Tantalizing news for burger watchers seeking plant-based restaurant options: Today, three prominent California chefs — two in San Francisco and one in Los Angeles — will begin serving the Impossible Foods burger in their flagship restaurants. Traci Des Jardins (of Jardiniere, Mijita, Public House, the Commissary and Arguello), Chris Cosentino (Cockscomb, the dearly departed Incanto, Boccalone) and Tal Ronnen (Crossroads Kitchen, author of the best-selling The Conscious Cook) now have plant-based burgers from Impossible Foods on their lunch or dinner menus. Jardiniere’s offering, with caramelized onion, avocado, special sauce and pommes frites, will be the only burger offered at the restaurant.
Des Jardins said at a press event that this burger is a game changer that could have major impact — Impossible Foods uses about a quarter of the water and 5 percent of the land of a burger made from steer. CEO and founder Pat Brown is looking to “accelerate the switch to a sustainable food system” and help “feed 9 billion people by 2050.” The company also suggests that Impossible Burgers produce 13 percent less greenhouse gases than beef counterparts. And despite their meatlessness, the burgers have proven to be a hit already: David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi in New York City has had an Impossible burger on the menu since late July, and it’s earned positive buzz, even enticing some to line up just to try it.
But how does this burger taste? I am a lifelong carnivore and consider a juicy burger a necessity, but I scaled back on red meat after getting breast cancer. Initial skepticism and doubts are understandable for a burger made from ingredients that include potato flour, wheat, coconut, yeast and a touch of soy. How could it have the sear and juiciness of its beef counterparts? It turns out, the use of an ingredient called heme may be the secret sauce that gives the burger enough tang and mineral notes to give the olfactory pleasure and desire associated with burger-eating. Heme, which occurs naturally in all animals and plants, provides meat with its distinctive bright to dark red color. For eating purposes, if you favor the rawness and blood of a medium-rare burger, it is actually possible with this product because of the presence of heme. Surprisingly, the fat and calories match the traditional beef burger, without the antibiotics, cholesterol or hormones.
The burger will first launch in restaurants, and grocery outlets will carry the product eventually, with the per-pound price to be approximately that of grass-fed beef.
Of the trio, Cosentino’s involvement may at first seem the most surprising given his skill with artisanal pork salumi, dedication to offal dishes and use of whole beasts including squab, fish, pig and steer — his website is offalgood.com, after all. Yet Cosentino has always been a proponent of vegetables and sustainability with his culinary businesses. He heard about the product from Des Jardins and tasted it raw for tartare and worked with it in his kitchen. The final factor for Cosentino came when he realized his son, Easton, and wife, Tatiana, were fans. The Cockscomb version includes caramelized onions, lettuce, Gruyère, pickles, Dijon and mixed greens. He was quick to note that there will still be a pork burger available for die-hard meat eaters at Cockscomb.