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The burger at the University of Montana is two parts Yellowstone Grassfed Beef and one part mushroom.

It's all parts delicious, although the taster admits to liking probably all burgers. (Burgers from home, Five Guys, The Depot, all winners.)

Now, the campus burger also is up for a James Beard award, and UM Dining's Sam Belanger is asking for votes to ensure the blended burger wins The Oscars of cooking.

"We make the best burger around, no matter what you do to it," said Belanger, director of marketing.

Recently, he saw one student at the Food Zoo pour Alfredo sauce over the patty. With 460 pounds of meat consumed weekly, chances are the combinations are nearly limitless.

UM Dining has been cooking up the 6-ounce burger, some 500 patties a day, for almost two years. But this year is the first that the James Beard Foundation brings the competition to college campuses, according to UM.

UM is one of six medium-size schools competing for bragging rights and the chance to grill up the blended burger at a cook-off at the James Beard House in New York. The winners are based on votes, but Belanger said UM Dining is using the competition to show how its culinary strength melds with its efforts in sustainability.

Tony Martinez, executive sous chef, said UM has been focused on using less meat and more plants to be more sustainable, and the burger with mushroom is one example.

On its website, Yellowstone Grassfed Beef shares the ranch's philosophy.

"In a time when the majority of cattle are confined to feedlots and gorged on grain, growth hormones, and antibiotics, we believe you, and our cows, deserve better," the website said. "Raised humanely on pasture without the use of hormones or antibiotics, our cattle are treated with respect."

Martinez said the result of the blend is a meat patty full of flavor. He said the mushroom releases moisture when it cooks, which makes the meat more tender as well.

The competition is open through December, and students who vote will be entered to win a $1,000 on-campus dining gift certificate or a $100 VISA gift card. Vote at

The James Beard Foundation is a national nonprofit based in New York City and named for "the late cookbook author, teacher and champion of American cuisine," UM said in a news release. The foundation is also focused on sustainability.

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.