Burger Bash Sneak Peek at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach

As the host chef of South Beach Wine & Food Festival's Burger Bash, Thomas Connell has a leg up on the competition. Not only are all of the 27 burgers in contention prepared on-site at his kitchen at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach, but he also helps the contestants with their culinary needs. As the executive chef of the hotel, Connell has participated in the Burger Bash since its inception four years ago. His previous entries were a tempura burger, pretzel burger and empanada burger.

Photos by Jacquelynn D. Powers
Chef Thomas Connell's mise en place for the Burger Bash.
​This year Connell is creating another variation on the traditional burger. Next Thursday he will be preparing a mini burger on a gougere bun with Gruyere cheese fondue. The patty mix is fifty percent beef short rib and fifty percent beef shoulder, which makes for a juicy two-ounce burger. The gougere bun is a traditional puff pastry with Gruyere cheese and topped with sesame seeds. There are fresh tomatoes, turmeric pickles, red wine pickled onions and baby iceberg lettuce. The crowning feature is the Gruyere cheese fondue, which has hints of onion, white wine and thyme. What was his inspiration for this French-themed burger? "Food talks to you," Thomas says. "I stare at the cooler at night. The concept just came to me. It's interesting, and it's still in the burger ballpark."

Chefs are also asked to whip up a burger-friendly accompaniment. Connell's side dish is allumette potato salad, which combines thin French fries, frisee, grain mustard and tarragon. The resulting salad is crunchy and savory. Thomas, along with a staff of six, will plate 2,000 of these dishes next Thursday night for the carnivorous crowd at his hotel. "We are geared toward larger events, so we have a good plan to keep up," he reveals. "Our mise en place is set up before, we mix as we go and just expedite the food."

The two-ounce burgers are 50 percent beef short rib and 50 percent beef shoulder.
While Connell has yet to win the Burger Bash, he feels confident about this year's competition. "I want to beat everybody." That includes Top Chef's Spike Mendelsohn, who snagged the top honor last year, and is competing again this year. However, the real winners are the guests of the Burger Bash, who get to sample all of the gourmet patties.

Chef Connell preparing his potato salad.
Adding Gruyere cheese fondue to the burger.
The Ritz-Carlton South Beach's entry for next week's Burger Bash.
Ritz-Carlton South Beach
1 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach

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