Riverfest’s inaugural Burger Bash on Saturday will pit the area’s best hamburgers against one another for the chance to send one chef to the World Food Championship in Alabama.

The eight-person cook-off with five professional judges will run from 1 to 4:30 p.m. in the Pepsi Community Tent on the north end of Riverside Park, in the middle of the annual festival which runs today through Monday.

While Reinhart Foodservice has been involved in the World Food Championship for years, it’s the first time it has brought the food contest to its hometown of La Crosse, according to Reinhart’s unofficial director of fun, Terry Bauer.

“We thought it’d be kind of cool to partner with Riverfest,” Bauer said.

Riverfest was happy to have it, according to media coordinator Brent Hanifl.

“It’s just looking at what we have in our own backyard,” Hanifl said.

The event will feature La Crosse chefs Willi Waters of the Charmant Hotel; Patrick Halverson of 4 Sisters Wine & Tapas; Dave Olson of Ole’s Pizza; and Chris Roderique of Piggy’s Restaurant; as well as Wisconsin Rapids’s Duane Kuhn of Baker Street Bar & Grill; Rib Lake, Wis., restaurateurs Rick Lafernier and Donna Cook; Rochester chef Tim McCarty of the Mayo Foundation House; and Verona, Wis., chef AJ Hurst of Gray’s Tied House and Brewing Co.

Each cook will make a burger for each of the judges — Brian Simpson of 95.7 The Rock, Joe Luginbill of Strengthening Families Program in Eau Claire County, Russ Baldwin of The Core Group, a National Food Brokerage, and Ed and Sally Sullivan, former owners of Ed Sullivan’s Supper Club in Trempealeau — as well as samples for the crowd.

“If you try every sample, you probably end up eating two good size burgers,” Hanifl said.

A $10 ticket will also include two beverages, either Pepsi or Pearl Street Brewery products, and dessert. The winning team will get a golden ticket to the World Food Championships in November, and a chance to win a share of $350,000 in cash and prizes.

Competitors and fest-goers also will be able to take in some nice summer weather right on the Mississippi River, with the National Weather Service predicting highs in the low 80s throughout the Independence Day weekend.

“It’s just a beautiful location to come on a Saturday afternoon,” Bauer said. “We hope to repeat this every year.”

Hanifl said Riverfest organizers are planning to keep expanding local and regional partnerships in the years to come, especially after last year’s success put to rest rumors that the festival was in danger.

“There’s always a good deal of entertainment that’s local, but we also like to think regionally,” Hanifl said. “Here in the future years, you’ll start to see that more, maybe pulling local entertainment from Viroqua or Westby.”

Hanifl added that the festival did have a few bad years due to outside factors, specifically flooding one year and a 100-degree heatwave another, but it has maintained its popularity.

“Even the occasional mayflies come, but that doesn’t bother the locals too much,” Hanifl said.

Riverfest events kick off opening ceremony at 11 a.m. today at the flagpole in Riverside Park, featuring a flyover by the “Sweet Revenge,” a North American P-51 D Mustang fighter.

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Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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