Wayyy back when, in mid-October, I had the final round of the Build a Better Burger Competition. Spoiler: I didn’t win, but it was really fun.
We flew home on a red-eye so I could be at a 9am meeting at work for a big event. Phew. It was such a whirlwind trip but I’m so grateful Mr. J and I got a getaway! I last went to wine country circa 2007 maybe? Mr. J hadn’t been and is now more into wine! Yay!
After wining the regional one in Boston, they didn’t immediately share a date for the finals (which I thought they mustttt have since it ended up being just 6 weeks later). I was really hoping it wouldn’t conflict with a big work event weekend. I ended up getting the flights & hotel stay, early and we left early, to get me back in time. The regional one was structured differently than the finals so I was always trying to nail-down details. Thankfully stars aligned for grandparents to babysit, availability at the kennel and time off work to get us to Napa!
Tuesday: Mr. J and I arrived in SF and drive out to our super cute hotel in St. Helena: Wydown Hotel. St. Helena is adorable! We popped over to Sterling Vineyard for a self-guided tastings and an aerial tram. It was fun but not the best intro to vineyards. It was a good chance to taste a few wines and to walk around at our own pace and see their vineyards from a gondola- after a day of flying and then a 2 hour car drive. We had dinner in Napa to stay up and adjust ourselves to the time difference.
Wednesday: We got up (early for wine country standards) and went out to see the redwoods about an hour away. It was awe-astounding and great to hike around for a few hours. Back in wine country and we grabbed lunch at Gotts Roadside and then we did a tasting at V. Sattui Winery. It was fantastic to have choices in what we wanted to try! I had a meeting with the other contestants to proof our ingredients and before a welcome dinner for the contestants and guests at the winery. The food was to-die for and it was so wonderful to really get to know the others in the competition.
Thursday: Competition day! I was all nerves. I took a walk and tried to just be ready. The 5 contestants had staggered start times alphabetically by last name. I was 4th! I had to present each of the six judges with half a burger in 60 minutes. Mr. J really tried to keep me calm. I was so nervous!
There was so much time- kind of too much time since the fried egg really had to be last. This round, they had to be sliced which was my biggest stressor. I was physically shaking for the last 10 minutes. Presenting to the judges was much easier than the final few minutes of cook time! The judges seemed to have really positive reactions for me. Their suggestions included toasting my burger buns and another suggested using a really Parisian stinky cheese. I’ll definitely take the note to toast the bun- I’m not into stinky cheese so I’ll stick with the swiss- or boursin would be good too!
We cooked for the judges, and the culinary staff made our burgers for the attendees. Here was mine! Mr. J got to taste all the burgers.
The woman who won was ecstatic. She was lovely and I’m sure she was genuinely thrilled. Originally we thought we’d hear 3rd place, 2nd place, and the winner but they just announced the winner. It was tough because with so few, we each felt like we could have won. I know it is subjective and what chefs/culinary professionals choose might not be what the average person wants. I was disappointed not to win and exhausted. I guess we can each assume we were each almost the winner.
Then we headed to the airport and flew home on our first red-eye! Phew!
I did love doing it (though I’m tough on events that aren’t seamless – I’m lookin’ at you regional round! I wanted dates! I wanted details!) but I wouldn’t enter the contest circuit all the time. The stress and anxiety is real! The prize absolutely made it worth it and Mr. J and I would absolutely not have had a trip away without the competition. I literally entered hoping to maybe get some free wine out of the deal so I’d say I came out on top! I feel proud of what I did- each round I definitely made the best version of my burger I could and pushing myself to do something new.
Enter! Put yourself out there! You never know when you’ll get a trip to wine country when you were hoping for a just some free wine!