A burger born at The Burger Dive in downtown Billings won one of three top awards recently at the national Burger Bash cook-off in Miami.
Brad Halsten's "Blackened Sabbath" burger won $10,000 in the burger competition that is part of The South Beach Wine and Food Festival.
Until an official announcement could be made, Halsten had to keep the news that he had outcooked some of the nation's top celebrity chefs a secret from his wife and father, who had traveled with him to Florida.
Toward the end of the four-hour competition Friday, a contest official pulled Halsten aside and whispered, “You’ve won the Red Robin Best of the Bash award, but you can’t tell anybody.”
The official hustled him backstage where Food Network chef Robert Irvine, the host of "Restaurant Impossible," was waiting with a crowd of photographers. Then someone thrust a giant $10,000 check into Halsten’s hands.
“We took a lot of pictures with Robert. There were tons of cameras and flashes going off,” he said. “It was just that moment where you hit the big time, at least for a minute.”
Halsten's wife, Andi, and his father, Gary, were cooking the last of about 300 burgers in their booth, not knowing where Brad had gone.
At 10:30 p.m., Halsten stood with the other chefs in the competition as the winners were announced.
“I had to act surprised. I hope I did a good job,” Halsten said. “I was glad that it was going to be a surprise for Andi.”
Another award went to a ShakeSauce-topped burger with crispy beer-marinated shallots. And, the Food Network's Michael Symon won the people's choice award with his “Fat Doug” burger topped with coleslaw, pastrami, Havarti cheese and stadium mustard.
Red Robin Restaurants, said Halsten's Blackened Sabbath burger “wowed the judges’ taste buds” and could be featured this year in some of the chain's 450 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada.
After four years playing offense for the Billings Outlaws football team, Halsten knew how to prepare for what could be a one-time shot at national fame.
“The nerves were there all day," he said. "But, if you aren’t nervous, you’re not ready. You probably don’t care enough about the event.”
When the line at his booth became the longest, with people willing to wait 20 minutes for his burger, Halsten started having fun.
“Once we started getting compliments from people, I relaxed a bit,” he said.
Then Burger Bash hostess Rachael Ray showed up at his booth, flanked by security guards and cameramen, and went to the front of the line for her burger.
“She said, ‘This is so creative!' She gave me the fist bump. Then she gave my wife, Andi, the fist bump,” he said.
Then Ray's husband said, “Wow. She doesn’t even like burgers!,” which Halsten took as a huge compliment.
Ray even tweeted up The Burger Dive.
This win may open national opportunities for the Halsten family, which all took the gamble to open their burger café nearly four years ago.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives came around Billings now," Halsten said. “It’s really a big deal.”
Brad Halsten was born in 1970, the same year the British heavy metal band Black Sabbath released its first album, the name he tweaked for his now-famous burger.
As the Halstens caught a plane back to the Montana snowbelt Monday afternoon, they were coming down from the winning high.
“It’s just been such a crazy weekend,” Brad Halsten said. “We’ve just been having so much fun and we’ve been staying up late. We’re all tired.”