| Burgers |

Three Houston Chefs Are Jockeying for Votes in James Beard Foundation Burger Competition

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The James Beard Foundation is challenging chefs to create burgers as tasty as they are conscientious with the 2nd Annual “Blended Burger Project.” Three Houston chefs — Antoine Ware of Harold’s in the Heights, recent Chopped winner and operator of Craft Burger Truck, Shannen Tune and Bernie’s Burger Bus owner/chef Justin Turner — are stepping up to the challenge and competing against hundreds of their peers across the nation.

The chefs must create burgers that blend locally sourced meats and mushrooms. The idea is that the blend of 30 percent mushrooms to 70 percent meat will produce a healthier and more sustainable burger patty. (For those unfamiliar with "sustainable" agricultural concepts, the Sustainable Table website has more information.)

Ware has created a “Blended Burger In A Bowl” (which is a plus for those following a gluten-free diet). The bowl comes layered with a patty made from 44 Farms meat and Indian Creek oyster mushrooms. Underneath are Oak Hollow Farms herbs dressed in a garlic aioli, and the patty is crowned with a fried egg. “You have to have it just a little bit naughty,” says Ware.

When he first tested his burger, he enjoyed how the blended patty was “still a good burger, and you feel good walking away from it after you’ve finished it.” The Blended Burger In A Bowl is $15, and available for brunch, lunch and dinner. If the dish proves popular with guests, Ware might add it as a seasonal item to the regular menu at Harold’s.

Fresh off his win on Chopped, chef Shannen Tune is keeping his hand in the competition game. Tune already had a Mediterranean-style lamb burger on his menu, and is using it as a base for his competition recipe. The halal-certified ground lamb comes from Ruffino Meats in Bryan, and the minced Springdale Farms oyster mushrooms are roasted until crispy with olive oil, garlic and thyme. Tune says that roasting gives the mushrooms a texture almost like that of crispy bacon and heightens the nutty flavor. “You won’t even to be able to tell there’s mushroom in there, but you still get the great flavor,” he said.

The patty is dressed with a marinated salad blend of cucumber, tomato, red onion and kalamata olives, as well as garlic tzatziki sauce. The key to keeping all this juiciness together is the challah and brioche bun from Slow Dough Bakery. Tune explains, “The structure of the bun is soft enough to be perfect for a burger, but won’t fall apart under the weight of the juice.” The burger costs $12, and the Craft Burger food truck schedule is found on its website and Facebook page.

Chef Justin Turner from Bernie’s Burger Bus (who has a Chopped win of his own) is inspired by the sustainability aspect of the competition. “Ten years from now, we’ll find our plates flipping from less meat protein to more vegetable-based, which is a more sustainable way to use our soil. Farming isn’t what it used to be, and now chefs have a voice. This project is not only important to our future, but our children’s.” He is using a patty of in-house ground grass-fed chuck and with Texas crimini mushrooms. The mushrooms are chopped fine, yet not too fine so as to add texture. These are first sautéed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and thyme until the natural moisture has evaporated. He then adds burgundy wine and sautés a second time to further evaporate the moisture. The burger is rounded out with melted goat cheese, oven-dried tomatoes, baby arugula and crunchy shoestring potatoes and buns from Slow Dough Bakery and, at a cost of $10.50, seems like a bargain.

All of the competition burgers will be available until July 31. Diners can vote on their favorite once a day at the Blended Burger Project website. The five winning chefs from across the country will win a trip to show off their burgers in the final round of competition at the James Beard House in New York.

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