Showing up in the middle of a shoot of any kind, I imagine, is a bit like stepping into the middle of a dance floor once everyone is few cocktails deep and has found their respective grove. When I showed at Bar Louie on Milwaukee’s Water St. to help judge which burger would prevail as the best between AJ Bombers and Sobelman’s, the Vandals were at the door, as it where. As I zipped by on my Vepsa, Camille Ford, the Food Wars host was rallying, high fiving and generally whooping up screaming burger enthusiasts from both restaurants at the entrance of Bar Louie. I parked a safe distance away, and after the wildness momentarily, subsided, checked in with the crew at the door.
From the first instant, three things struck me. First, there are a lot of people here, many covered in t-shirts, hats, or whatever proclaiming there conviction about who makes the better burger. Two, the production and equipment sent up in and around the judging table were a great deal more involved then the typical Wisconsin Foodie shoots. Wisconsin Foodie shoots in a documentary style, agility being key. This set up had ladders, soft box lights, monitors, a make-up lady (really, for burgers) and lots and lots of cords and cable. Three, there was the huge copy of the “do NOT tell anyone who wins this thing” contract blown up and taped high on the North wall that everyone in Bar Louie had to sign upon entrance, swearing that they would not leak the winner or loser of the burger contest. In short, these people where freaking serious. My co-judge Josh Ozersky showed up a few minutes later. Josh is a trooper, he had just flown in from Kentucky, where he is researching a book, about the story of Colonel Sanders, and had been shuffled around by airlines since the early morning hours. The amazing thing about Josh, who received a James Beard media award for his book on the history of the burger, is that he remained a good sport, twisted a Norelco travel razor around his face and was ready to shoot. Camille and I caught up. She had done her research on me, watched WI Foodie online, read the 5 questions Andrew Zimmern did with me, in short, knew her stuff. We all took our seats at the judging table, and were off to the judging. What was the contest like?
There was a great deal of shouting by the respective sides of burger devotees. Picture a Madison vs. Michigan game in a close 3rd quarter. Midwesterners that share a lake, a general lifestyle and a weather system, suddenly pitted against each other and all ramped up about it. It was like this “hey, were all from here, we all drive the same streets, shovel the same snow, drink the same beer- but right now, your opinion of who makes the best burger makes me want to throttle you like a rag doll, or, at least shout a lot.” It made me wonder, just for a second, “what if we could get this energy behind fixing our Public Schools, or keeping pesticides off of peaches, or maybe just old ugly guys rich going out with attractive women. In any event, the burgers were brought out, like holy grails turned Breadsmith Buns, Wisconsin Cheese and Ground Beef, and we ate. We did many takes. Lifting the burgers, biting the burgers, reaction shots, et all. In the manner that Olympic hopeful gymnasts practice their routines 1000 times, so as to perfect it for the old. Eating on food shows sometimes feels like that. No complaining here, what so ever, and to that end I had skipped breakfast on purpose, Eventually we had to pick a winner.
If you are reading this, then the show has aired and you know that AJ bombers took home the Food Wars “fork”. I can tell you that Josh, Camile and I all talked candidly afterward, and each of us confessed we expected a sweep by the more classic of the two competitors, but when burgers were bitten into, we all independently arrived at the same conclusions.
So what do you do with guests in town? Well if one is Josh Ozersky you give him directions to several other burger spots, tell him it was truly great working with him, and stay in touch. Then take a minute to marvel privately at his burger dedication. If the guest is Camille Ford, you turn to her and say, “You want to tour the city “? Swell, as she is she says” yes”, we tour, we take in few rounds of Roller Derby, (which she used to compete in back in New York), and then meet some of the crew for dinner. Originally they had requested Three Brothers, an iconic Milwaukee Serbian restaurant. I can’t be sure, but I think in their travels of the Milwaukee, the Schlitz globe on the top of the building caught everyone’s eye. Regrettably we were turned away, sans reservation on a Saturday night, a table just can’t be gotten regardless of what food show crew you are. I placed a call to Hinterland, and called in favor. I figured after a day of burger competition, city tours and Brew City Roller Derby, I would send them to the airport the next day with a meal from a recent James Beard nominee. The group ordered Antelope.
Kyle Cherek – Wisconsin Foodie Host
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