Mixing protein and mushrooms makes for a healthier and more sustainable burger.

Nothing says summer quite like a good burger. Americans eat 50 billion burgers every year, according to The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Food for 9 Billion project, adding up to a big impact on our health and the environment. In 2015 the James Beard Foundation and the Mushroom Council started the Blended Burger Project, a nationwide contest challenging chefs to create a patty that is at least one-quarter mushrooms, making burgers both healthier for consumers and more sustainable for the planet. A winning burger brings a coveted prize: Five chefs will score an invitation to cook their blended burgers at the historic James Beard House in New York City.

Two Columbus restaurants are participating in the contest: Preston’s: A Burger Joint and Watershed Kitchen & Bar. Preston’s revamped its Ambrose & Eve Single burger to include 25 percent shiitake mushrooms from Tiger Mushroom Farms to complement beef from The Butcher & Grocer and topped it with American cheese, house pickles, red onion, lettuce and a special sauce.

Matthew Heaggans of Preston’s says that he and co-founder Catie Randazzo considered creating a new burger for the contest, but decided to alter an existing item instead. “It’s just a burger, and I feel like that’s kind of the point of the contest,” he says. “You can use less meat, and it’s good for everyone.”

Watershed’s offering from executive chef Jack Moore is a “smash-style” burger that brings together two locally sourced beef patties blended with king oyster mushrooms, caramelized fennel, chili crisp aioli and Taleggio whiz. When asked why he wants to participate, Moore says, “We continue to work to push our food scene – making it better, healthier and more sustainable, and organizations like James Beard help put the spotlight on those efforts. This project is not necessarily about personal health, but about the health of our planet.”

Moore adds that being invited to cook at the James Beard house would be a huge career step and something to cross off of his bucket list, but more importantly, it would be “a great opportunity to have someone from our community, our city, showcase what we do in town.”

Heaggans agrees. “I’d love to cook at the Beard House; the opportunity would be immensely rewarding, and it would be a real bucket list moment,” he says.

Members of the public are invited to vote for their favorite burger through July 31. The 20 burgers that earn the most online votes will be sampled by a panel of experts, who will choose the five best burgers based on most creative use of mushrooms, best flavor profile and presentation.

Both Preston’s and Watershed will offer their blended burgers to the public through the end of July. For more information and to vote for Columbus’ burgers, visit jamesbeard.org/blendedburgerproject/vote.

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