St. Norbert College competes in Blended Burger Project

Campus dining representatives enter their Lodi Dodi Smoke Burger into national competition

DE PERE — Last year, St. Norbert College’s campus dining was named “Best College Food in Wisconsin” by Niche, an organization that provides rankings based on statistical data and student feedback. St. Norbert was also ranked 15th nationally by Niche.

Ben Sauer, a chef at St. Norbert College’s campus dining, and Amanda Beck, event manager for the college’s Conference and Catering Services, are the brains behind the Lodi Dodi Smoke Burger. The burger creation has been entered in the 2017 Blended Burger Project sponsored by the James Beard Foundation. (Scott Eastman | For The Compass)

A duo from the college is hoping to add to St. Norbert’s national recognition. Chef Ben Sauer and Amanda Beck, event manager for Conference and Catering Services, created the Lodi Dodi Smoke Burger, an entry in the 2017 Blended Burger Project, sponsored by the James Beard Foundation. The creators of the top five blended burgers, based on votes, will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the James Beard House in New York.

Sauer and Beck are hopeful for an opportunity to make their burger for a panel of judges, who will decide the winner. They already have one victory. In March, Dan Froelich, executive chef at the college, asked the chefs and event managers to team up to design a burger based on the Blended Burger Project.

“He threw in a little twist,” explained Sauer. “We had to use a root-to-stalk component on our burger, which means that each team had to put something on or in the burger that would normally be thrown away.”

Sauer and Beck chose sweet potato peels, fried and sprinkled with a honey garlic rub.

The patty for the competition must be at least 25 percent mushroom.

The Lodi Dodi Burger, created by Ben Sauer and Amanda Beck, features sweet potato peels, fried and sprinkled with a honey garlic rub. (Submitted photo courtesy of St. Norbert College)

“The idea is it’s a healthier burger and also more sustainable because you are using mushrooms over processed beef,” said Beck. “The nice thing about a blended burger is you can’t tell that there are mushrooms in it. People who don’t eat mushrooms don’t even know.”

“You get that fifth taste, umami, that aged flavor that you find in harder cheeses and mushrooms,” said Sauer.

“Of the 25 percent mushroom in our burger, half of it was portabella and the other half was crimini,” he added. “We got in whole (beef) briskets and cut them into cubes and ground it all together.”

“The key is to get the liquid out of the mushrooms,” said Beck.

The bottom layer of their creation includes sun-dried tomatoes smoked with hickory chips, combined with cherries, dry thyme, white balsamic vinegar and salt.

“We cook it down and give it a couple pulses with the immersion  blender to make it more pasty,” explained Sauer, “then the burger, the (smoked Gouda) cheese, the (pickled red) onions and the sweet potato straws” (on a black sesame seed studded brioche bun).

In April, four teams made blended burgers for a campus competition. Unlike the James Beard Foundation project, voters were able to taste the burgers. Sauer and Beck won.

“People who try the burger absolutely love it,” said Sauer. “We had students coming back asking for more.”

The burger will be included on the dining services menu in the fall as part of the wellness station.

“(The wellness station) is very popular,” said Sauer. “We do saute dishes to order, much healthier options. This fall, we are going to have an allergen station, which is going to be 90 percent free of the big eight allergies, to accommodate those students with dietary restrictions. It’s something we have to do and will do right.”

Voting for the 2017 Blended Burger Project continues through July 31. To vote or for more information, visit

“One of the big reasons we are doing this is to try to put St. Norbert out there,” said Beck. “If we can get the word about St. Norbert out in New York, how great would that be?”


What is a blended burger?

Blended burgers are healthy, nutritious and sustainable burgers that blend finely chopped umami-rich mushrooms with ground hamburger meat. Adding mushrooms to ground meat will also add freshness, according to the James Beard Foundation, sponsors of the Blended Burger Project.