The five winners of the fifth annual Blended Burger Project — a James Beard Foundation contest aimed at prodding Americans to take a step toward a more sustainable patty — will be honored Oct. 23 in New York City.
For the contest, chefs created a burger mix that was at least 25 percent fresh mushrooms, and — the foundation says — nearly 500 restaurants in all 50 states developed and served blended burgers as part of the competition. Winners created such mixes as soppressata-seasoned beef and pork with cremini mushrooms and Florida-caught cobia, Scottish salmon, and creminis. And they added embellishments ranging from duck fat mayonnaise to red kale.
During the contest, more than 400,000 online votes were cast between Memorial Day and July 31, with the 25 entrants with the highest number of votes presented to judges. Judges chose five winners. The chefs who created those blended burgers each receive $5,000 and will see their creation served at the James Beard House event. They are: Meredith Manee, Ritz-Carlton’s Burger Shack, Kapalua, Hawaii; Justin Medina, Playalinda Brewing Co. – Brix Project, Titusville, Florida; Robert Repp, Hops at 84 East, Holland, Michigan; Eric Rivera, Vintage Year, Montgomery, Alabama; and Jacqueline Sampson, Pompano Grill, Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Convene spoke with Manee, creator of the Maui Ono Burger, via email ahead of the New York City event.
Can you describe your burger — and the inspiration for it?
The Blended Burger Project is really the inspiration for the conceptualization of the Maui Ono Burger. The premise behind adding mushrooms to meat is not to force people to be vegan, but to bring awareness to eating healthy for themselves and the environment. Eating a more plant-forward diet is not just good for humans it is good for the Earth. … The Maui Ono Burger is 70 percent grass-fed Maui beef, 30 percent Kiawe-smoked Hamakua mushrooms, upcountry watercress, pickled hon shimeji mushrooms, red onion, carrot salad, Bel Paese cheese, and kimchee ketchup — all on a toasted brioche bun.
The Beard Foundation sees this contest as a way to nudge people toward plant-based options. Are you finding that people are in fact exploring more plant-based dishes?
Absolutely — 100 percent! Plant-forward diets (not plant-based) are not just a trend, they are here to stay. … The greenhouse gas emissions and water it takes to produce cattle compared to a vegetable crop is [much] more. … Our role as chefs is not (in my opinion) just to feed the general population whatever tastes good (because [if that were true] we would fry everything, put an egg and some type of pork product on it) but to feed their mind, body, and soul. … Our menus evolve with the times, and we like to lead the charge on certain trends we feel are important to us and our clientele.
Is this burger served only at the restaurant? Or, are you able to get it, or other plant-based items, at other restaurants or at an event at the hotel?
The Maui Ono Burger is only available at the Burger Shack. The reason being that we have guests staying with us for a week or more and there would be a lack of variety if it was on more than one menu. However, we have many plant-forward items on our menus. Even at Burger Shack, we have an amazing Bikini Burger made with a 90-percent plant-forward mix of ingredients that I (a meat eater) actually crave and lean toward many times because of its health benefits and great taste and flavor. I am not quite a flexitarian but I, like more and more people these days, choose a plant-forward item over a meat item a majority of the time.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I think what is really cool about the Blended Burger Project is it really bridges the gap between people trying to introduce more vegetables into their diet without eliminating the meat from their plate.
Cristi Kempf is executive editor of Convene.