Chow Town

Why are some KC restaurants serving burgers blended with mushrooms?

Move over vegetarians. Outta the way flexitarians. Let the blenditarians make their case.

Never heard of a blenditarian? T-shirts by the Mushroom Council proclaim “a blenditarian is one who believes the mighty mushroom has meaty powers to make meals more delicious, nutritious and sustainable.”

From Memorial Day to July 31, chefs across the country and in Kansas City are taking part in the third annual summer James Beard Blended Burger Project — a challenge to create a burger blend that contains at least 25 percent chopped cultivated mushrooms.

Why not just go for a hearty vegetarian burger made of mushrooms and be done?

Mushrooms need a binder to hold them together. Plus, even if it means reducing our carbon footprint by eating less meat, most Americans aren’t ready to walk away from their iconic all-American hamburger to go “full veg,” says Adriane Rippberger, digital strategy director for Harvest PR, which works with the Mushroom Council.

“The whole concept is that you could maybe start doing a little bit better by replacing 25 percent of your meat,” she says. “Then maybe you can get up to 50 percent.”

Reducing consumption of meat can be a hard sell when lots of people think at the outset they don’t like mushrooms. But Rippberger says once consumers try a blend, they often find mushrooms add to the flavor of their beloved burger.

Mushrooms make the burgers juicier, says “Red, White and Que” (Running Press) cookbook author Judith Fertig. Fertig and her co-author, Karen Adler, were among a group of chefs and media invited to have lunch at Bluestem in Westport last week to sample mushroom-meat sliders.

Andrew Longres of Bluestem went with a classic offering — a “homestyle blend” meatloaf burger enhanced by 50 percent mushrooms grilled and then glazed with a house-made barbecue sauce mixture of ketchup, chipotle powder, Worcestershire sauce and honey. The burger includes porcini aioli, fried onions and a pickle on a brioche bun.

Joe West of Stock Hill, just off the Country Club Plaza, combined the flavor of Kansas City burnt ends and smoked trumpet mushrooms with Asian flavors, including a lemongrass barbecue sauce. The burger blend was served on a black pepper bun. Garnishes included “bread and butter” pickled green strawberries and crispy onions.

Josh Eans of Happy Gillis Cafe & Hangout and Columbus Park Ramen Shop, in Columbus Park, was inspired by Japanese flavors. His burger blend combined ground hanger steak and charred shiitake mushrooms. It was garnished with miso aioli, burnt onion marmalade, pickled enoki mushrooms, scallion and mustard greens, all on a rich brioche bun.

“I was going for the umami thing,” Eans told the group.

Mushrooms have something the Japanese call umami, a glutamate that gives a taste sensation of richness and meatiness. They’re also high in protein but leave a fairly light environmental footprint. New research shows it requires as little as 1.8 gallons of water to cultivate a pound of mushrooms.

The Blended Burger Project, which started with 250 participating restaurants the first year, hopes to double that number this year.

“I’m looking for our hometown to do us proud,” says Kris Moon, vice president of the James Beard Foundation, who happens to be Kansas City native.

Eans will not be serving the burger on his regular menu because of space limitations, but Stock Hill and Bluestem will offer a full-size burger on their bar menus. Other restaurants participating in the challenge include Julep in Westport, Tradewinds Marketplace at Isle of Capri Casino and Hank Charcuterie in Lawrence.

Consumers can vote for their favorites through July 31. Voting enters you in a drawing for an all expenses paid trip for two to the Beard House in New York City for the 2018 Blended Burger event. Use the hashtag #BlendedBurgerProject to post burger pics on social media.


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