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Dining

Better Off Veg

Chef Bill Telepan perfects the veggie burger
Bill Telepan's Mushroom Veggie Burger
Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table 

This September, embrace the upgrade with us: Make your eating and drinking better, faster and stronger.

How do you convince hardcore carnivores to take a night off?

"Tell them there's bacon in their meal," chef Bill Telepan jokes. Or just serve them one of his cheese- and aioli-slathered mushroom burgers (see the recipe) and smile triumphantly as they wolf it down—and then try to steal a bite of yours.

Veggie burgers are having a moment, especially if the lines outside a certain open-only-select-nights, run-by-a-pastry-chef NYC restaurant are any indication (as well as versions at newbies by CHLOE. and Seamore's). We've had many a veggie burger in our day, and Telepan's is heads and tails above most we've tasted.

While Telepan isn't himself a vegetarian, his dedication to local produce shines through in everything from his seasonally shifting dishes to the lush fruit and vegetable photographs visible from every last seat at his eponymous Upper West Side restaurant. The obsession took root back when Telepan worked as a sous chef at Gotham Bar and Grill and oversaw purchasing for the restaurant. Chef/owner Alfred Portale encouraged him to strike up relationships with the farmers and vendors at the nearby Union Square Greenmarket. Two and a half decades later, that's still how he develops his own menus.

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"I pore over seed catalogs in the wintertime and call various farmers to say, 'I want to try this,'" he says. "You get to know particulars about the farmers over time and what they're best at."

And when Meatless Monday—the global movement geared toward getting people to give up meat one day a week—asked him to build a better veggie burger, he took on the challenge with relish. Or, rather, with Gruyère, crispy onions, pickled maitake aioli and a brioche bun. "I wasn't going to just go with ketchup, lettuce and tomato. We're a little fancy-pants here at the restaurant!" he jokes.

Telepan's kitchen team went through countless renditions before arriving at a patty of cremini mushrooms, cream-soaked oats, farro, herbs and onions (all, of course, straight from farmers) that crisps gorgeously on the outside and gives way to a tender, savory center.

"When you get a good sear on a mushroom, and you close your eyes and taste it, there are some meat elements to it," Telepan says. "It's a natural thing to make into a burger."

His burgers aren't just many cuts above the freezer-burned, bean-based patties that most of us have gnawed into—they're a hit with his white tablecloth clientele. Telepan recently put the team's creation on the restaurant's Meatless Monday menu and held his breath when his most vocal regular ordered one. "If there were something wrong, she would call me out of the kitchen to tell me about it," he recalls. He was hoping, at best, for no comment; instead he got a rave.

"She said, 'Oh my gosh, that was terrific!' I was like, WHEW I was happy that she was happy."

If she had no beef with it, we're thinking neither will you. Make and eat the patties tonight or save them in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic, to up to four days from now. Because when it comes to meat-free meals, there's always 'shroom for improvement.

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