Marc Summers is about to stuff his face with burgers.
The former host of Nickelodeon's Double Dare, a TV game show where kids (and families) got covered in green slime, will judge the Best of the Bash award at this year's South Beach Wine & Food Festival Burger Bash. The award, sponsored by restaurant chain Red Robin, gives a chef $10,000 and a chance to get his or her creation on the eatery's menu.
What makes Summers a qualified burger judge? For starters, this is his 12th year at SOBEWFF. He's also the host of Unwrapped, the longest-running show on Food Network, which first aired in 2001.
For many chefs, Burger Bash is their chance to make the burger big-time. But they shouldn't get carried away with elaborate creations. A fancy burger might wow other judges, but it'll be difficult to convince Summers. His advice: Keep it simple, but pay attention to detail.
The TV host recently spoke with New Times about burger tips, being a granddad, and the possible return of Double Dare.
New Times: What makes a good burger?
Marc Summers: Here's my feeling, because everyone has an opinion on this: You have to be able to taste the meat, number one. And I think the biggest problem people have done recently is that they try to overload it with too many flavors. They put mushrooms and bizarre things on it. I want to go back to the traditional hamburger that I had as a kid growing up in Indiana. That's meat, maybe some cheese, lettuce, tomato, some sort of interesting dressing — Thousand Island — with maybe a little bit of a kick. And that's all I need.
I just don't want something, also, that I can't put in my mouth. People make these burgers that I find crazy, that are so huge, and they take one bite at Burger Bash and then they throw it away. It's such a waste. I think if they made sort of like sliders as opposed to full sandwiches, you'd get a chance to taste more. When I first started going to Burger Bash, there were maybe 15 to 18 contestants competing for the best burger, and you could try pretty much all of them. Now there are like 50 places, so you have to be very selective. What I generally do is walk around and eliminate people by ingredients that I would never eat on anything and go from there.
What are some ingredients you think don't belong on a burger?
I'm also a purist. I don't want to combine pork and veal and beef. To me, that's a meatball with sauce on it, and that's got a whole different feel to it. But now there's the foie gras burger: I'm not against foie gras for all of the obvious reasons of being politically correct — I just don't want that on my burger. I don't want truffles on my burger. I don't want truffle oil on my burger. This whole high-end [burger] for $100, make it as expensive as you possibly can so you can charge the customer, is not my cup of tea. Once again, maybe growing up in the Midwest and having your simple burger as a kid is what impressed me, and it's actually hard to find that.
How do you judge a burger? Do you get some training from your colleagues at Food Network?
Actually, I do. Bobby Flay taught me years ago that if you don't season your meat, he will eliminate you from working in his restaurants. Salt and pepper, which is often not used on burgers, is key; that's number one. Certainly, the type of beef that you use. Everybody has their favorite butcher or their favorite company that provides their beef, so that's key. And also, and this is also an opinion thing, medium-rare is what I like. I don't want it too juicy. I hate to pick up a burger and the bun is just wet because the juices are too much. The other thing is that you've got to let your meat rest — even a burger. You can't take it right off the grill and put it on the bun, because then it's going to leak. Some people like stuff well-done. I don't like that because it sort of tastes like charcoal. It's not a feeling that I love in my mouth. Medium-rare is what I'm looking for.
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Any new episodes of Unwrapped coming?
It's the longest-running series on Food Network, but we haven't shot any new ones in a couple of years. I did 11 seasons of Dinner: Impossible and Restaurant: Impossible. I'm in development right with a new show with Guy Fieri, as a matter of fact. He and I will be producing something together. Can't talk about it just yet, but it's something to look forward to. We're developing a couple of things. We've been friends for years, and I've been a regular judge on Guy's Grocery Games and came up with a project that we originally pitched to him, and we partnered up on it. I was the host of The Next Food Network Star when he won. That was 12 years ago. That's where our friendship began.
Are you bringing back Double Dare?
We did the 30th-anniversary show the night before Thanksgiving, and it just killed in the ratings. I'm in negotiations right now to bring Double Dare back in some form or fashion. I'm not allowed to talk about it just yet. That is a big possibility that after 16 years of not being at Nickelodeon, I will be back throwing green liquids at kids, and not just kids, maybe adults.
You're a grandfather now?
I'm a grandfather now. I coached baseball for eight years when my son was playing, and [Red Robin] was always the go-to spot after we got done playing... It's kind of fun to go back and do the tradition of what I did with my kids and to be representing them at Burger Bash.
South Beach Wine & Food Festival's Burger Bash
7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, February 24, at the North Venue, beachside at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach, 1 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $250 via sobefest.com.