An Interview with Stephanie and Walt Cameron
Photos by Simply Social
The Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown (GCCS) spotlights New Mexico’s most notorious burger, the green chile cheeseburger, and many of the state’s world-class chefs. Each year, fifteen local restaurants vie for seven spots at the GCCS, where they cook for Smackdown judges and the public—and one is selected as the Green Chile Cheeseburger Reigning Chomp.
A secret panel of judges travels the state to determine which seven restaurants move up to the Smackdown. Attendees at the tasting event have the chance to taste and vote from an impressive, curated bracket of independently owned restaurants from across New Mexico. This year, the GCCS and judging for the Reigning Chomp (Judge’s Award) and People’s Choice Award will be held at The Bridge at Santa Fe Brewing on Saturday, September 7.
How did the Smackdown begin?
Tourism Santa Fe started the event in 2013 at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. The next year they grew it to be an independent event, and in 2015, they were ready to pass the reins. Edible was the perfect partner to take it over.
What is the mission of the event?
The underlying mission for us is to connect both chefs and attendees to local farmers, producers, and ranchers. We match each competing chef with at least one ingredient from a local vendor, which helps to offset their costs, but we also encourage them to work with more vendors. A green chile cheeseburger can be sourced one hundred percent locally. We pride ourselves on making long-lasting connections to our local foodshed for both the restaurants competing and the attendees judging the burgers.
This September marks edible’s seventh Smackdown. How has it changed over the years and what is something new we can expect this year?
The event has grown into a sold-out event. We outgrew the Santa Fe Farmers Market Pavilion and moved to The Bridge at Santa Fe Brewing last year. Every year we add more local producers to the mix, donating products and samples to the public. New this year is the VIP experience, which will include a burger valet to retrieve all your samples while you sip on a beer in the shade.
Throwing the Smackdown is a logistical feat. What are your biggest challenges?
The event goes up, on, and down in one day. It takes a well-organized team of volunteers to pull it off—we wouldn’t be able to do it without them. It also takes a tremendous amount of effort to ensure our chefs are well prepared for all aspects of the event, which also gives us time to build and strengthen our relationships in the chef community.
What are some of the most memorable burgers?
Walt: My favorite burger was four years ago when Marc Quiñones (then at Luminara) made his green chile cheeseburger with a green chile fondue and served it on an English muffin. But that could change . . . there are a lot of great burgers this year!
Stephanie: My favorite burger was “the life changer,” which Rocky Durham won the Judge’s Award for in 2017. And I have to agree with Walt, there are some seriously great burgers on the menu this year.
Do you have any pro tips for attendees?
Come hungry and pace yourself. Seven tastings equal close to two and a half pounds of food. Sorry for the meat sweats, but we know you’ll want to try every burger before casting your votes. Oh, and wear your stretchy pants!
Who would be your dream Smackdown judge?
Walt: José Andrés, founder of the World Kitchen.
Stephanie: David Chang, founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, creator of Ugly Delicious on Netflix, and former editor of Lucky Peach.
Is there anything else you would like to share with edible readers?
We get lots of comments and questions wondering why specific burger joints around the state don’t compete. There are two reasons for this—first, it is a huge commitment to show up and cook samples for eight hundred attendees; and second, many burger joints tell us that the way their kitchens are set up makes it impossible for them to create the same burger at an event. The Smackdown is really meant to celebrate New Mexico’s quintessential food, the green chile cheeseburger, in the spirit of camaraderie and competition amongst the chefs.