Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 6:22 a.m.
The beautiful people converged on the Four Seasons Resort Saturday afternoon for the Palm Beach Food and Wine Festival's "Burgers by the Beach" event, and I had a great time with all of them. 5 "celebrity chefs" (they hate that term) grilled up some killer signature burgers and sliders for the masses, served up alongside plenty of good beer and booze. Palm Beach's finest day drinkers made their way over for this one, and got pretty loose once the heat of the afternoon set in. No worries, the beach and gorgeous pool was just a stone's throw away. Let's eat!
I arrived early, of course, and surveyed the scene on this stunning winter's day. This was a well choreographed event (aren't they all), and I was amused at all of the activity and preparations required for the immense task at hand of....GRILLING MEAT OVER OPEN FLAME! Seriously folks, we are eating burgers here, the quintessential American dish, meant to be enjoyed in flip flops and t shirts in the comfort of one's own backyard, but it wouldn't be Palm Beach without the white tablecloth setting and champagne flutes close at hand.
Each chef had his own grill, a standard Brinkman model found at any Home Depot, and a sous chef or two in charge of prepping ingredients, and flippin' burgers, when said celebrity chef had to step away for an interview. The first chef I met was Jeff Mauro, of the Food Network shows "$24 in 24" (hours) and "Sandwich King." His patty melt, "the best ever" was pretty damn good. Creekstone Farms beef, swiss, jalapenos, and thousand island on marble rye toast was definitely a crowd pleaser.
Next up was Chef Robert Irvine, of "Restaurant Impossible" with his pimento cheeseburger sliders with pork belly. As much about the personality as the food, Chef Irvine arrived with no less than 6 assistant chefs in tow, as well as his trademark bulging triceps testing the sleeves of his chef whites. He gave a quick but informative lecture on sous-vide cookery, then topped his sliders with an egg cooked slowly in that classic slow style.
As the afternoon wore on, fortified by gourmet burgers and Palm beer, house music thumping through the poolside oasis, aviator adorned islanders milling about, I noticed a guy take a big bite of his burger, and drip a load of grease all over his $700 shirt. Instead of the embarrassed run to the restroom I expected to see, he and his girlfriend laughed it off and took another bite. This was a laid back group. Through the crowd I said hello to Chef Daniel Boulud, who enjoyed Four Seasons Resort's chef Darryl Moile's entry, a decadent lobster topped burger, and also paid respects to the head chef of Buccan Clay Conley, seen casually mingling with his customers, the island's most high profile diners.
The MC of the event was Marc Summers, who introduced the chefs to the crowd and touted their many accomplishments. Mr. Summers spent his time floating through the crowd, taking a million photos, and even snagging an awesome looking little boat of garlic fries when he thought nobody was watching, which wound their way via waiter's tray to the many hungry snackers, along with sweet potato tater tots, the perfect accompaniment to the perfect burger. At one point a waiter passed around a plate of what looked at first glance to be crab cakes, but turned out to "lentil cakes" to everyone's dismay, turning into one of the day's funny moments.
Chef Fabio Viviani, of Top Chef season 5, presented his entry, a prime beef shortrib burger which was fantastic, and I finished with Top Chef season 7 winner Kevin Sbraga's Za'atar lamb slider, the absolute highlight for me. Juicy ground lamb, roasted red pepper, mint, fresh dill, and a pickled cucumber on a Martin's potato roll brushed with yogurt. Amazing. Plus, I found it cool that half of the entries were served on Martin's, which you can pick up for about three dollars a pack at Publix. They are the best.
After I had schmoozed my way around the grounds and ate my fill, I sat in a shady spot and did some people watching. Not once, not twice, but EIGHT times a waiter came over to offer me dessert, ridiculous looking ice cream cookie "burgers" that I had to pass up. I couldn't do it. Besides, I had a long afternoon of napping and writing to catch up on. See you next year-