Santa Feans love green chile cheeseburgers. They are probably the city’s most ubiquitous food; you can find them anywhere from upscale eateries to local outlets of national burger chains. Last Saturday, The City Different’s first Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown was held. Judging from the sell-out crowd, it was a bug success. There were two awards at stake here: Santa Fe Green Chile Cheeseburger Champion selected by a panel of judges and the People’s Taste Award, chosen by attendees. No spoilers here. Just like the people at the Smackdown, you have to wait for the end for the winners (or cheat and scroll down).
They were serious when they choose the five judges; all have great food credentials. Two were local: James Beard Award winning cookbook author Cheryl Jamison, and Ellise Pierce, a cookbook author who just moved to Santa Fe. The other three judges were from around the USA: Michael Bauer, food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle; Cathy Barber, food, travel and lifestyle editor for the Dallas Morning News; and Kate Krader, Restaurant Editor for Food & Wine magazine.
While everyone used a red meat, either beef or buffalo, they could have gone with fish, turkey, yak or lamb. The ground rules were simple: all burgers had to have cheese, New Mexico green chile, and be on the restaurant’s menu through the end of 2014. East entry could serve sliders or full sized burgers quartered, for the event. Six restaurants were chosen from a field of 18 by online voting. People could cast a ballot for their favorite burger once per day for the duration of the voting. The 12 who didn’t garner a spot this way were eligible to be “Lucky Number 7” chosen in two green cheeseburger “crawls”. Carlos Duran host of KOB FM’s Morning Mayhem show made the live “crawls” and chose the winner.
The Contestants and their burgers
Agave Lounge the bar at The Eldorado Hotel & Spa’s Evan Doughty used 100% Angus beef, Hatch green chile, extra sharp cheddar cheese, heirloom tomatoes, Bibb lettuce, and red onion. When asked what makes his burger the best in town, Doughty joked. “Because we cooked it.”
Bert’s Burger Bowl, opened in 1954, introduced the green chile cheeseburger to Santa Fe. Chef Fernando Olea, who owns the funky, mid-century burger stand at 235 North Guadalupe Street made a classic burger because. Olea said that his burgers go back to the roots “the way we love it in New Mexico”. He called his burgers “simple” and said they use only meat, green chile (from Young Guns Farms), and onions. He says that Bert’s Burger Bowl, like Zozobra, is a Santa Fe tradition.
Cowgirl, combined natural beef, and local buffalo ground especially for them for their burger topped with bacon, local heirloom tomatoes, local green chile, brie cheese and truffle oil, and according to Chef Patrick Lambert, “love,”
Luminaria, the restaurant at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, used Lone Mountain Cattle Company’s Wagu beef, for their burger. It was topped with Tucumcari cheddar. Hatch green chile, chipotle mayo and guacamole. Rancher, Robert Estrin, from Golden, NM was at Chef Bret Sparman’s side as he grilled his burgers. Estrin’s comment when asked why this burger should win was, “The beef says it all.”
Real Burger owner and grill master Chef John Chavez says his, burgers are made with fresh, grass fed Angus beef and fresh roasted green chile. He uses Hatch Green Chile all peeled by his Aunt Nancy. They’re served on buttered grilled buns. He says he cooks the burger in a two-stop process. They’re started on a flat-top (which he’s improvised for the event) and finished on the grill. When asked why his entry should win, Chavez says, “It’s the simplest, tastiest, dance in your mouth burger you’ve ever had”.
Terra, the restaurant at Four Season’s Resort Rancho Encantado’s entry was made from local grass-fed beef, Pepper Jack cheese, fire grilled onions, and house-made BBQ sauce (infused with rajas and chipotles). When asked why his burger should win, the restaurant’s personable young Executive Chef Andrew Cooper said “We put a lot of love into it.” He added that he and his team spend hours every single day in the kitchen and have fun doing it. “Playing with food is what we do,” he added with a big smile.
Dr. Field Good’s Kitchen, the newest entry on the Santa Fe dining scene to compete, opened in last spring, was Lucky Number 7. Chef/owner Josh Gerwin. a proponent of sustainable food, says everything in his burger is local. He uses all local products, fresh ground beef, tomatoes from Khalsa Farms near Expañola, green chile from Wagner’s Farm in Coralles, red onions from B & B Farms in La Mesilla, and house-made potato buns baked fresh daily.
The first thing we encountered as we entered the Smackdown space, between the train tracks and Market Street at the north of the Santa Fe Farmers Market Street, was the judging tent. Burger #6 for this blind tasting had just arrived and was about to be cut into portions for the judges by Santa Fe School of Cooking’s Chef de Cuisine, Noe Cano, the official slicer for the day.
We were drawn onward by the scent of smoke from the grills sent up along the way. The crowd of green chile cheeseburger aficionados was in a good mood on this hot late summer day. They waited patiently in line at each booth to get a taste of the chef’s offering. Attendees, who paid $15 per person, each got a card to vote for their favorite; and to vote, you had to taste them all. The card had to be stamped at each stop. At the end, voters put their cards in the box in front of the burger stand they deemed the best. Votes were tabulated by the local accounting firm of Abeyta, Weiner & Cherne, P.C and just like the Academy Awards, placed in a sealed envelope and opened only when Santa Fe Mayor David Coss announced the winners.
The judges chose Real Burger as the winner, but said it was a hard choice. The people went for Cowgirl. Real Burger’s John Chavez won the judge’s award. Chavez said of his win, “It’s incredible. We had such wonderful competitors. It’s a real honor to be one amongst all these guys.” Lambert, a partner in Cowgirl, said about his win, “I feel great, I feel great for everyone, everyone’s a winner.”
Cynthia Delgado of the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau says the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown is about getting the community to come out and share their love for this local dish. “Santa Fe is the capital of the green chile cheeseburger,” she said, “so we have to own it and love it and tell people about it.” She says that tickets for the Smackdown sold out in about 30 minutes.
When asked if she enjoyed being a judge, Cheryl Alters Jamison said, “What could be more fun that getting to judge green chile cheeseburgers?” We agree! Come on out to the 2014 Santa Fe Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown and see what you think.
Read more about green chile cheeseburgers here.