SIOUX CENTER—A chef at Sioux Center Health and others across the country are teaming up with the teaming up with the James Beard Foundation and the Mushroom Council — yes, there is such a thing — to promote a burger that is healthier and more sustainable, yet still packs a meaty punch.
This summer marks the fifth straight year for the Blended Burger Project, a competition challenging chefs to blend mushrooms with meat or some other plant-based protein to create a delicious, nutritious and sustainable burger.
The Garden Cafe at Sioux Center Health is one of two places in Iowa seeking votes among the 318 total contest entries thanks to chef Aaron Gray.
Gray’s creation blends ground turkey with mushrooms, chopped bacon, apple pieces and ginger, then topped with honey ginger sauce and candied bacon — and lettuce, tomato and onion, also, if you choose. Guests can have it served up on a standard white bun, pretzel bun or kaiser roll. It’s on the daily menu through July 31.
“James Beard Foundation is a big name in the restaurant world,” Gray said. “Just getting on our name associated with it now is a big deal.”
The 25 burgers nationwide with the most votes will be reviewed in August by a panel of food experts who will judge on flavor, creativity and presentation. The panel then will chose five chefs to win $5,000 and a trip to New York City to cook their blended burger at the James Beard House.
Following the James Beard Foundation on Facebook and Instagram is how Gray heard about the competition. With Sioux Center Health’s support, Gray entered the contest.
“In the time I’ve been working for the hospital, we’ve been trying to take the food to a different level,” Gray said. “James Beard is one way of doing that because we’re putting ourselves up against lot of other options.”
“It also brings moral to the kitchen staff that we’re doing something that other people aren’t doing,” Gray continued. “While it was my idea and I make the burgers, it takes our whole team to get something going like this because everybody had to be willing to make the whole burger if it’s ordered when I’m not here.”
Gray makes all the patties himself, vacuum seals each one and then freezes them to allow other food service staff to prepare the burgers as needed.
People can vote online once daily for Gray’s creation.
“You don’t have try it to vote for it — and I do appreciate the votes — but I encourage people to come in and give me their feedback,” he said.
“Amazing burger,” has been Gray’s favorite comment so far.
More than 60 burgers have been sold, many to repeat customers.
“Just knowing people want to have it again, I like that,” Gray said. “Making good food people want to eat is always my first priority. The contest is just another way we can do that.”