Good afternoon, Whitehorse. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves the consumption of novelty burgers at several restaurants around town, and the ingestion of more calories than you’ll care to admit.
You may select as many team members as you like, but it is essential that you complete this mission before the end of August.
Oh, and bring Tums.
This month marks the second annual Yukon Burger Challenge, with six restaurants in and around Whitehorse facing off in a battle to create the most popular specialty burger. From reindeer to scotch eggs to grilled cheese, chefs are busy stuffing everything but the kitchen sink between two burger buns.
Hungry diners can sample as many of the burgers as they have room for until Aug. 31, and can vote for their favourite at any of the restaurants. All voters will have a chance to win a $50 gift card to the restaurant they picked. People can also follow along on social media, using #yxyburgers.
“Whitehorse’s culinary scene is burgeoning,” said Dylan Soo, the competition’s creator and Northern Vision Development’s hotel general manager. “And I thought, ‘Why not have a little fun?’ Bring the locals in, perhaps to restaurants that they’ve never ever been to before. Let the kitchens have some fun creating extraordinary items with no rules and see what happens.”
“No rules” about sums up the burgers on offer this year.
At the Gold Pan Saloon on Main Street, sous chef Blayne Hierlihy is the mastermind behind the Milburn-Toombs burger, inspired by the 1953 blues hit “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer,” recorded by Amos Milburn and Rudy Toombs.
The burger consists of a scotch egg wrapped in breaded bacon and pork belly, glazed with a house-made bourbon barbecue sauce and topped with Bonanza Brown beer-braised mushrooms and onions, all served on a cheese bun.
“I’ve always liked cooking with various spirits,” Hierlihy said. “I find the flavours come out really well and I like that.”
It’s not the easiest burger to make, or to eat. The soft-boiled egg yolk is likely to break if it’s not handled delicately as the patty is built around it.
If it’s done properly, the yolk will burst open on the first bite.
“It’s a bit messy to eat,” Hierlihy acknowledged. But he’s had nothing but positive feedback so far, he said.
Over at the Deck in the Coast High Country Inn, executive chef Brian Smith has largely dispensed with finesse and sophistication in favour of the obscene.
His burger — aptly named “Too Big for Your Britches” — includes two patties made of cold-smoked brisket ground in-house with chorizo sausage meat, Lead Dog barbecue sauce, onions and mushrooms braised in Forty Creek whiskey, a couple of onion rings, some slices of bacon and a grilled cheese sandwich. Yes, that’s right — a grilled cheese sandwich in a burger.
Last year, Smith said, his burger was “a little more innovative,” — a bit like Hierlihy’s.
“It was good, and not nearly as offensive,” he said. “We wanted to go with excess this time. … I wanted to make an actual food challenge for people. Actually make it a real challenge for someone to eat it.”
Smith doesn’t have a lot of tips for how to eat the thing, which looks like it stands about eight inches high. But he said he’s seen people do it in as little as eight minutes.
“They just lean on it, squish it as flat as they can and just start going for it,” he said, adding that it’s fun to watch for the first four bites “and then it quickly turns to shocking.”
Though Smith hasn’t actually eaten one of his own burgers (“I know my limits,” he said), he’s had at least one high-profile customer.
A couple of weeks ago, Premier Darrell Pasloski stopped by the Deck and took the plunge.
“He finished it,” Soo said. “He definitely had the meat sweats, though.”
But both restaurants will be hard-pressed to beat the Klondike Rib & Salmon, the reigning champion from last year. Soo said the Rib & Salmon made about half of the 800 burgers sold during last year’s competition.
This year, the Rib & Salmon is serving up a “Rip Roar’n Rowdy Rudolph” burger — a reindeer burger with smoked cheese curds, shoestring onions, battered pickles and a cherry tomato nose on top.
Earls Restaurant, the Steele Street Restaurant & Lounge in the Westmark Hotel and the Cut Off Restaurant at the Carcross corner on the Alaska Highway are also competing with burgers of their own.
Soo got the idea for the Burger Challenge during a trip to Vancouver a few years ago, where he took part in a poutine challenge between 14 local restaurants.
He hopes the competition will bring more locals out to Whitehorse restaurants. “Hotels are obviously for Outside tourists, but really the restaurants rely on the locals year-round,” he said.
He plans to organize another food competition later this year, maybe focused on pizza or hot dogs. Eventually, he hopes to run three or four food competitions each year.
He’s also planning a long-table dinner at the Yukon Convention Centre in September, which will feature Vancouver chef Trevor Bird and products from a few Yukon farms.
“We’re really going to try and raise the awareness of locally sourced food,” he said.
But for now, the outcome of the 2016 Burger Challenge may end up telling Yukoners something about themselves. Will they choose the gourmet reindeer patty? The innovative scotch egg?
Or will they vote for Smith’s over-the-top, grilled cheese/bacon/onion ring extravaganza?
If that happens, Smith said, “it would then confirm you can feed anything to anybody.”
Your move, Whitehorse. Keep your defibrillators handy.
Contact Maura Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org