A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from one of the mailing lists that I’m on advertising the Food Network Food and Wine Festival. There were a lot of events, but the one that really caught my eye was the Blue Moon Burger Bash hosted by Rachael Ray. My favorite (mainstream) beer and my favorite celebrity chef? Sold! Well, unfortunately not sold after I saw the ticket price of $300. I gave up on my hopes of attending once I saw that exorbitant price for a night of beer and burgers.
A few days after the initial e-mail, however, I got another e-mail related to the festival. This one was requesting volunteers for each of the events. Unlike other volunteer commitments I’ve had, where they’re happy to take just about anyone they can get, there was a lengthy application that required all kinds of background and personal details. I filled it out, purposely putting the only time I was available as the night of the Burger Bash, and noted in the comments that I was really eager to work at the particular event. I figured it was a long shot, but lo and behold, I received a confirmation e-mail for the event: I was in! I didn’t hold out any hopes of getting to eat the food (I assumed I’d be a server or something), but I thought maybe it would give me a chance to introduce myself to Rachael Ray and tell her what a fan I was.
I arrived for my shift in the afternoon, having left work early to be there at the required time of 4:30pm… only to find that I was basically the only volunteer there. I asked around for my crew leader, and was told that they were around somewhere, and in the meantime just to help out as needed. Spotting the Blue Moon guys setting up a booth right in the middle of everything, I headed over to them to assist with setting out napkins, coasters, and bottle openers. From my career fair volunteer stints back in college, I learned that one of the smartest things you can do as a volunteer is make friends with the people who can give you what you want :)
My crew leader eventually arrived, was impressed with my diligence, and put me in charge of managing the other volunteers. Wow, one hour on the job and I’ve already been promoted! I checked people in for their shifts, handed out t-shirts, and assigned tasks… saving myself what I thought would be the plum job of greeting guests at the door. What better way to meet celebs than to be the first person they see, offering a welcoming smile? To the people I liked the least upon first impression, I assigned the task of wandering around the event, reminding people to vote for their favorite burger, and helping out the contestants/booths as needed. Sounded pretty boring to me!
As it turned out, I had mixed up the roles. Though we had officially been told that we couldn’t eat the food but that maybe at the end we might be able to sneak a bit, the unofficial under-the-table ruling was that you could (and should) sample everything – just try to be inconspicuous and don’t stand in front of the table hogging everything. My job in the front of the house was looking less and less appealing, so after an hour, I headed back and got someone to switch with me. Ah, the joys of being the boss :)
Now for the sampling! There were about 20 booths, each offering some form of slider-sized burger, some form of potato, and some form of drink. Particularly because the food was so heavy, I realized that I was going to get very full very quickly. While I normally hate waste, this time, I gave myself the okay to eat Padma Lakshmi-style (from Top Chef): try one bite, and only eat more if it’s exceptionally good. I got through a lot of food this way, with my favorite presenter being The Spotted Pig (a New York restaurant), who made a very rare beef burger with a chipotle sauce and rosemary-seasoned hand cut steak fries.
Though I was intrigued by the celebrity lure of Bobby Flay’s booth, I wasn’t that impressed with his burger. I probably would have raved about it under any other circumstance, but when faced with an abundance of delectable gourmet burgers, his was just mediocre. I did, however, enjoy the fact that he personally grilled it for me, put it on a plate, and handed it to me – how cool! I snapped a pic with him to commemorate the occasion.
Speaking of celebrity chef personalities, one of the others I recognized was Spike from a former season of Top Chef, who served his burger with a toasted marshmallow milkshake. He had gone all-out with his booth, hiring two cheerleaders to stand in front and pep up the crowd, while handing out “Vote for Spike” buttons. I found it to be a little desperate – none of the other presenters were doing more to drum up support than just serving great food. To me, it just made him come off as an unproven newcomer to the scene, and since I thought his burger ranked with Bobby Flay’s as mediocre compared to the rest, I wasn’t a huge fan.
There was only one burger that I didn’t like though. Katie Lee (never heard of her before?) was serving up a patty melt burger, that seemed to consist of two slices of white Wonder Bread, a thin slice of Kraft Cheddar Singles, and some burger meat, all pressed together into a grilled cheese. Seriously? That was your entry into a best burger competition? I could have made the same thing at home and probably done better by just using better ingredients. Surprisingly enough, when I got home, I discovered that she had won last year with a similar patty melt. Odd.
Unfortunately, after all that tasting, I felt my stomach starting to protest. Perhaps it was time to cut back? I stopped tasting and just started wandering around, trying to walk off the artery-clogging fat that I assumed was making me sick, since I don’t usually eat red meat or rich food. But as the minutes ticked by, the worse I felt, until I had to sit down to keep from doubling over with stomach pain. I was dizzy and sweating now, and it soon became clear that this wasn’t just a case of overeating. After sitting with a bottle of Perrier for a while (I hadn’t even gotten around to trying the Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale yet!), I decided that I probably wasn’t going to get better, and needed to just head home.
I felt really stupid – like everyone would think I had just gorged myself on burgers and that was the reason I was leaving. But leaving, I knew it wasn’t that – I could barely walk, due to the awful pain in my stomach, and I called Boyfriend in tears to let him know I was coming home.
I used my trench coat to hide the fact that I had undone the zipper on my pants, and felt like a flasher in doing so. My pants actually weren’t too tight – I hadn’t blown up like after Thanksgiving dinner – but I just wanted nothing constricting on my body. I spent the subway ride trying my best to get comfortable, and toyed with standing vs sitting (even bending my legs at a 90 degree angle made my stomach feel constrained), but nothing helped. I started walking home, realized I couldn’t even make it that far with my stomach hurting this badly, and headed for Boyfriend’s apartment instead since it was closer. He was on his way home from a work event, and I figured I’d meet him there and then have him take care of me.
Boyfriend’s apartment has two locks, but the top key is this really weird thing that’s hard to duplicate, so I just have a key to the bottom lock and he makes it a point to never lock the top lock… until tonight. For some inexplicable reason, he locked the top lock, and now I couldn’t get in. I was too sick to even walk the few blocks to my apartment, so I settled for crumpling into a heap on the floor in the hallway until he arrived.
Unfortunately, he ended up taking a while, and after 20 minutes, I gave up and started the painful walk home. Of course, when I was exactly halfway home, he made it off the subway and called, so I then had to go all the way back. What luck! I cried the whole story out to him, so by the time I reached him he was all caught up on my stomach woes, and agreed that it was probably food poisoning. Food poisoned by Bobby Flay! Who would have thought?
After getting home to Boyfriend’s, lying down flat, and having him rub my tummy, though, I felt infinitely better. Would I be better still the next day and able to run a marathon? I hoped so!