour profiles and it appeals to the masses. Burgers are here to stay.”
The host with the most
You loved him so much last year that the one and only DJ BBQ aka Christian Stevenson (pictured) will return to host the National Burger Awards 2018. This dude has done it all – recipe books, cooking programmes, radio shows and curating the Cutting Room stage for Meatopia – always with a love of food and fun, making him the perfect person to take us through the day and announce the winners in the evening.
“The National Burger Awards is the most tastiest competition in the history of forever,” says Stevenson. “Last year was my first time attending and hosting and I wanted the day to roll into a week-long event. Who doesn’t like a good burger? The awards show off the best of the UK’s burger conjurers! That’s right – these burgers are magical and so are the wizards who create them. It’s an all-day affair of grilling, cooking, assembling, eating, drinking, and partying. I cannot wait for the next one.”
Thinking inside the box
The Booker Mystery Box round returns in 2018 to see whether the finalists can think on their feet. Just 30 minutes before they have to take to their grill, each chef is shown the box of ingredients, including proteins, fruits, vegetables, seasonings, sauces and buns, so they can begin to think of a burger that will not only wow the Booker judges, but can be completed against the clock.
“Booker and Makro are delighted to be sponsoring the National Burger Awards and inspiring innovation in the casual dining arena,” says Booker Group catering and small business managing director Stuart Hyslop. “This round has been specifically created to challenge entrants’ ingenuity, flair and creativity to produce a tasty and memorable dish. We wish all chefs the very best of luck.”
2017’s Booker Mystery Box winner was Christian Stoner from Meat & Shake, who developed a burger inspired by sloppy joes. As the very first winner of this round, he had some simple, sound advice for those taking on the challenge this year.
“Stick with flavour combinations that you know.”
With the box of ingredients remaining a mystery until the final hour, who knows what will be coming off the grills?