On May 29th, at the Shake Shack located in New York’s Madison Square Park, chef Dan Barber and his team from Blue Hill will be serving 500 veggie cheeseburgers made from the pulpy leftovers of cold-pressed vegetable juice. Just a few months ago, Barber received acclaim for his waste-focused pop-up, WastED, which featured fish heads and kale ribs, among other food items that usually find their way into the trash instead of onto our dinner plates. How did this re-purposed pulp burger make it to Shake Shack? We spoke to Barber to find out.
Tell me a little bit about this veggie burger.
Adam Kaye, our culinary director and I were talking about researching waste in broad, general strokes. And we were talking about how we could catch some of the byproducts of the juice craze. You know, like juice pulp. From there, he suggested a patty, almost a burger, made from the leftovers of beet juice.
What’s going to be on this veggie burger?
It’s taking the shape and form of real burger patties. I’m pretty conservative, so I’m topping it with lettuce and melted cheese. The cheese is from a cheese-maker in Vermont, who has this reject cheese. The ketchup we’re using is made from varieties of beets that didn’t make the cut for our friend’s field trials. They’re okay beets on their own, but as ketchup they’re great. The buns are from Balthazar and Paula [Oland]‘s essentially re-purpose old bread and make it into buns. Then the pickles are made from a pickling processor who slices off the pickle butts—their word, not mine—and we’re using those ends.
How did you guys come up with the idea?
The idea was to highlight what chefs do every day in their kitchens, which is utilizing waste. It’s what we were trained to do. We don’t call it waste, because it wouldn’t sell very well on the menu. We think of restaurants as places of wastefulness and elitism, but I wanted to shine a light on the industry that I see as being able to solve problems instead of creating them.
Juices have become an urban diet staple almost overnight, according to Barber. Photo: Tuukka Koski
How’d you land on the hamburger, specifically?
People think I’m against hamburgers. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s my favorite food probably. What I’m more interested in is the juice craze. It became a sensation overnight, and there’s this fascination and fetishization, as juices have become a staple of an urban diet.
What do you mean by that?
Has anyone stopped to think whether our bodies are meant to be drinking so much juice? Or what the consequences are of basically putting up our wet fingers to the wind to determine what food craze we’re into? Maybe that’s on a more philosophical, food culture level, but it’s sort of dizzying for chefs to watch because these trends seem to come out of nowhere, and then in the context of wastefulness, the question is: What do you do with the byproducts of those crazes?
Say yes way to whey. Photo: Marcus Nilsson
Do you have an answer there?
I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t be drinking so much juice. I find it interesting that it’s become such an accepted part of our diet so quickly, and we don’t think of the byproducts, like the pulp. If you look at the craze for Greek yogurt, as an example, the byproduct is whey, and it’s a real problem in upstate New York, where there’s so much whey because of Chobani’s success. But it’s acidifying soils. In Greece, where they make the freakin’ stuff, they marinate lamb in the whey or make beautiful whey elixirs that help you cool off in the summer. That’s the lesson of the burger: We should probably be thinking about that more in our daily diets as a food culture. I’m interested to know how dishes and menus at restaurants can help balance these impulses.
Is this more an American thing then?
The great thing about American food culture is that we have no culture. You don’t see the same kind of crazes happening all over the world, because their food cultures are tethered to something pretty deep that says something about who you are. With us, it’s just like: We’re a hodgepodge of different cultures, but in most ways, our cuisine is about the overabundance of what’s been produced in this country since its inception.
So can there be a happy ending here?
The happy ending only comes if we can indulge in eating well but not with the same type of expectations we have now.
How will you sell this pulp burger?
I’m not going into the Wild West. They’re only having us make 500 of them. Plus, if I felt like it was a B-minus burger, I don’t think we’d ever come out with it. I wanted the project to be about super-delicious food. The thing that makes me happy is not the virtuousness of the burger. It’s the taste.
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from Bon Appétit http://www.bonappetit.com/entertaining-style/trends-news/article/dan-barber-shake-shack-veggie-burger