It’s for the children.
Think about those four words for a minute. How different would our community be, or society in general, if everything we worked for was to support those four simple words. On June 15, the first annual Northwest Burger Jam was held specifically for that reason.
The event was co-created by Yakima’s own Fat Pastor, aka Shawn Niles. His team participated in the World Burger Championship in 2018 and took 22nd place out of 500 competitors from across the globe. Over the course of the last year, three burger events were held at Cowiche Creek Brewing Co., where owner Derrick Nordberg expected dozens to attend. When hundreds flocked to his door instead, the concept for Burger Jam was born.
But what would the purpose of the event be? Surely there should be a beneficiary of such an endeavor. Nordberg remembered the students from Urban Kitchen, a culinary class for Yakima youth seeking confidence and experience, that was co-created by Niles. The students helped serve food at one of the previous burger events and Nordberg and Niles agreed that program should receive all the proceeds.
The Fat Pastor Productions crew, along with the brewery and numerous volunteers, went to work on developing an event similar to what they had participated in last fall. They planned for participants, but it’s difficult to cook for judges and the masses at the same time. They searched for additional food vendors to feed those gathered in the park-like setting in Cowiche.
The burger championship was not Niles’ first foray into culinary competition. He made it to the top 40 chefs in season eight of Gordon Ramsay’s television show, “Master Chef.” There he developed a lasting friendship with multiple competitors, none more so than Yachecia Holston.
Niles and Holston beat out tens of thousands of competitors to get onto the show. But beyond their cooking prowess, the two also shared a passion for the pulpit. Niles is pastor of Dad’s House Church in Yakima while Holston is a minister at a church in Detroit. Niles convinced Holston to visit the Valley, for the third time since the show, and also brought fellow contestant Mike Newton on board. The Master Chef competitors would serve as a draw for a VIP experience as well as judging.
With the plans in place, the group secured three dozen volunteers, which included past Urban Kitchen students, to help keep the event running smoothly. Approximately 800 people turned out for burgers, brews, live music and a perfect day of Yakima Valley sunshine.
The competition consisted of two judged heats; a signature burger and a Northwest-inspired burger. Competitors used such ingredients as guacamole, cheese zombie buns, salmon, cheddar soaked in espresso and beer, and aioli. The amusing part of the last ingredient is that chef Newton, a rancher from Texas, stated before he saw the burger, “I don’t know any cowboys that eat aioli.”
In the end, Oscar Sanchez from Scratch the Plate won the $1,000 top prize with a combo that included his adobada burger, which consisted of a sriracha/cilantro sauce, a tomatillo/avocado sauce, and a grilled pineapple on a chorizo and grass-fed beef patty on a homemade roll. Nier the Nook won the people’s choice award with a brisket and pork belly burger served on a brioche bun with bacon jam, Gorgonzola cheese, arugula and red onion.
I asked Niles in the heat of the event if it was going as he planned. He said, “It’s hard to tell with your head down, but I think it’s the best Father’s Day event I could have imagined. This is what’s transforming our community — all these people who came out to support Urban Kitchen. It’s humbling.”
Nordberg had a similar sentiment: “I love creating something over the top, which this is. And I love supporting something like Urban Kitchen.”
While the exact figures are still being tabulated as of this writing, they anticipate reaching their goal of $5,000 for Urban Kitchen, which this session is hosting 15 youths under the age of 18 — its largest class.
Who knows, next year’s competition might just include some of the students who benefited from this year’s event. So, mark your smartphone calendars: the next Burger Fest is tentatively set for June 13, 2020.