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finished_burgerpromo.gif Photos: UCSF Medical Center
UCSF Med Center's "better burger."

New burger blend a smash hit at UCSF Med Center

Combining one classic burger method—smashing on the griddle—and one new spin—blending mushrooms into beef—an improved burger experience has increased burger business by 75 percent.

After hearing about customers’ lukewarm response to the burger program at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center’s cafés and patient menu, the culinary team decided to go back to the burger drawing board and rebuild it from scratch, launching a new burger at the beginning of the fall.

“The main driver for the effort was a better burger,” says Dan Henroid, director of nutrition and health services for UCSF Health. “The project scope is unique in that it went across all of our sites and all of our programs for patient dining and retail dining.”

Four views that make UCSF Medical Center’s better burger.

That meant it was important to get it right—from nutrition to flavor profile to the blend, which thanks to inspiration from the Menus of Change initiative, would include mushrooms to add more plant-based power to the burger.

“We had been using grass-fed Niman Ranch beef, and we kept that, but with Menus of Change and the James Beard blended burger contest, we just jumped into blendability,” says Chuck Davies, associate director of operations and culinary innovation at UCSF Medical Center. “It’s the protein-flip principle, where we are making veggies more center of the plate and good quality meat more on the side.”

At home, Davies experimented with different mushrooms, such as crimini, which worked well, but ultimately decided on button mushrooms for the hospital’s burger blend, since the flavor focus is still on the beef, not the mushrooms, so a more neutral mushroom works fine.

Lots of taste testing went into the recipe development process, with almost 3,000 guests sampling burgers and weighing in on variations of mushroom-beef patties.

The winning combo is 30 percent chopped mushroom, 70 percent beef, and those numbers are proudly displayed in the new marketing materials, which have been key to getting the word out about the new better burgers at three hospital campus retail locations and the patient menu as well. Table tents, digital menu boards and sampling have made up the core of the marketing effort.

Before cooking the burgers, kitchen staff hand-forms patties from a master mix.

“We thought about getting them preformed, but we decided to do it in bulk and portion it ourselves,” Davies says, adding that the fresh action only adds to the awesome burger experience for customers in line, who can see it all happening.

Then, the cook smashes the 5-ounce ball of meat and mushroom into the griddle with a spatula, a time-honored burger tradition that creates an amazing crust on the outside, concentrating all that umami flavor into the perfect meaty bite.

Since mushrooms have a lot of moisture, the consistency is a bit different than a straight beef burger, so just before hitting the griddle, the burgers are kept in a drip pan to dry out just a little.

Finally, there’s a new bun for the burgers to rest on.

“Customers had been telling us they didn’t like the previous hearty wheat buns, and that’s one reason they weren’t ordering the burgers,” Davies says. “So we switched to a pretzel bun, and that’s been really nice.”

Sales have been nice too, going up 75 percent since the introduction of the new blended burgers.

“I think blended burgers are becoming more mainstream,” Davies concludes. “I read that Sonic is coming up with a blended burger and a lot of restaurants have been doing it too.”

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