The James Beard Foundation (JBF)’s Blended Burger Project is a movement of chefs striving to lessen the negative climate impact of burgers (a staple on too many American menus to count) by replacing at least 25 percent of the ground meat patty with freshly chopped, cultivated mushrooms. It’s not just a more nutritious and sustainable way to serve a burger; it’s also completely delicious, lending an improved texture and juiciness—and less expensive for restaurant owners, to boot.
After attending a Blended Burger tasting at Fruition Restaurant in Denver, Colorado this spring, we sat down with Kris Moon, Director of Charitable Giving and Strategic Partnerships at JBF, to learn a bit more about the initiative.
DL: Where did the idea for the Blended Burger Project come from?
Kris: The Blended Burger Project brings to life the work of the James Beard Foundation’s Impact Programs, which engage the culinary community in the process of creating a sustainable food system that provides nutritious and delicious food for all.
A study from the Culinary Institute of America and University of California-Davis, published in the Journal of Food Science, explored the flavor-enhancing properties of mushrooms and found that blending finely-chopped mushrooms with ground meat enhances flavor and nutrition. This proof-of-concept sensory study provides the basis for how mushrooms and meat can combine for healthier burgers … and so the concept of “The Blend” began.
In a conversation with the Mushroom Council two years ago, our team at JBF learned about the concept and loved the small steps it offered while not limiting the creativity of chefs. After a fun brainstorming session, the concept of the Blended Burger Project was born and we launched it with over 200 restaurants in 2015.
DL: Can we expect more sustainability and health initiatives from the James Beard Foundation?
Kris: You can certainly expect to see more of this from the James Beard Foundation after the official announcement of our Impact Programs this past April. As part of our expanded work addressing sustainability, food systems, and food advocacy, a number of new programs will be rolled out specifically focusing on the areas of food waste reduction, sustainable meats, seafood, and fish, and childhood nutrition and school lunch.
DL: This concept of taking small steps to make a big difference is extremely appealing to a lot of people. Are there other ways in which JBF and its chefs have tried to implement these strategies?
Kris: JBF has had a wonderful relationship with the Meatless Mondays campaign, which is another great example of small and manageable behavior change that has a tremendous impact, and we have also hosted hands-on workshops with chefs on sourcing underutilized species of fish and more sustainable meat options. The Blended Burger Project is really the first campaign our Foundation has launched on its own that offers these fun and easy small steps that provide a healthier and more sustainable option to an American classic.
DL: It seems like a big part of the success here is that these burgers actually taste great! What is the role of flavor in health and sustainability?
Kris: For the James Beard Foundation, this is one of the most important factors in how we look at food. Taste is an important driver in personal decision and truly doesn’t have to be sacrificed in order to enjoy healthier and more sustainable food options. Healthy, sustainable food can and should be delicious, and too often the concept of taste is missing from the conversation. As we continue the work of our Impact Programs, taste will be an important part of the conversation about how we improve the food system in America.
You can learn more about the sustainability of mushrooms and other plant-based protein sources being blended into the culinary world here.