After winning an expense-paid trip for two to Detroit with the possibility of adding on a $25,000 prize and a California excursion, Kate Clabough is thankful for lots of things — especially rainy days in April.

That’s because it was on one of those stay-at-home, lazy days when she happened to be perusing the internet and saw a recipe competition for Sutter Home Build a Better Burger. Clabough, whose mom was a caterer, said she knows her way around a kitchen. She cooks for her three grandchildren, after all. She also had perfected her own burger recipe using a blackberry sauce; it seemed like the perfect choice for the contest.

“I have been making this burger for awhile,” said Clabough, a resident of Vonore and member of New Providence Presbyterian Church in Maryville. “I submitted it thinking it was going to go into an online cookbook.”

But in August, Clabough got an email asking the amount of goat cheese needed for her burger. She answered back and within days, she was notified she was a semifinalist for the Build a Better Burger contest. Sutter Home, which is a family vineyard, flew Clabough and a guest, her daughter, to Detroit on Aug. 27 to compete. The winner there moved on to California as a finalist.

Sutter Home had more than 500 entries, Clabough said, and only 20 were chosen as semifinalists. Clabough competed against three others in Detroit. The other host cities were Boston, Chicago, Cleveland and Seattle. Each city had four semifinalists.

Clabough didn’t win, but the experience was amazing, Clabough said. She and the other contestants had to set up in a parking lot in downtown Detroit and cook their concoctions on gas grills. That works for burgers, Clabough said, but it was tricky cooking bacon on a grill and also the blackberry sauce.

“Cooking bacon on a grill is a heck of a fire,” this cook pointed out.

Most people in Blount County know Clabough as the author of a couple of books, four stage plays and one screenplay. She is a storyteller who recently started a new monthly event at The Bird & the Book in Maryville titled “Curated,” which encourages others to get up on stage and share their own unique tales. In addition, Clabough has spent decades in genealogy study. She leads tours of New Providence Presbyterian Church’s cemetery.

She admits it was kind of a fluke that she even entered this contest. Her recipe didn’t even have a name before Sutter Home requested she give it one. She calls it Great Smoky Mountains Blackberry Mustard Goat Cheese Burger. The wine pairing is Moscato.

She said her inspiration came from a recipe that she saw using blackberry jam on a sandwich. Blackberries from this region would make a great sauce on a burger for sure, she surmised. Judges agreed. They gave points for ease of preparation, presentation and taste.

The contestants had one hour to complete their burgers. Clabough said representatives from Sutter Homes went around to each contestant asking questions all along the way. “That’s no stress or anything,” Clabough said.

The winner was a man from Michigan. He will now be flown to California to compete in the finals. The winner takes home a $25,000 prize.

While in Detroit, Clabough and her daughter visited the Henry Ford Museum and were provided tickets to a Detroit Tigers baseball game. This was her first time in the Motor City. Retired Tigers player Willie Horton was at the contest and had his photograph made with the contestants.

When it was time to return to East Tennessee, Clabough brought back lots of swag, courtesy of Sutter Home, including grilling tools, plates, an apron, mixing bowls, wooden spoons and more.

It was also Clabough’s first national contest, but probably not her last. She plans to hone her skills and come back for the 2020 Build a Better Burger contest. She hopes this experience will inspire others to take a chance and put their talents to the test.

“I am just a writer who happens to cook for my family,” Clabough said. “It is really cool to think you can just submit something like that and it really happens. It makes me more inspired to do more things. If I can win, by golly someone else can win, too.”

Great Smoky Mountain Blackberry Dijon Mustard Goat Cheese Burger

Courtesy of Kate Clabough

Blackberry Dijon Mustard

1 cup fresh or frozen blackberries.

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons brown sugar (or honey)

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Splash of Sutter Home Merlot

pinch of cayenne pepper if you’re feeling a little spicy

Cornstarch if needed to thicken

16 oz package of applewood smoked bacon

Goat cheese

1-1/2 pounds of 80/20 hamburger

6 potato buns

Make the blackberry Dijon mustard by heating a cup of blackberries in a small saucepan. Smash the berries with the back of a fork or spoon. Add 1/4 cup Dijon mustard, 2 tbs brown sugar, 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar and splash of merlot. You can add a tsp of cornstarch dissolved in water if the mixture isn’t quite thick enough and a pinch of cayenne if you like your mustard spicy.

Fry your bacon until crisp and grill 1/4 lb burgers 3 to 4 minutes per side or to taste.

Place burger on a toasted bun, add two strips of bacon and a generous dollop of blackberry Dijon mustard. Top with crumbled goat cheese. Add the top bun and enjoy! These are also good without a bun or as a lettuce wrap.

Cook’s note: Even when using fresh blackberries, I freeze and thaw. It makes the berries much easier to mash and creates a smoother texture to the sauce. Ignore this tip if you like your sauce with chunks of berries.

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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