Through July 31, over 340 chefs at restaurants across the country are competing in the James Beard Foundation’s second annual Blended Burger Project, joining a movement to create burgers with healthier and sustainably sourced ingredients. The top five chefs with the most votes will showcase their blended burgers next year in a special event at the James Beard House in New York City. Coastal Virginia native Chef Phillip Thomason of VINTAGE Kitchen in Norfolk is representing one of three contending restaurants in Virginia in the Blended Burger Project.

The Blended Burger Project seeks to cut-down on the use of meats by incorporating a greater amount of plant-based proteins—specifically with mushrooms. For a burger to be eligible, it must consist of at least 25 percent chopped mushrooms in addition to any beef, chicken, veal or other meats that are used to create the burger. Integrating mushrooms into a burger not only cuts calories in half, but also reduces the meal’s total fat by 40 percent. From the familiar portabella to the exotic and delicate oyster mushroom, chefs are at the liberty to use any mushroom that best suits the palate.

As a proud supporter of locally grown produce and sustainable food initiatives, Chef Phillip Thomason is thrilled to take part in this year’s Blended Burger Project. While VINTAGE Kitchen’s participation helps bring national attention to the area for its local farmers, artisans and food scene, Thomason also indicates that it will help educate guests about more sustainable foods while raising awareness of James Beard Foundation’s efforts. As a longtime James Beard Foundation member, Thomason believes that the need to achieve the foundation’s mission of celebrating, educating and transforming American food culture into a more delicious and environmentally-driven culinary community is more pressing today than ever before.

As to be expected by a chef who graduated top of his class at France’s celebrated culinary institute, Le Cordon Bleu, Thomason chose to embrace the bizarre when creating his blended burger. VINTAGE Kitchen’s “The Backyard” burger is a towering masterpiece of aged cheddar cheese, bacon, crispy potato straws, two different types of mayo, and of course, Thomason’s signature 75/25 blend of grass-fed ground beef from Virginia farmer Claire Benjack of River Road Farm in Franklin, Va. and oyster mushrooms from Dave and Dee’s Homegrown Mushrooms of Sedley, Va. Even the coffee salt used in the meal preparation is sourced from locally-owned and operated Three Ships Coffee Roasters in Virginia Beach.

The process of blending this savory chef-d’oeuvre is no simple feat. Thomason gave us a detailed look into how he perfects the rich, umami flavor of “The Backyard” burger. “We cure and confit the mushrooms in rendered duck fat, bacon fat and butter for several hours with a spice mixture of smoked salt, herbs, brown sugar and roasted chilies. Once they’re strained and cooled, we hand chop them to match the coarse grind of the beef, and the burgers are cooked to order individually in cast iron pans,” says Thomason.

Several VINTAGE Kitchen guests have returned to indulge in Thomason’s burger for seconds, thirds, fourths and even fifths. Even amongst contenders in large cities like San Antonio and New York City, VINTAGE Kitchen’s “The Backyard” is currently one of the top voted burgers in the Blended Burger Project.

Visit here to vote for VINTAGE Kitchen’s “The Backyard” in the Blended Burger Project.

Written By

Grace Silipigni