After all these years of attending Burger Bash at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (and by attending I mean eating my way to an early demise), I had the opportunity to sit down with Jamie Schweid, President of Schweid & Sons, who presented this event with Heineken Light (hosted by Rachael Ray). I interviewed the man behind the meat and the Bash for my new series, Peeling The Onion.
Family owned and operated since 1978, Schweid & Sons has been a leader and an innovator in the burger business for a long time, so when you talk, you talk burgers. You might get a little Marc Summers and Andy Cohen thrown in there, but it’s mostly meat.
I’d also like to point out that Jamie was incredibly friendly and kept up with my ADD, mile-a-minute conversation style. Trust me, that’s no easy task. Listening and transcribing my own interviews is like deciphering the Da Vinci Code. But I digress.
Read on to hear Jamie’s tips for Burger Bash efficiency, how to win him over with a burger (hint: keep it simple and NOT spicy), and his next great idea for a Food Network competition show.
Peeling the Onion: Jamie Schweid
Dara: If you had to pick a favorite burger…what would it be?
Jamie: That’s like picking your favorite son. My favorite way is, I bring them to my beach house, a usda prime chuck burger. Add a little bbq sauce on it for some sweetness, american cheese, and properly melted american cheese – VERY big detail. i cook it outdoors. There is nothing worse than biting into a burger and getting a cold, unmelted piece of cheese.
D: what’s most important for making a great burger, especially for Burger Bash?
J: keep it simple solution. typically i like to look at the variety – youre gonna get the simple products that would taste absolutely delicious, and then youre gonna gr t some creative things that make you think “wow i never would ave thought of that”.
D: Is there one (or more) that you’re excited to try this year?
J: There’s so many, but I’ve tried most of them in my day to day travels. I like to get here early to try everything. So when everybody gets here, I’m usually sitting in the corner, in a food coma.
D: How many does Schweid & Sons have here?
J: 30 chefs represented here, serviced/supplied by us.
D: What are your festival secrets/tricks of the trade?
J: The key – if anyone ever comes down to the festival – dont EVER eat a full burger. I don’t care how good it is, I don’t care how delicious it might be at the moment, its never a good thing. Think about how long it takes for your stomach to digest. You’re waiting on line, and by the 4th place, you’ll be full. Take a bite or two, and move onto the next. Self control is the most difficult challenge of ones life at a food event.
D: Tell me about it!
J: You have to go in with a game plan [at a festival]. Get to a festival early. Theres a line outside? It’s ok. When you walk in the door, I joke that its like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You walk in and there’s all these great surprises, innovations, flavors and tastes. The problem is, when you show up an hour and a half in, when its “cool to get in”, you’ll end up not enjoying it. Get there early.
D: What advice would you give to someone cooking at Burger Bash for the first time?
J: Keep it simple. If you want to come in and win the award – like josh capon, won 5 years – because his burger is very simple but very flavorful; it’s a delicious burger. And not overly complicated.
D: I was just talking to Marc Summers and he said the same thing about keeping things simple.
J: I want to make a Marc Summers comment. Met him 3 years ago. And as great as you would think it would be upon meeting him, its even better in person! He is the nicest, most intelligent, and diverse person. This is the guy who hosted double dare. And unwrapped was on literally every single day – I watched every single episode. He is just an incredibly nice and warm person.
D: Completely agree. I got the recipe for Slime from Marc himself! Do you want to know what is in slime??
J: I would love to know.
D: It’s vanilla pudding, oatmeal, apple sauce, and green food coloring.
(Long pause, Jamie looks confused)
J: YOU CANT DO THAT ON TELEVISION!
Editors note: This is in reference to a Canadian show, similar to Double Dare, complete with Slime. You’re welcome.
D: Oh wow good call!
J: If you ever start a pop culture blog, let me know. And speaking of, I want to give a shoutout: I saw Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen live at The Beacon Theater and it was phenomenal. The dynamic between the two of them. The stories that were being told. The one thing you get from Andy Cohen is he’s the same person on TV as he is in person.
D: I’m just trying to picture those two together…it’s an odd combo.
J: They’re best friends! In real life. They were telling stories about a trip they took to the Greek islands. If you ever have the opportunity to interview Andy Cohen, ask him about that story.
D: On it. And speaking of Bravo, you mentioned your fear of spicy foods earlier and monkey brains. So, sweetbreads, offal, anything like that is off limits? What if someone put it on a burger and didn’t tell you?
J: I’d do a wonderful job of acting, but when I bite into the burger, my facial reaction would tell a story. Oh my gosh. And if someone told me prior, I just wouldn’t try it. I grew up in a Jewish household; I ate tongue, I ate chopped liver. And then you have this “a-ha” moment where you’re like “this is liver. It’s chopped LIVER”
D: My Safta made great chopped liver.
J: They all do. It’s innate. That would be a great show – The Grandmother Challenge. You can break it down by culinary genres. The Italian grandmother, the Jewish grandmother, the Chinese grandmother…
D: Thats honestly a great idea!
J: I want to take credit for that. On record.
D: And I can host it, also on record.
J: If you grow up eating a certain food, your palate gets used to it.
D: True. Do you see any trends happening in burgers?
J: The restaurant vs retail trends are very interesting. All the restaurant trends over the past 5-7 years, Schweid & Sons is starting to move to retail more. We make things like chuck, brisket, short rib, hanger blends. The culinary revolution starts in restaurants. The creativity of chefs and restaurants is really our R&D. I think the blends are continuing to grow and they’ve been on trend for a long time. You’re going to start to see more things around the burger: artisanal buns and things. We do a trends report every year, a survey of our restaurant partners. We’re starting to see more sauces, aiolis, and things like avocado relish.
D: Sometimes I wonder. In 100 years from now, do you think the classic American burger will still be the classic American burger?
J: 100% yes. If this festival and the success of restaurants like Five Guys tell us anything, that success story is making a great burger simple but delicious. Thats the American way.
D: But do you think the stuff “around” the burger would be different then? Like “hey pass me the aioli and the truffle mustard!” at a backyard BBQ in Jersey?
J: Well, that might evolve as the cooking revolution continues. So my nephew is 7 years old, and he takes cooking classes. That generation – the millennial generation – growing up on Iron Chef, they are in the kitchen cooking because that’s what they grew up watching.
D: Interesting. Well let’s circle back in 100 years.