The $10,000 Burger

A Mill Creek woman gave the competition the spatula smackdown Saturday, winning a national burger contest and $10,000.

Elizabeth Bennett, a 36-year-old event planner, won first place in the non-beef category of Sutter Home’s Build a Better Burger contest.

“I think I just stood there in shock,” she said after her win was announced. “Five or six TV cameras were in my face, and they handed me an oversized check.”

In front of a live audience, Bennett grilled against four other finalists in a pressure-filled cook-off. She prepared her original recipe for Opa! Burgers, which beat out nearly 9,000 other entries in August to win a finalist spot in the competition in California’s Napa Valley.

Bennett’s burger, named for the Greek expression of celebration, features a Mediterranean-inspired lamb patty on rustic bolo rolls.

She created 18 burgers in three hours for a panel of celebrity chefs. After sampling the hot burgers, the judges grilled Bennett on stage in front of an audience.

Apparently, they liked the lamb.

“Sunshine is what I tasted,” said head judge and cookbook author James McNair. “I thought, ‘Oh boy, I’m sitting on a Greek isle in the Mediterranean somewhere.’ “

McNair said Bennett’s burger was perfection. He praised the juicy, flavorful patty, the slice of Italian salami, the sauce, and the crusty rolls from a Seattle baker, which Bennett carried on the plane with her in a giant plastic tub.

“The Kalamata olives and feta cheese mayonnaise just really made it pop,” he said. “And we loved her bread.”

The competition was an intestine-twisting affair for Bennett, who had never taken a cooking class before creating the recipe.

The contest sponsors provided the contestants with ingredients and supplies. Bennett brought along a few of her favorite cooking utensils, including a sparkly red spatula.

She started entering cook-offs and recipe contests last year and has already placed in the finals of a handful of contests. This is her biggest win.

Her prize money will likely go toward a new kitchen sink. Her old one spouts hot water but no cold, and the garbage disposal is broken.

The Build a Better Burger Contest is one of the largest in the nation. Judges rated recipes for grilled burgers made with 16 ingredients or fewer and considered taste, creativity and presentation.

Five other finalists in the beef category competed for a $50,000 prize. The winner of the beef category, from Texas, created a Born in Berkeley Burger, featuring fresh figs, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon-grilled fennel and baby arugula.

The contest will be televised on the Food Network early next year. The date hasn’t been set.

Bennett is already thinking about another contest she’ll compete in next month, which has a $1,000 prize. She’ll travel to Maryland as a finalist in the National Oyster Cook-Off.

Her recipe?

Oyster quesadillas.

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or

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