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Three Dallas Chefs Attempt to Save the World, One Funghi Burger at a Time

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And so it went: Yesterday at Smoke, with meat hissing on the grill, three chefs, one hearty food foundation and a council of mushrooms set off on a quest to save Earth. 

The Mushroom Council was at Dallas' Smoke looking to help the planet. This council is not part of a fairy tale created by J.R.R. Tolkien; the Mushroom Council was established in 1990 in the U.S. to carry out the direction of the Mushroom Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act.

At Smoke, members of the council and the James Beard Foundation were on hand to kick off the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project. The project challenges chefs to substitute 25 percent of a burger with fresh, cultivated mushrooms to create a more sustainable, nutritious burger.

And so, Dallas chefs Tim Byres (Smoke), Scott Romano (The Theodore) and Taylor Kearney (The Front Room) were given a task: Save the burger, save the world. According to the Mushroom Council, swapping 25 percent of your burger with mushrooms saves water — it only takes one gallon of water per pound of mushrooms, the Council says, and a lot more to produce the same amount of meat.

Here’s how the Blended Burger Project’s competition, which last year included 250 participating restaurants, works: Chefs from around the country create their most delicious version of a mushroom-meat blend burger then add the burgers to their menus, and consumers are urged to vote online or promote it through social media. The five chefs with the most votes will win the “opportunity to prepare their blended burger at the historic James Beard House as part of the official welcome reception for the foundation’s annual food conference,” according to a press release. 
Byres' entry was a buffalo and shiitake blend topped with sensational beach mushrooms — each the size of a coat button — and a healthy dollop of roasted banana pepper mustard. I’ve never had a banana pepper mustard before, but I can tell you that I wanted a bathtub’s worth, to-go. The buffalo-shiitake blend was smoky and sharp and delicious, with a humming heat.

Romano’s slider, a hummingbird-sized bite, featured pork butt brined in mushroom stock. Then it was tossed in porcini salt, which are two words that need to go ahead and get married. The caramelized, porcini ham (imagine bacon) was placed over a mushroom and beef blend and eggless béarnaise. It was a burger bite unlike any I’ve ever had. Don’t miss out on this one when it heads to The Theodore.

Kearney’s Front Room burger blend was a roundhouse of truffles. Maitake, which looks like a beige flower bouquet, and prime beef, when combined, make for rich eating. It sliced down the center like a decadent meatloaf. “Old-school, English-style mushroom ketchup," truffle aioli (real truffles folded in), a slice of sharp white cheddar and romaine rounded off this burger. The dominant flavor was that cake-rich, earthy truffle.

All three burgers will be available to the public on or around Memorial Day, and everyone can vote on the best version in Dallas here. It’s no fairy tale — these burgers are innovative, delicious and they can help Earth out of the frying pan.

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