This weekend's American Food Fun & Family Fair is hunting for the perfect patty
VEGETARIANS will just have to bide their time this weekend while the rest of us in Bangkok relish that most popular of American exports, the burger. The second annual American Food Fun & Family Fair continues through Sunday at CentralWorld, and with it arrives the Great American Burger Competition.
Gifted cooks have been toiling all week to prepare exceptional burgers and side dishes in the hopes of winning a share of “old glory” and cash prizes.
Ten restaurants that specialise in perfect patties are vying for the title in the final round this afternoon. The judges will need well-honed taste buds. Spectators will need huge appetites.
“Last year’s fair and burger competition were a huge success and there’s been great demand for more,” says Sukanya Sirikeratikul, an agricultural marketing specialist at the US Embassy.
“The burger is always one of the first dishes that come to mind when we think of American food. It’s simple, but it can inspire a lot of creativity and also showcases the premium quality of American produce.”
The ready availability of high-quality ingredients everywhere in the world means the burger is no longer considered “junk food”, Sukanya says. It’s now a gourmet item, and – vegans, please skim ahead – can even be healthy. “It’s a fun, affordable food that everyone can enjoy.”
Chefs at the restaurants competing to create Thailand’s Great American Burger of 2016 and its side dishes have been required to use specific ingredients. On the list were apples from Washington (the robust northwestern state, not the US capital), one or more of the 10 cuts of American frozen potatoes, at least one of the seven types of cheese produced in California and, of course, US beef.
The chefs can season the meat beforehand but are permitted no other pre-cooking measures. Once in front of the judges, each has two hours to whip up five sets of burgers and side dishes. Points are awarded for hygiene and safety, taste and texture, creativity and mise en place, which is a French term, oddly enough, that refers to how well they set up beforehand.
The winning burger earns its maker Bt20,000 and the best side dish Bt10,000.
Pat and Ice, the couple who run Paper Butter and the Burger on Phaholyothin Soi 5, have their eyes on the prize this time after coming in second last year to 25 Degrees, one of the restaurants at the Pullman Bangkok Hotel G.
“For us it’s all about creating an easygoing and homey vibe,” says Pat, who developed a love for “outdoor foods” like burgers and other barbecue favourites while living in Australia.
“A burger doesn’t need to be fancy, but the quality has to be there. And our simple-looking burger is made of the best-quality ingredients we can afford to use and served in a friendly, no-frills way.”
The “burger” at Paper Butter and the Burger costs just under Bt200 and is worth not only that but also putting up with the navigation hassles getting there. It’s grilled fresh next to your table and very hearty.
Among the choices, the Very Cheeseburger on a whole-wheat bun is pretty amazing – and filling, it must be mentioned. The thick, juicy patty swims in melted cheddar.
Another one, the Chiang Mai Spicy Burger, was the one that won second prize in the burger competition last year. The northern-style spices and herbs infusing the patty are guaranteed to make your eyes water.
Pat’s keeping mum about his strategy for this weekend, and sounds a little too modest when he allows that it involves “a similar approach to last year”.
Also back for another try in the contest is Mother Trucker, which runs a fleet of roving food trucks and is renowned for its remarkable sauce-making technique.
The original food trucks to hit Bangkok streets choose a location, toss around a few tables and chairs and serve just two types of burgers – beef (Bt180) and pork (Bt150). Both contain a crunchy onion ring, crispy bacon, cheese, rocket leaves and 150 grams of all-natural meat that’s succulent and slightly smoky. But the secret weapon is the savoury and creamy Thousand Islands sauce that’s given an extra twist.
“Burgers tend to be fatty and heavy and you need something to cut the grease – that’s why we came up with this sauce, to balance all the flavours,” explains co-owner Mong.
“ The portions are generous because we want to give value for money, but we don’t compromise on quality. We use a lot of local ingredients to control the cost, but they’re always the freshest we can find.”
New to the competition this year is Jim’s Burger, a two-year-old operation that has three branches in Bangkok and one in Pattaya, each with its own theme, ranging from a street-basketball court to a mock prison.
At the outlet in Yotse, set up to mimic a library, co-owner Maew says the plan is to impress the judges with playfulness, a nod to health and good old American flair.
“The highlight at Jim’s Burger is the bun – original buttermilk, charcoal, spinach and whole-wheat buns, all homemade,” says Maew, who spent a year in Connecticut in the US flipping burgers at both junk-food joints and gourmet restaurants. He came away determined to craft his own burgers. Now, he and his partners are thinking of actually opening a branch in the States.
Priced from Bt180 to Bt360, the choices include the Super BLT Pork Burger, US Kentucky Chicken Burger, the super-sized Apocalypse and, yes, Jim’s Burger. The sandwich that gave the chain its name has a beef patty that’s lean, neat and hearty, perfectly seasoned and expertly charred so it retains the juiciness.
It’s joined on one of those terrific buns by fragrant fried onions and a miniature gherkin, making every bite a little bit of Heaven for burger lovers.
“I’m still developing the recipe for the competition,” Maew says, “but it will be based on our signature Jim’s Burger. As for the side dishes, get ready for some seriously ass-kicking ideas.”
Another contest rookie is Happy Fish Bar & Bistro, located at Asiatique, which has recently gained its own legions of admirers thanks to its massive beef and lamb burgers. The spacious riverfront restaurant has an “underwater world” theme with colourful, cartoon-like marine creatures blowing bubbles in every corner.
While the decor is light-hearted, the Bt320 burgers cannot be taken lightly. Presented with fries on the side, the meat is seasoned with only salt and pepper, grilled over an open fire and popped onto a homemade bun.
“Most people don’t think of lamb as a meat for burgers,” says Apple, the chef and head of marketing. “But lamb is great for grilling and its slight gaminess can be tantalising when combined with the other ingredients in the burger. You’d be surprised how many people who don’t normally like lamb have fallen in love with our lamb burger.”
Also in the running at the Great American Burger Competition are defending champion 25 Degrees, Daniel Thaiger, Smashed Burgers, Full Moon Cafe, Lobster Burger and Hashtag Foodtruck. Regardless of who wins, they’ll all be serving their goodies throughout the three days of the fair.
The exposition has more than 50 booths offering gourmet products from the US. Yogurt Land, Emack & Bolio’s, dairy products from the California Milk Advisory Board, some sensational almonds and other nuts, Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples and a whole gamut of craft beers are among the items ready for sampling and on sale.
- The second annual American Food Fun & Family Fair continues through Sunday in Square C at CentralWorld Plaza, daily from 1pm to 10pm.
- There’s no admission charge.
The finals of the Great American Burger Competition start at 1.30pm today.