Nelly Buleje, executive chef at Cleveland’s Metropolitan at The 9 hotel, emerged the victor in the inaugural Burger Battle competition held at the 2018 The Mid-America Restaurant Expo. The restaurant-centered trade show, was held January 28-29 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. The Burger Battle was sponsored by the Ohio Beef Council.
According to Buleje, the burger, dubbed The 9, began as a hangover cure that evolved into the hotel’s top-selling hamburger. Its beef patty is stuffed with a combination of Amish gouda and aged cheddar cheeses and topped with a honey-ale-onion “Mapa Sauce,” a fried egg, fried arugula and served on a brioche bun.
“I wasn’t feeling too good one day and I was really craving a good burger to make me feel better,” said the ebullient Buleje. The burger is served with fries and sells for $14. “My sous chef made what, with my collaboration, changed it to what eventually became The 9. She deserves 80 percent of the credit for it.”
Buleje, a cooking contest veteran of 12 years, was one of 10 competitors charged with making the ideal hamburger in 45 minutes. Using a double-blind judging format, each competitor made three duplicate burgers, which were presented to a secret panel of judges. Buleje’s efforts won him the winner-take-all prize of $1,000.
Asked what he plans to do with the cash, Buleje began planning aloud for a three-day weekend “when I’ll travel some and eat at some restaurants. That’s how we learn in this industry: We go to see other parts of the U.S. and learn what everyone else is doing. That keeps chefs fresh.”
In its second year, the Mid-America Restaurant Expo, run by the Ohio Restaurant Association, attracts more than 4,000 experts, exhibitors and operators from throughout the Midwest to discuss the latest trends and topics affecting the restaurant industry. Its exhibit hall showcases the newest equipment and tools created specifically for restaurants, in addition to the most innovative food and beverage products available. Centered on collaborative education, the Expo features more than 50 educational seminars.