At the end of dinner service at Connecticut College in New London, Conn., it once was commonplace to see dried-out veggie burgers left over at the grill station. David Perkins, head chef at the 2,000-student college, blamed it on the frozen product he was sourcing, and set to work creating a from-scratch version that was vegan and gluten-free. The challenge: to use existing labor and cook the burgers fresh at each shift. He came up with a winning recipe through trial and error, picking up tips on cooking with plant-based ingredients through a one-day workshop developed by the college in conjunction with The Humane Society of the United States. The new veggie burgers are at about half the cost of the premade options.
- During the initial R&D phase, Perkins tried couscous and brown rice as a base, but “the patties dried out during grilling,” he says. He switched to quinoa, ground cereal and gluten-free breadcrumbs, using a mixture of ground flaxseed and water as a binder to hold them together.
- Canned black beans and fresh shiitake mushrooms add more moisture than the garbanzos and beets used in the frozen patties, says Perkins. The corn and broccoli provide specks of color for a more attractive look.
- Olive oil, which replaces canola oil, ramps up flavor. The mixture is made ahead and refrigerated, which eases operations. Perkins didn’t have to increase staff, as the major prep work is done during slow periods. Signage announcing the new burgers was placed at a tended station, where they are cooked to order, and students spread the word. “We now sell as many vegan burgers in one night as we previously did in a week,” says Perkins.