For many, the worlds of salmon in puff pastry and hamburger on a bun are distinctly separate. But Michael St. Ledger, the chef at Loews Annapolis Hotel, moves from one to the other with ease.
In fact, he has done it so well that tomorrow he is going from the kitchen of a four-star hotel to the finals of the Great Burger Build-Off, a fund-raising project for Meals on Wheels.
Mr. St. Ledger will compete against 14 others from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to build the best burger. Each contestant will have about an hour to prepare his or her specialty at Mazo-Lerch's Nifty 50s Food Fest in the Patriot Center of George Mason University.
The hamburgers are being judged by a panel of food and nutrition experts for originality, customer appeal and the clarity and completeness of the recipes, which could be entered in one of three categories -- classic, gourmet/ethnic or healthy.
The contest, sponsored by the Burger Building Foundation, has a two-fold purpose; to encourage food establishments to come up with creative ideas for hamburgers and to benefit Meals on Wheels.
The contestants are expected to raise money as they develop their recipes. Their donations will represent half their score. The other half will come from the recipe evaluation.
And while the foundation won't release the ingredients until after the winner is selected, foundation officials said the entries have included many nontraditional ingredients, such as seafood, turkey, lamb, chicken, filet mignon and ham.
Mr. St. Ledger said his gourmet burger contains "good, local ingredients.
"It's not something you'd find at a truck stop," he said. "I'd doubt you'd be able to find it anywhere else."
Trained in Strasbourg, France, under the direction of an Alsatian chef, Mr. St. Ledger, 37, said he prefers preparing beef Wellington to burgers. But the contest allowed him to get creative.
He said the food and beverage director at Loews told him about the competition. And even though he has a buffalo burger on the lunch menu, Mr. St. Ledger said he decided to develop a burger strictly for the competition.
"A lot of our lunches [at Loews] are people who want burgers," he said. "Of course, due to the changes in how people feel about red meat we have a lot of people ordering things like salads. But there's always room for an interesting burger."
Prizes for the finalists and their businesses range from $200 to $2,000.
Three other county establishments made it as far as the semifinals in the competition. They are: Joan Fitzgibbon and Leslie Campbell of Thyme After Thyme in Annapolis; Mary and Gino Giolitti of Giolitti's and La Piccola Roma, both in Annapolis; and Mike Evans of the Snug Harbor Inn in Shady Side.