Not Ready to Give Up Meat? Go Halfway — or 25 Percent

Author: Cristi Kempf       

blended burger

A chef prepares the Psycho-Deli Burger at Pechanga Resort’s Lobby Bar & Grill in Temecula, California. (Courtesy Pechanga Resort Casino)

Plant-based patties are all the rage. But for die-hard meat eaters who aren’t ready to join the herd — yet want healthier and more sustainable food choices — there is another option. It’s called the “blended burger,” a meat/mushroom fusion dreamed up by the James Beard Foundation.

Part of what the foundation describes as efforts to get chefs to create “more sustainable menus,” the Blended Burger Project, is now in its fifth year. Chefs competing in the annual competition must prepare a burger mix that is at least 25 percent fresh mushrooms. Online voting, which ends July 31, will determine 25 finalists, with a panel of food experts selected by the foundation choosing five winners.

blended burger

The Psycho-Deli Burger pairs 70 percent beef with 30 percent trumpet and shiitake mushrooms.

One entry in this year’s contest is the Psycho-Deli Burger, on the menu at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula, California, which describes it as the “perfect gateway burger” for meat eaters tiptoeing into a plant-based food future.

Chef Jose Mendoza, creator of the over-the-top burger, pairs 70 percent locally raised beef with 30 percent specialty trumpet and shiitake mushrooms. He embellishes the patty with charred onion, a Thousand Island spread, house-made Brussels-sprout-and-beet sauerkraut, local microgreens, Cotswold pub cheese, and a slice of beef-belly pastrami — all on a brioche bun. The “deli” name stems from the pastrami and Thousand Island ingredients, a combo popular with L.A.’s deli crowd.

“We are seeing guests being willing to at least try [a plant-based protein] when it is prepared in way they have seen before, like a classic burger,” said Mendoza, the chef at the resort’s Lobby Bar & Grill, which is listed as the entrant in the Blended Purger Project.

The Psycho-Deli Burger can be served at events, and in fact, reflects a growing trend that Pechanga’s catering and conference manager, Sutisa Spellman, sees among groups. “More and more groups,” she said, “are looking to include vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan options [at] their functions.”

Mendoza’s use of mushrooms in the resort’s menu offerings has, well, mushroomed. “Since we started working with [locally based] Mountain Meadow mushroom farm, we have started creating a lot of vegetarian dishes using the mushrooms,” he said. The resort’s restaurant now offers, for example, vegan mushroom chorizo for breakfast and mushroom Wellington for lunch and dinner.

blended burger

Lobby Bar & Grill Chef Jose Mendoza (from left), Pechanga catering and conference manager Sutisa Spellman, and catering and banquet Chef Hunter Gonzalez.

Local sourcing of ingredients is also evident on event menus, said Hunter Gonzalez, catering and banquet chef at the resort and event venue.

Planners and guests asking for gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian items means more visits to local mushroom, microgreen, and cage-free chicken farms, Gonzalez said.

Event attendees are paying more attention to where their food comes from and what they are putting into their bodies, he said, so “we have worked on shifting our menus in that direction by offering more sustainable and fresh break options.”

That includes a “focus on fresh fruits, vegetables, acai bowls, and juice-based drinks,” he said. “We have also worked on the reduction of gluten in all of our menus, where we can.”

Also crucial, he said, is working on “using every usable part of a product to keep waste to a minimum,” and nudging people toward smaller, more reasonable, portion sizes.

Mendoza said that he is really excited to be a part of the Beard Foundation project. “It has given us a chance to show that you can be creative and have fun,” he said, “when trying to implement sustainability.”