The Trend of the Blend: Restaurants Compete in James Beard Blended Burger Project

Chef John Ford of Cameron Bar and Grill in Raleigh, North Carolina, created the scrumptious Hoisin Mushroom Burger. 
Chef John Ford of Cameron Bar and Grill in Raleigh, North Carolina, created the scrumptious Hoisin Mushroom Burger.  Cameron Bar and Grill

After a successful debut in 2015, the James Beard Foundation has once again partnered with the Mushroom Council to host the Blended Burger Project, a promotion that encourages chefs to create a healthier, more sustainable burger, while also educating their customers about the many benefits of “The Blend” and the future of food. 

The Blend (a beef-and-mushroom-blended burger) was conceived and incubated by the Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative, an educational initiative of high-volume culinary leaders developed by The Culinary Institute of America in partnership with its founding member, the Mushroom Council.

This year, 286 restaurants are taking part in the Blended Burger Project, as more chefs learn the power of serving healthier and more sustainable meals that reduce calories and sodium and still taste delicious. After all, the burger offers the perfect platform for flavor innovation. 

For his entry into the competition, Chef John Ford of Cameron Bar and Grill in Raleigh, North Carolina, has created the scrumptious Hoisin Mushroom Burger. 

“We blended short rib and chopped chuck and added thyme, fresh garlic, and churned cremini mushrooms to create a patty out of it,” Ford says. “Then we smoked some wild mushrooms, sautéed it with hoisin sauce to get a real sweetness, and added grilled red onions, sliced tomato, mixed greens, and smoked tomato aioli, and served it on a roasted garlic bun.” 

Since first appearing on the menu in June, the burger has been a favorite among customers and servers alike.

“We’ve had great feedback from the community and our servers have really gotten behind it,” Ford says. “We like to do something different every once in a while. A lot of people wouldn’t think of throwing mushrooms into a burger, but people are really into healthy and local, and I talk to them about how this is something they can even do at home.” 

Bob Munnich, chief operating officer for Grill Marks in Greenville, South Carolina, has found that offering healthy or alternative (gluten free, vegetarian, etc.) items has been a huge market of late, so participating in the Blended Burger Project not only brings more attention to the restaurant, but brings more business through the doors.

“Years ago I worked with a chef in San Francisco who did a shiitake mushroom and basil stuffing for a filet mignon that was amazing,” he says. “I applied that flavor profile to the dry aged certified Angus beef burger we serve, and came up with our blended burger. Topping it with a shiitake demi-glace and the bite of fresh arugula and red onion, completed the flavor profile.”

Grill Marks’ burger is 25 percent shiitake mushroom, sautéed with fresh basil, garlic and salt and pepper, topped with Manchego cheese, on a bed of fresh arugula, tomato and red onion, and topped with the shiitake mushroom demi-glace on its signature brioche bun.

“I really like the flavor profiles that it creates, as well as the healthy aspect of it,” Munnich says. “This is a great way to bring mushrooms into the forefront, without highlighting just mushrooms. I’ve served our blended burger [without the mushroom sauce we put on it] to friends to try that don’t like mushrooms, and they all enjoyed it and when I told them it had mushrooms in it they were amazed.” 

The response to the burger has been so great that it has been added permanently to the restaurant’s menu. 

The Culinary Institute of America surveyed more than 600 foodservice operators in the culinary community to understand how chefs and operators have been reimagining the burger, from blends to fully vegetarian or even vegan options. 

According to the results, 77 percent of restaurants now have a burger on the menu with a significant percentage of the patty from plant or vegetable components, either blended with meat or strictly vegetarian. Of these, 70 percent of those surveyed saw success from putting a vegetarian or meat-blended burger on the menu. 

“Mushrooms have really come into their own as a solution to changing dietary patterns, earning their place on the plate with the nutrient quality, flavor impact and incredible functionality across the menu,” says Greg Drescher, vice president of strategic initiatives and industry leadership at the CIA.

Voting for the Blended Burger Challenge ends on July 31. 

By Keith Loria

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