For the first time, Zero Restaurant + Bar is participating in the James Beard Foundation’s (JBF) Blended Burger project, a summertime initiative started in 2014 to encourage restaurants around the country to make burgers more sustainable.
For the project, Zero’s famed Royale with Cheese made with wagyu beef, smothered and covered in Kraft fondue, and topped with caramelized onions and black truffles, gets an eco upgrade by substituting at least 25 percent of the burger meat with finely chopped Mepkin Abbey shiitake mushrooms.
According to JBF, Americans eat 10 billion burgers annually — if 30 percent of that beef were to be replaced with mushrooms it would save as many emissions as taking 2.3 million cars off the road, conserve as much water as 2.6 million Americans use at home each year, and reduce agricultural land demand by an area larger than Maryland. And at the end of the day, you’re still getting a really tasty burger.
Hundreds of restaurants have thrown their hats into the ring for the chance to win $5,000 and an invite to cook at the Beard House in NYC, but Zero is the only Charleston-area restaurant participating, and one of only six South Carolina participants.[image-3] Chef Vinson Petrillo says he chose to participate this year “for many reasons,” including introducing the decadent/drool-worthy Royale to the rest of the country.
“Our Royale with Cheese has gained a great reputation in Charleston, so entering a sustainable version of the burger into the competition seemed like natural fit. Incorporating mushrooms into the patties creates a ‘healthier’ burger, but also complements the flavors since our Royale with Cheese is already covered in truffles.”
Arriving at the Zero bar in a sleeve of shiny tinfoil, the Royale is at once intimidating and welcoming — the Kraft fondue, made with cream, truffle juice, and Kraft singles, is already oozing. Do you just go for it? Should you pause to sip your seasonal vodka cocktail? Do you pull off individual truffles to let them melt, slowly, in your mouth? All of the above. Yes, you try to make the bites as small and intentional as possible, but the soft, buttery bun will only last so long.
And don’t think you’re getting cheated because this baby isn’t all beef. Petrillo thought long and hard about this specific Blended Burger recipe.
“When coming up with the blend of 75 percent beef, 25 percent mushrooms, it is important to think of the science behind a mushroom. As mushrooms cook, they shrink and release moisture. That being said, I didn’t want to end up with a soggy, shrunken burger, so I had to play with the ratio of wagyu and other blends of fresh ground beef to make sure the burger remained stable, juicy, and was able to have a nice crust. Once we figured that out, we were extremely happy with the final result and will probably continue to use the mushroom blend forever.”
If you’ve had the privilege of biting into the $33 Royale, do yourself (and your wallet) a favor by heading to Zero before July 31 and order the specially priced $18 Blended version of the Royale.
“The mushrooms create a rich, umami flavor and sauce as it cooks, which only complements the fatty, waygu beef,” says Petrillo. Once you’ve tried it, you can thank chef by visiting jamesbeard.org to vote for the Zero burger.
The 25 burgers (again, out of hundreds) that receive the most online votes will advance as finalists. From there, a panel of food experts selected by the James Beard Foundation will determine five winners based on culinary creativity, best flavor profile, and presentation.
“It would be an honor to cook at the James Beard House on my own, since I’ve been several times but only to help other chefs,” says Petrillo. “Also, if Zero were to win, I’d use the money to do something special for our hard working team — who couldn’t use five grand?”