Making a dish most people already love healthier, more sustainable and cheaper? The Blended Burger Project is that kind of delicious idea. Started by the James Beard Foundation last year, it challenges chefs to create burger patties that swap out at least 25 percent of the meat for mushrooms.
“It’s a simple challenge, but with a really great potential to change how Americans enjoy this classic American food,” says Kris Moon, vice president of JBF.
For its second year, about 500 restaurants are expected to take part nationwide; in NYC, they include venues as varied as Brooklyn’s Lorimer Market, Umami Burger, The Cecil (on its new delivery-only menu) and The Ainsworth. The burgers will launch on Memorial Day and stay on menus through July 31.
Making the burger to kick off the project was chef Hugh Acheson, who blended upstate lamb with a 30 percent ratio of creminis that had been pulverized and slowly cooked with garlic, shallots and thyme, then topped it with Boursin (“the Velveeta of France”), grilled tomato and dill pickles on a potato roll. The mushrooms created a complexity that lamb can lack but weren’t a distinctive presence — which is the idea when it comes to converting our favorite comfort foods into something that better resembles a reasonable eating decision.
“It’s gotten a lot easier to advance the idea of a vegetable-rich diet because 20 years ago somehow, someone, somewhere learned how to cook vegetables,” he says. “Now we know how to impress you with a plate of Brussels sprouts and make a charred carrot salad that you’ll happily pay $15 for.”
The rising cost of meat isn’t negligible, either — “I’m not sure if you’ve noticed how your steak has gotten a lot smaller in the last 10 years?” — which has forced chefs to take vegetables more seriously. And the results will benefit everyone.
“If you can have every kid eating something like a blended burger at school,” he says, “you are changing the way America eats and you’re changing the health and livelihood of people.”