St. Norbert College duo take first place in ‘blended burger’ competition

Competition in New York sponsored by James Beard Foundation

DE PERE — Turns out a St. Norbert College duo had the right blend and made the right decision.

Last summer, Ben Sauer, assistant head chef, and Amanda Beck, event manager for conference and event services at the time, competed in the 2017 Blended Burger Project sponsored by the James Beard Foundation. The competition required that burgers feature a patty made with at least 25 percent mushrooms. Sauer and Beck finished 13th of 400 entries.

Amanda Beck and Ben Sauer are pictured with the “Lodi Dodi” blended burger at the James Beard House in New York City. The St. Norbert College duo won first place honors for colleges and universities with an enrollment of 5,000 students or less in the Blended Burger Project Campus Edition sponsored by the James Beard Foundation. Blended burgers in the competition required a patty made with at least 25 percent mushrooms. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)

Following the initial project, they were invited to enter their “Lodi Dodi Burger” in a competition exclusively for colleges and universities.

“Ben and I went back and forth to decide if we wanted to enter or not,” said Beck, who now serves as donor relations coordinator for advancement at the college. “We did. That edition was based on tiers. There were three tiers. We were one of the top two schools under 5,000 (enrollment). If you look at the number of votes, we beat some of the schools that won in the other tiers.”

Their reward was a trip to New York City on April 16 to make their burger at the James Beard House. The “Lodi Dodi” is made from beef brisket ground with portabella and roasted cremini mushrooms. Their creation also includes smoked sun-dried tomatoes, cherry chutney, melted smoked Gouda cheese, pickled red onions and honey-garlic-seasoned sweet potato straws. It is served on a black sesame seed-studded bun.

“The event started at 6:30 p.m. and I got there around noon,” explained Sauer. “I went to Chelsea Market (in Manhattan) to get mushrooms, smoked Gouda and picked up cherries. We mailed all the nonperishables. We were set for 120 sliders.”

“There were six schools total, so we were in a very close-knit space,” said Beck. “It was James Beard’s house, so the kitchen was not designed for a large number of people. There was a little competition for space and the grill.”

“It is an open kitchen, so guests were able to walk through it,” said Sauer. “You had all your servers, maître d’s and kitchen managers in there.”

Sauer discovered another challenge. Because the house is located in a residential area, he was not allowed to use a smoker for the sun-dried tomatoes.

“I had to use liquid smoke,” he said. “It was still delicious.”

“The VP of the (James Beard) foundation kept asking for our burger,” said Beck. “The recognition was great.”

They enjoyed meeting the other college chefs. Representatives from the University of Alaska Anchorage shipped reindeer meat for their burger. A Massachusetts college did a chicken tikka. All the others used beef.

“It was really cool to hear that at the Montana school with 22,000 students, every single burger is a blended burger,” said Sauer. “The head of the Mushroom Council (an event sponsor) said that food trends often start on campuses, which makes sense because you are feeding so many people. It’s great to be a part of this new food trend, to be on top of it before it is super popular. It’s not something that is going away anytime soon.”

The use of vegetables in blended burgers makes it a more sustainable and nutritious alternative to a traditional all-beef burger.

In addition to being able to work in a kitchen where many famous chefs have cooked, Beck and Sauer also appreciated the opportunity to bring some national attention to St. Norbert. They were asked repeatedly about the college’s location.

“Right by Green Bay; right by the Packers; then they all got it,” said Sauer. “It was great to help put this little 2,000-student college from De Pere on the national map.

“I never thought I would get to New York because of a burger and definitely not the James Beard House,” he added.