In the culinary world, the James Beard Foundation (JBF), holds serious sway. As a tribute to the prestige of this NYC-based nonprofit, its annual awards are often called “the Oscars of the food world.”
Now JBF has partnered up with the Mushroom Council to launch the Better Burger Project™, an inaugural national program that challenges chefs to create healthier, more sustainable burgers by mixing finely chopped mushrooms into their beef patties. Several participants have taken it a step further, however, and eliminated meat entirely.
The project culminates in a summertime social media contest. Through July 31, customers across the country can vote for their favorite burgers by posting photos via Instagram and tagging #BetterBurgerProject, as well as the participating restaurant.
The Cider Press Cafe in Naples, Fla; B Too in Washington, DC; Mick’s Karma Bar in Irvine, CA; County Restaurant in NYC; and Urban Stack Burger Lounge in Chattanooga, TN have all created plant-based burgers as part of the program. (There may be additional vegan competitors, but not all restaurants have revealed their recipes.) Dozens of other restaurants are also in the running with traditional beef (and now mushroom)-based burgers.
At the Cider Press Cafe, an award-winning raw vegan eatery, two burgers have been added to the menu, one created by Chef Doug Gauger, the other by Chef Patti Wiedenhoeft.
“Their concept was 25% mushroom mix into a whatever meat patty for a regular standard burger to make the burger healthier and more sustainable,” Chef Gauger says of the Better Burger Project™ guidelines. “My take on it was, well, I’m going to make it really healthy and completely sustainable and take all the meat products out of it.”
Gauger created the Magic Mushroom Bella Burger (a marinated portobello mushroom bun, a cashew cheese crisp, eggplant bacon, tomatoes, arugula and house-made cashew mayonnaise), while Wiedenhoeft designed the Cool Avo Burger (a dehydrated flatbread bun, lettuce, sliced cucumber, a sunflower seed and mushroom-based patty, avocado, alfalfa sprouts and house-made cashew mayonnaise).
“It’s great to be associated with such top-caliber chefs and for me personally it expands my mind and my territory—my comfort zone, the things I do,” Gauger adds about the project. “It’s all about learning new things and creating new things.”
The contest ends at 11:59 p.m. EST on July 31, and the five chefs whose burgers receive the most photo uploads will win a trip to New York in October to cook their concoction at the James Beard House, an honor which Gauger describes as “Valhalla for a chef.”