Why chefs around the country are beefing up their burger patties with mushrooms

The James Beard Foundation's Blended Burger Project encourages chefs of all kinds to create a burger that is more sustainable and nutritious

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News
Restaurants around the country can submit their recipe for the James Beard Foundation's Blended Burger Project, which promotes adding chopped mushrooms to ground beef.

This story has been updated to clarify chef Kate Williams' role in the Blended Burger Project. 

Restaurant owners and chefs across the country area are teaming up with the James Beard Foundation and the Mushroom Council — yes, there is such a thing — to promote a burger that is healthier and more sustainable, yet still made of meaty, juicy beef. 

The Blended Burger Project, now in its fifth year, invites chefs from any restaurant in the country to develop a burger recipe that replaces a quarter of the beef with finely chopped mushrooms or some other plant-based protein. 

Kitchens can enter by registering with the James Beard Foundation and must also put their blended burger on their menu May 27 through July 31. They can encourage guests to vote for them online.

Toward the end of the summer, the 25 burgers nationwide with the most votes will be reviewed by a panel of food experts who will judge on flavor, creativity and presentation. The panel will chose five chefs to win $5,000 and a trip to New York City to cook their blended burger at the James Beard House.

Some of the Detroit-area restaurants expected to submit blended burgers this year are Corktown hot spot Lady of the House, Lovers Only burger joint in Capitol Park and the nearby Wright & Company. 

"Over the last four years more than 1,000 restaurants across the nation have joined the project," Colleen Vincent said at a media event Tuesday at Lady of the House. She's the director of culinary community initiatives for the James Beard Foundation. "Consumers have shown their love for their local blended burgers by casting nearly 3 million votes. We anticipate about 500 chefs signing up this year." 

So why mushrooms? For starters, they take up far less resources and space to grow than animals.

They're also full of nutrients, and they're currently "having a moment" as Amanda Zessin of the Mushroom Council says.

She said chefs, culinary schools, elementary schools and home chefs are starting to use the technique of incorporating mushrooms into their beef blends. The New York Times also called mushrooms one of the "It" vegetables of the year, citing its health benefits and saying it may pop up in desserts, teas and even cocktails in 2019. 

"It's super versatile, you can use it it burgers, you can use it in tacos, chili, really anything where you use a ground up meat you can combine mushrooms for this delicious, versatile, really flavorful dish," she said, adding that besides being more sustainable and healthy, mushrooms and meat just taste well together. "They have this natural umami ... combined with meat they really make both foods even better."

Chef Kate Williams of Lady of the House's Blended Burger Project a sandwich to kick off the event was made with locally-grown shrooms, Tillamook cheddar, caramelized onions, pickled scallions and more.

To kick off the Blended Burger Project, chef Kate Williams of Lady of the House created a burger called Karl's Sr., which is play on the fast food chain Carl's Jr. and also a nod to her new casual restaurant Karl's that she's opening inside the Siren Hotel in August. 

She cooked the mushrooms, which she got from the Mushroom Factory in Detroit, before blending them with the meat. Her burger is topped with Tillamook cheddar, caramelized onions, pickled scallions, frisée and aioli with fermented Brussels sprouts. 

Lovers Only chefs Jennifer Jackson and Justin Tootla (who also helm Voyager in Ferndale) were influenced by the Waffle House restaurant chain when creating their blended burger using mushrooms from Ferndale Fungi. They topped their patty with hash browns and comeback sauce (kind of a spicier remoulade) and sandwiched it between slices of toasted rye. 

At Wright & Company chef Marc Djozlija will serve his blended burger as veal and mushrooms sliders, three for $12. 

"It's ground veal, Marsala-glazed mushrooms, Marsala-glazed onions, Fontina cheese, porcini mushroom aioli on a brioche bun," said Djozlija, who has been a James Beard Award Semifinalist. "Every time they reach out to us we try to participate as much, we appreciate their support ... we try to be as good a partner with them as possible and showcase all the cool things going on in Detroit." 

Expect all these offerings and others to pop up on menus May 27 or earlier. For more info or to submit a recipe, visit jamesbeard.org/blendedburgerproject


Twitter: @melodybaetens