Going in to this year's Burger Challenge at Tom & Eddie's, Jasmine Maldonado had a reputation to uphold.
Her marketing class at Vernon Hills High School won the challenge last year with its Lone Star Burger, which featured bacon, cheddar and barbecue sauce. Sticking to a similar theme, her second-period class this year presented the Wild West Burger. It included an pickles, pepper jack cheese, haystack onions and barbecue sauce on a gourmet bun.
Early results, revealed at about 5:30 p.m. Oct. 29 by Operations Manager Rich Ward, showed the Wild West Burger coming in just behind the Pepper Jack Stack, which featured pepper jack cheese, haystack onions, chipotle mayo and guacamole. The Cougar Classic Burger was at a distant third. It included French fries, bacon, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, caramelized onions and chipotle mayo.
Ward said the idea for the Tom & Eddie's Burger Challenge came from a business teacher at Stevenson High School last fall. The teacher was looking for a real-world project for students to take on. Since then, nine high schools participated in the Burger Challenge in spring 2012 at the four Tom & Eddie's locations, and another nine will likely participate this fall.
Ward visited the classes and gave presentations about the business and the cost of ingredients.
Maldonado said Tom & Eddie's gave the classes a list of toppings they could use - and they allowed students to come up with toppings that weren't on the list.
Senior Jenny Baek said the students divided into groups in their marketing classes and, using the list of toppings, developed various burgers.
"It gave everybody a nice opportunity to brainstorm and work together," said teacher Janet Kovarik.
The groups then presented their burgers to their classes and surveyed their peers, and the winning burger from each of the three marketing classes was entered into the Burger Challenge.
Maldonado and Baek said there have been some interesting combinations. Last year, one class offered a burger that included fried macaroni-and-cheese. Baek said another class offered a sandwich with pineapple, chicken and spicy mayonnaise.
"It's very much interactive," said Kovarik. She said the students kept in contact with Ward by email and created the marketing materials for the Burger Challenge. "The teachers were the facilitators, and then it was all their doing. This is about as real-world experience as you can get."
Before the challenge, a couple of students from each of the three classes visited Tom & Eddie's to taste their creations and ensure they had the proper amounts of each ingredient, said Baek.
Students stood in the doorway of Tom & Eddie's the evening of Oct. 29, handing out fliers with information about the special burgers.
Tom & Eddie's is donating 10 percent of the proceeds from the sales of the burgers to Vernon Hills High School. Students agreed to donate those proceeds to the COVE Alliance, which helps orphaned and disadvantaged children in Africa.
Ward said the winning burger will also be featured on the Tom & Eddie's menu for a month—and if 500 of those burgers are sold during the month, Tom & Eddie's will also donate 10 percent of those proceeds to VHHS.