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Katie Lee Joel on the Burger Backlash

Yesterday I had the lovely opportunity of speaking with cookbook author and burger queen Katie Lee Joel over the phone. She was calling from New York City to set the record straight about her Burger Bash win. According to her critics, the Logan County Burger, which won fair and square, is not a burger at all, but rather a popular sandwich known as a patty melt. To find out what the soft-spoken, charming chef had to say,


PartySugar: How did it feel to win the Burger Bash?
Katie Lee Joel:
I was so excited and so surprised! There were so many big New York City chefs who participated that I thought I didn't even have a shot.

But when I noticed that there was more and more buzz around my booth I thought it might happen.

PS: Why do you think your burger won?
I think because it's so simple, that was part of the appeal. It's nostalgic, it reminded people of getting a patty melt. It's easy to eat, easy to hold, and really, who doesn't love the combination of ground beef, melted cheese, and buttered bread?

PS: How did it feel to be the only female participating in the competition?
It was pretty exciting and even more so that I won. Women are really underrepresented in the culinary field, they are still second on the totem pole, so it feels great to change that. And I love some of the burgers that were competing! I eat a BLT burger at least once a week.
PS: Why did you decide to use bread instead of a bun?
My grandma came up with the recipe. She is from Logan County, WV, and didn't have much money. She would make these burgers with very thin patties to make the meat last longer. I grew up eating them and calling them burgers. I love the buttered bread. But honestly, I love a burger any way!

PS: How many burgers did you make that night?
I made 400 burgers cut into quarters. That's 1,600 burgers total. There was five of us doing it. It's actually a really simple recipe for serving a large group. You make all the patties and then you put together the burgers in an assembly line. I always love to cook recipes that you can do ahead.

PS: Critics complain that your burger was not a burger, but a patty melt — what do you have to say to them?
I don't really understand the critics. The burger patty makes it a burger. There were no rules or guidelines that said the burger had to be a specific way or on a specific type of bread. I don't think it was that avant-garde. It's pretty funny because there were a lot more inventive and creative burgers being made, so I don't know why mine caused the controversy!

Actually a lot of the Internet controversy bugged me. People in the food world wanted to be so crappy about it, but that's not what food is about. To me food is about bringing people together, not criticizing each other. It's really getting almost as bad as the fashion industry! I mean at the end of the day, it's just a hamburger.

PS: What’s next for you?
Well now I'm planning for the Burger Bash in South Beach. I have to defend my title! I'm also writing my next cookbook; this one is dinner menu oriented. There will be menus for everyday dinners and menus that can be made on the weekend. But it's still going to be me and my style of cooking like the comfort table.


loveyoulots loveyoulots 8 years
It's looks like a great tasting burger to me and to be the only female congrats.
superfoxml superfoxml 8 years
I like her..I think she's a little derivative, nothing new or special, but she's not bad. I think she won this fair and square also.
soapbox soapbox 8 years
I think the critics are just frustrated. Though I never really looked into this particular burger contest, from the ones I've seen, the contestants really have some out-there ideas. So when someone who just slaps cheese and onions onto a patty between two slices of sliced bread wins, I could only imagine the controversy. A patty melt IS a burger IMO. I think she won fair and square. Simplicity and nostalgia always seem to win in the end.
mlen mlen 8 years
well was it a taste contest? maybe it just tasted better than any other burger there! i don't think she was claiming to be innovative or even claiming her grandma invented it- she's just saying its a recipe she made that she loved to eat. i see nothing wrong with it- she doesn't seem to be trying to claim that she invented something! its just a burger contest lol and lets face it- hers does look yummy!
romes romes 8 years
That's what I said yesterday, that it's a patty melt. I just had one the other day. It's a hamburger patty with grilled onions and melted cheese on grilled rye bread. What a fiasco. She shouldn't have won. Didn't the judges know what she did?
chiefdishwasher chiefdishwasher 8 years
A burger is a burger is a burger....
marinewifey marinewifey 8 years
I love her reply! And that "burger" looks delicious!
tuscanstellina tuscanstellina 8 years
The losers always get bent at the winners. Tough! At least she isn't letting it bother her now that she is gearing up for the South Beach Burger Bash. Good for her. She is going to have tough competition there.
MissyB1984 MissyB1984 8 years
Her critics sound like some serious sore losers
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
everyone always likes to stir up trouble, and honestly, i don't know what the point was for anyone to make a big deal about the burger. i think that it's a great thing, especially since everyone's so health conscious about the amount of bread that they eat - it's playing right into the stomachs of the population right now. i think that she should just keep her head held high!
lylpookie lylpookie 8 years
I made something similar last night for dinner after seeing the post on here. The boyfriend LOVED it. I used pepperjack instead though and served it with a bowl of tomato basil soup. YUM!
bealotus bealotus 8 years
don't care for her, she was a very boring host for top chef season 1, talks like a robot, no emotion or personality.
Liss1 Liss1 8 years
That burger makes my mouth water :drool:
Berlin Berlin 8 years
Sorry but there's no way she should have's a classic patty melt. If she had done something unique with it than perhaps, but she just made a regular patty melt (or burger melt if it makes her happy lol) that you can order from most restaurants. Nothing new or original. I think that's why the critics are very tight about it, b/c she just copied a recipe that is so common and actually won with it. And how audacious to say her grandmother came up with can go to steak and shake and get the same thing lol, and they even do a chicken version:) I mean I grew up with my mom making these...but i never assumed she came up with the grand idea, maybe grandma should have told her lil girl the truth.
Amanda6783 Amanda6783 8 years
CheffCat- Katie used Ground Round and Ground Sirloin at the Burger Bash, I attended and asked her myself. There were other competitors (whom she beat!) who did use Kobe, but Katie used practical, affordable meat.
mswender mswender 8 years
I made the burgers last night and they were delicious!!! I didn't go all the way with white bread cause we don't eat it at all. I have to disagree about top chef though, first Gail has been on the show all of the seasons. Padma replaced Katie Lee Joel and that was a good change. Keep on going Katie, but not back to Top Chef.
gabiushka gabiushka 8 years
She is so pretty by the way.
gabiushka gabiushka 8 years
I gave up after taco salads and 'tamale' pies. This, they can call it whatever they want.
Mesayme Mesayme 8 years
Somehow this reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld's wife's cookbook. Not the same situation of course, but what's with famous men and their cookbook wives? *I had to check, I thought it was his daughter at first.
cheffcatt cheffcatt 8 years
This lovely discussion of homey, simple food, would be a lot more believable if she didn't use Allen Brothers Kobe ground beef which costs well over $10 per pound.... for hamburger.
mannylove mannylove 8 years
I agree...people need to relax, it's just a burger contest..not the nobel peace prize or anything! Besides, I've had many a burger on all different kinds of breads, at the end of the day they're all still burgers in my book - and hers looked delicious!
tlsgirl tlsgirl 8 years
She sounds really sweet and normal, and I agree with her views that food should be about bringing people together.
crystalemily crystalemily 8 years
But, I have to admit, she did win the contest due to a great looking burger - yum!
crystalemily crystalemily 8 years
I've never been a fan of me she made it big due to her marriage. Call me rotten, but it's just my opinion.
ali0420 ali0420 8 years
I thought patty melts were open-faced? Or is that a Northeast/New England thing? What ever you call it, I want one. Now! :)
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