When chef Jose Mendoza added a new burger to the menu at the Lobby Bar & Grill at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula in May, there was more to the move than just giving an old classic a new twist.
The new $16 Psycho-Deli Burger is the Valley Center native’s way of supporting local, sustainable farming and ecology. The burger — with a hand-pressed patty that’s 70 percent beef and 30 percent minced mushrooms — is made with mushrooms grown at Escondido’s Mountain Meadow Farm, which are in turn grown in a medium of used hay from the Del Mar Racetrack.
Mendoza is the only San Diego County-area chef participating in the James Beard Foundation’s 2019 Blended Burger Project. The competition, which has drawn burger entries from 266 chefs nationwide, asks restaurants to create a menu burger that is made with at least 25 percent chopped mushrooms. The New York-based foundation is the nation’s most respected culinary arts organization.
The project is designed to encourage mushroom consumption and farming. Mushrooms are fat-free and low in calories, they grow in recycled organic waste, require very little water, can be harvested year-round and can yield up to 1 million pounds of product per acre, Mendoza said.
After hearing about the Blended Burger project earlier this year, Mendoza visited Mountain Meadow to learn about mushroom farming and he became a believer. He said the mix of specialty trumpet and shiitake mushrooms in his Pyscho-Deli burger give it a more juicy, “umami” flavor profile.
Mendoza was raised in Valley Center where his large family grilled carne asada and burgers in the backyard every weekend, so making burgers is one of his specialties. After high school, his initial dream was to become an electrician, but when he got a job as a buffet cook at Harrah’s Resort Southern California in Valley Center, he fell in love with cooking.
After attending culinary school in Chicago, he worked at restaurants in Escondido and Las Vegas and then returned to Pechanga two years ago to serve as opening executive chef at the Lobby Bar & Grill. Mendoza said most customers who dine at the restaurant are gamblers looking for a quick meal so they can return to the casino floor as soon as possible. As a result, quick-prep sandwiches make up a good portion of the menu.
While the Psycho-Deli Burger does come together quickly in the end, Mendoza said some of its ingredients take days to prepare. The burger’s name is a cheeky nod to the psychotropic qualities of some mushrooms and the ingredients of a Reuben deli sandwich.
The burger begins with a 7-ounce patty that combines the minced mushrooms with a 50/50 blend of beef chuck and short rib. That’s topped with Cotswold pub cheese, micro-greens, pickles, housemade beets and Brussels sprouts sauerkraut, and a charred onion ketchup aioli that takes 24 hours to prepare. The crowning touch is a 3-ounce layer of thick-sliced corned beef belly that’s cooked for 40 hours in a sous-vide bath.
Since adding the burger to the menu on May 27, Mendoza said the Psycho-Deli has been selling so well that he might keep it on the menu after the contest ends. Every diner who orders one of the burgers is told about the contest and, if they love it, they’re invited to vote for the burger on an iPad that is brought to their table.
“So far, every person who ate it liked it and they’ve all been happy to vote for it,” he said.
The public is invited to vote by clicking the heart icon for their favorite blended burgers in an online poll that runs through July 31. The 25 chefs whose burgers get the most votes will be asked to submit their recipes to the Beard Foundation judges. From that round, five chef finalists will be flown to New York to make the burgers in person for the panel. The final winner will receive a $5,000 prize.
This is the third year the Beard Foundation has hosted a blended burger challenge. Winning chefs from the previous two rounds, as well as some semifinalists, have reported huge sales of their blended burgers. Mendoza’s not sure if he’ll win but he’s happy to do his part to boost the profile of the region’s sustainable farms.
“Through my burger entry I hope our guests love it and vote for it,” he said. “And I want them to leave with the knowledge that cooking with more mushrooms and less meat does amazing things for the planet.”
Lobby Bar & Grill
Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays. 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Where: Pechanga Resort Casino, 45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula
Phone: (951) 770-8440