Friday, June 27, 2014

Louisiana ProStart alum takes top honors at Bull Burger Battle

By Wendy Waren, LRA VP of Communications

Grace King High School ProStart® Program alumnus Owen Hohl is making quite a name for himself, most recently with his now award-winning Cajun Burger. Hohl, who is the executive sous chef at Hot Tails Restaurant in New Roads, Louisiana, beat out 15 competitors June 14 at the Bull Outdoor Product’s Bull Burger Challenge in Baton Rouge; some of them much more experienced chefs than he.

Louisiana ProStart alum Owen Hohl wins Bull Outdoor Product's Bull
Burger Challenge in Baton Rouge, June 14 and heads to Las Vegas
in November to compete for the World Burger title. 
The nation’s best burger cooks and chefs squared off in the Bull Burger Battle, a series of five live burger cook-offs events in New York, Baton Rouge, Chicago, San Diego and Indianapolis.

Hohl competed in the 2013 battle and admittedly over thought his burger recipe.

“I baked my own bun, made my own Boursin cheese, grinded my own meat,” Hohl said. “I did everything from scratch.”

With all his efforts though, the judges felt his methods were overly complicated and his bite was too large. This year, he decided to simplify his processes, although his recipe was still multi-faceted. 

“I love making burgers and using ingredients you may not normally associate with a traditional burger, like grilled peaches with Swiss cheese to get that savory and sweet taste on the palate,” said Hohl.

With all the ideas of what burger he’d present to the judges on June 14, he decided to stick with the flavors indicative of his Cajun roots. The winning burger was made with balsamic caramelized onions in Andouille fat, homemade pickled peppers, smoked Gouda and his secret recipe for remoulade sauce. He took in to account his feedback from the previous year and made his patty smaller in size at 5 ounces.

“We had two hours and luckily I made an extra burger for myself, which with 10 minutes left before time was called, I was able to taste,” added Hohl. “I had some extra onions and Andouille left and decided to add more to the burgers for the judges and it paid off.”

Hohl’s score of 87 points placed him well ahead of the other competitors, with the second place coming in five points behind him. Fifty percent of the score was based on taste, 35 was based on execution and 15 for presentation.

As the Baton Rouge Challenge winner, Hohl will compete alongside the winners of the four other battles November 12-18 in the World Burger Championship as part of Team Bull at the World Food Championships in downtown Las Vegas. The wheels in his mind are already turning as the competitors do not have to compete with their original battle burger recipes.

“I may do a seafood burger with a crawfish topping or use pancetta,” said Hohl. “My decision will probably come down to the days right before I leave for Vegas.”

His cooking competition experience dates to 2006, when he was a junior at Grace King High School and first competed in the Louisiana ProStart Student Invitational Culinary Competition, where teams of four Prostart students prepare a four-course, gourmet meal in just one hour. During his senior year, he and his teammates competed in the ProStart Competition and won state and went on to represent Louisiana at the National ProStart Invitational in Charlotte, NC.

“Competing in the ProStart Culinary Competitions really taught me how to manage my time, the process, seasonings and ultimately, present cuisine that I’m proud of and that impress the judges,” he added. “Those ProStart lessons served me well two years ago when I competed in Fete Rouge and I won first place in the seafood category.”

His winning Fete Rouge dish was a white étouffée, made with Louisiana seafood and coconut milk, served over purple Louisiana rice with a side of fried plantains.

When asked what advice he’d give ProStart students and other chefs who want to give it a go in the competition arena, he said, “Stay calm, stick with your plan and don’t second guess yourself.”

Between now and November, Hohl will test countless burger recipes before deciding what he will present to the judges in Las Vegas.

“I’m really excited to have the chance to compete at this level and regardless of whether I win, I’m just looking forward to the experience,” he said. 

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