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These burger-and-cheese sandwiches were part of the Burger Bash at the annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival held by the Food Network.
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These burger-and-cheese sandwiches were part of the Burger Bash at the annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival held by the Food Network.

SoBe it: Fest features burgers

By Marialisa Calta

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Haven’t been to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival? Me neither.

Chef Anthony Bourdain calls the festival “the combination Woodstock, Sundance, Cannes and Altamont of the food world.” Emeril Lagasse calls it “spring break for chefs.” It’s a gathering of 50,000 people on Miami’s legendary South Beach (SoBe), where chefs are rock stars and the champagne flows. It’s nice to know it benefits culinary education ($10 million raised for the Southern Wine and Spirits Beverage Center and Florida International University’s School of Hospitality). It’s also nice to know that stay-at-homes like us can get a taste of the fabulousness through the new “Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook” by Lee Brian Schrager (Clarkson Potter, 2010).

Bourdain, author of the acclaimed (and amazing) “Kitchen Confidential,” employs his macho, tell-all style in the forward to the book, writing about past festival exploits: spotting British chef Nigella Lawson at 4 a.m. at a “divey” club, “offering me cheese and charcuterie — and cigarettes,” and watching superchef Eric Ripert breast-stroking across the hotel pool “careful not to get his hair wet.” He also writes of a carload of “badly behaved chefs” — Mario Batali, Jamie Oliver, Mark Ladner, Adam Perry Lang and himself (of course) — “on our way to ... a rooftop cocktail party? The Club Deuce? The Versace mansion? To play capture the flag on the beach? ... It could have been any or all of them.”

For all of its spring break vibe, this book actually manages to give the home cook many useful recipes, plus a jolt of adrenaline that you may find refreshing if the “party” has gone out of your cooking. All hail to Schrager, the founder of the festival, for corralling these divas into anteing up workable recipes. It wasn’t easy, he writes. One chef submitted a “simple” recipe calling for lobster stock, Dungeness crab, sea-urchin roe and gelatin sheets. Another called for 35 ingredients. These did not make it into the book.

Former “Top Chef” host Katie Lee cooked up a burger recipe as part of the SoBe festival’s Burger Bash, started by Schrager and food personality Rachael Ray. Lee’s concoction won a prize at the New York iteration of the Wine & Food Festival but won nothing at the South Beach venue.

“Still, I had tons of fun,” she writes. Which seems to be the point of this wild foodie extravaganza (Feb. 24 to Feb. 27 this year).

——— MAIN DISH Logan County Hamburgers 1 pound 85 per-cent lean ground beef 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, half grated and half sliced thin 1 large egg, lightly beaten 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper One-quarter tea-spoon garlic powder 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 12 slices white bread 12 slices American cheese (optional) Ketchup, mustard and pickles (optional, for serving) In a medium bowl, combine the beef, grated onion, egg, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Form into six thin patties. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the patties for about three minutes per side or until browned and cooked to taste. Remove from the pan, and place on a paper-towel-lined plate. Drain the grease from the skillet. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place six slices, butter-side down, in the skillet. Top each with a slice of cheese (if using), sliced onion and a burger patty. Top with remaining cheese (if using) and final slice of bread, butter-side up. Cook for about two minutes per side, or until golden brown. Remove from the heat, and serve with ketchup, mustard and pickles. Yields six servings.

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