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Young burger inventor is a bit of a ham

  • Published Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010, at 12:04 a.m.

In the days since his big burger win, 12-year-old Donovan Duggins has been described in many ways by people who know him best.

Comedian.

Character.

Showman.

Sauce-aholic.

On Thursday, Duggins won not only the Fan Favorite prize but also the grand championship in the fifth annual Red Robin Kids' Cook-Off.

The win earned him a trip to Universal Orlando Resort for his whole family and all the Red Robin he can eat for a year.

That'll include his spicy Mt. Vesuvius burger, which Red Robin will add to the menu next summer. Duggins invented the burger, topped with crumbled blue cheese, bacon, provolone cheese and a Lava Sauce that the sauce-aholic himself invented by combining barbecue sauce, hot sauce, garlic powder and paprika.

"Originally the sauce was supposed to be for fried chicken," Donovan said. "But my mom thought it would taste good on a burger."

It all started this summer, when the Duggins family was dining at Red Robin, one of its favorite restaurants.

Donovan's mom, Gwen, noticed an advertisement for the Red Robin Kids' Cook-Off.

"It was right before school started, and he was bored," Gwen said. "So I said, 'Here's something for you to do. Invent a burger.' "

Donovan, who also plays viola with the Wichita Youth Symphony, applied his creative side and invented the burger, featuring his spicy condiment creation.

His family, which includes dad Maurice and older sisters Kiah and Aisha, was thrilled when his recipe was chosen as the Wichita winner. Then, he was named one of the contest's 10 finalists.

They traveled with him to Denver last week, wearing T-shirts that read "Team Donovan," to cheer him on in the cook-off, which was broadcast live on the Internet.

Donovan's showmanship was on display during the broadcast. He mugged for the camera and even told a knock-knock joke.

"Knock knock.

Who's there?

"Lava."

Lava who?

"I lava this burger."

After all 10 finalists, who ranged in age from 7 to 12, demonstrated their burger creations, the host named the Fan Favorite winner, determined by tallying several weeks' worth of Internet votes.

Donovan, aided by his family's extensive network of friends and by local media coverage, won that category and a $100 Toys R Us gift card.

Minutes later, he learned that he'd also won the grand championship, a prize awarded by a panel of food experts.

"The judges said the sauce put it over the top because it was like a tangy barbecue sauce. It added a little zing to it," Donovan said after the contest. "They also said they liked my personality because I was making jokes and stuff."

Back at Robinson Middle School, where Donovan is enrolled in the pre-IB program, teachers and staff members watched the competition online.

Word spread quickly after lunch that Donovan had won. His classmates seemed most intrigued by the "free food for a year" concept.

"I'm excited because I'm pretty sure he named the sauce after me," joked Donovan's language arts teacher, Molly Lavacek (who regretfully admitted that her vegetarian status will keep her from trying the creation).

"None of us are surprised he won," she said. "He's funny. He's bright. He's personable. He's gracious and outgoing. And he's just really a bright spot."

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