Cook goes from Waukegan firehouse to $100,000 burger competition
By Abby Scalf
Daily Herald Correspondent
Ted Casper has perfected making an unforgettable burger.
Named the Lumberjack, Ted created and has served this burger at the
Waukegan firehouse where he works and helps out in the kitchen. The burger comes packed with pulled pork, bacon, pepper jack cheese and topped with a fried egg.
One day, word spread through the firehouse about a national burger competition, the first Bud & Burgers Championship, organized by Budweiser. His fellow firefighters urged he should enter his burger into the ring.
Never entering a competition before, Ted admits he was hesitant at first.
"It was more at the encouragement of my friends at the station, saying you really should," he said. "This is the first contest I've ever entered for cooking. I was a little nervous."
Thanks to the urging of his friends, Ted will bring his Lumberjack to the competition finale July 11 in St. Louis where the Bud & Burgers Champion will be crowned. Chef David Chang will join Budweiser's brewmasters as a judge at the final event.
To make it to the finale, Ted recently competed head-to-head against another burger maker at the Beale Street Music Festival in Nashville, one of 10 semifinal competitions across the country to find the best amateur burger chef.
The winner of the Bud & Burgers Championship will win $100,000 to follow their culinary pursuits. In addition, the winner will be invited to compete in a new cooking competition series, working title "United States of Burgers," which will premiere on the Esquire Network.
Ted said he has made various bacon cheeseburgers, mixing beef with pork sausage and various spices while feeding the fire crew. But when the firehouse had leftover pulled pork in the kitchen, it inspired him to add the pork to a burger he was planning to prepare one night. The rest of the ingredients added on just evolved, he said, as he experimented with what would work. And while Ted never planned to name the colossal burger, a conversation with a friend changed that.
"I described the sandwich, and he said 'you eat like lumberjacks,'" Ted said. "I told him, 'thanks Ryan, you just named the sandwich.'"
Ted admits he is amazed that he has made it this far into the competition. He adds the nerves may be lessened at the finale because he understands how the competition venue may be set up, and he's confident in his entry.
"I have confidence in the preparation of the burger. It pretty much stands for itself," he said.
While he will not let himself get too confident about winning, he has thought about what he would do with the winnings, including paying bills and putting more money toward his kids' future. It also may let him follow his dream after the firehouse to open his own corner diner.
For now, Ted's food gets welcomed to the table at two kitchens, the firehouse and his Round Lake Beach home. When it comes to planning food for his fellow Waukegan firefighters, not all meals are beef powerhouses like the Lumberjack. He adds chicken and pasta are often a staple when making the meal whether grilled chicken sandwiches and chicken Alfredo. He shares his recipe for Southern Buffalo Firecracker, a chicken sandwich, at dailyherald.com/lifestyle/food.
Ted adds, "Some people at the fire station may be pickier than my kids are."
Cooking at home is no small task for Ted, who shares the cooking job with wife, Amy. Also sitting around the table are their children, Evelyn, 20, Andy, 18, Isabelle, 15, Griffin, 14, Audrey, 11, and grandson, Jonah, 2.
Ted said the children are open to the same type of foods he may make at the firehouse, but he adds he does need to alter the meals for Isabelle, who has chosen to eat a vegetarian diet for two years.
"Typically, we will do a few meals that are vegetarian options so she can have the same thing as everyone else," he said. "but on the nights that I make meat, I will make a vegetarian option for her."
Receiving support from family and friends, Ted said he is focusing all his energy to preparing for the July finale. But he adds, it may not be the last time he enters the kitchen to compete.
"I would consider doing another contest," he said, adding. "So far, it's been fun. It's been a great experience. I've learned a lot and seen another side of cooking I had not seen before. I'm glad I've made it this far. Looking forward to other contests, I want to try to make it through this contest before I consider the next one."
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