If you want receipts, I have them. I have written about the business of steakhouses. I know that a seafood tower is actually a palate cleanser. I monitor the health of the institution that is the New York City hamburger.
But I am getting old. And like all older people I can’t eat whatever I want. As far as I’m concerned, this is a scientific problem. My steak eating is a health issue, and I’m searching for a solution.
So you see, my motivation for eating the “impossible burger,” the new vegetarian burger at David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi, is unlike that of your normal earth-conscious vegetarian.
I’m trying to find a way to maintain a lifestyle here.
And in the case of this specific burger, one word really intrigued me: “Bloody.” The saddest thing about a veggie burger is that it isn’t juicy. As far as I have always been concerned, vegetables aren’t capable of replacing the burst of flavour that comes from rare meat.
That is why Chang teamed up with Patrick O. Brown, M.D., Ph.D, and CEO of Impossible Foods to develop this burger.
Here’s the science, explained by Gothamist reporter Emily Siegel:
“The ingredients in the Impossible Burger can easily be found in any restaurant kitchen, says Brown. They include water, wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, and natural flavours and micronutrients. The so-called magic ingredient is leghemoglobin, or heme, which is a molecule that’s found in both meat and plants and was discovered by the team at Impossible Foods. It’s what makes the patty look, smell and taste like actual meat.”
Like I said, this is a problem for science.
One small bite for man
To find out if the solution had actually been found I headed to Momofuku Nishi, conveniently located just blocks from Business Insider world headquarters, on Wednesday morning around 11:20 am.
Impossible burgers, according to Momofuku Nishi’s website, were to be served only at lunch and happy hour. They would be served on a first come, first serve basis starting at noon.
When I arrived there were only around eight or so people standing in line. We were seated promptly at noon. I should also note that a Momofuku Nishi employee came out and handed us little bottles of water while we were waiting.
I ordered the Impossible Burger “Nishi style” with fries and struck up a conversation with a nice gentleman sitting next to me about the state of our nation (poor), athletes who make it in the entertainment business (John Cena seems to be everywhere these days), and the very idea of a vegetarian burger grown in a lab.
Over the years Americans have grown accustomed to hearing bad things about the food they eat. Milk is bad, and then it’s good, and then it’s bad again. Eggs are good, but can also apparently are quite bad if chickens are kept in nasty conditions. Access to good food, we’re told, is a luxury of the wealthy. Our bodies were made more for protein, no, more for carbohydrates. We are failing at eating.
In this sandwich, my seatmate and I were looking for some small glimmer of hope that the human diet could be moving in the right direction. We needed a win, and we needed that win to taste like meat.
My seatmate was first to get his burger with American cheese, which is served on a bun (vegan if you want) with lettuce and tomato, as well as a side of fries and special sauce. The first words following his first bite were “it’s definitely a burger.”
Perfect, I thought. And I agree. Upon taking my first bite I realised that this was in fact a burger. It was definitely not a veggie burger.
The Impossible Burger has a meaty taste. It doesn’t necessarily taste like a cow’s meat, though. It’s more like a reminder that cows exist somewhere out there. This thing you have in your hands, however, is very, very good. As far as you can remember, cows can taste better, but they have also tasted worse.
If chef David Chang, who was working busily around the restaurant, had told me that I was eating a burger made out of rare bird meat, or some small woodland creature, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
If he had told me that it was meat made from the wisest, noblest seal in the Arctic, I would have paused — but more importantly I would have kept eating. The sandwich is light but juicy. That musty taste that you get when eating ground and pasted vegetables is simply not there. The special sauce is a mayo-spice-I-have-no-clue combo, but it’s fantastic.
And, while I know aesthetics are not everything, it looks bloody.
Now, let me be clear. This is also not a beef burger. This is not the kind of thing you’re going to want to eat when you’re hungover and need a bunch of greasy goodness to wax over some of the pain. This is a civilized burger. You will still want your beef burger on occasion. The Impossible Burger is not a replacement. It’s an adaptation.
It’s also, more importantly, a step in the right direction. Humans will keep getting better at this, and even if we never find a replacement for a beef burger, we’ll add something to our diets that tastes as good and is better for our bodies. It’s an exciting development.