Where's the Beef?: Has Allison Burgess created faux food, fad food — or a groundbreaking meat substitute?

Nearly ten years ago, during a business lunch at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton, Allison Burgess realized her reverence for animals made it nearly impossible to enjoy dining out. "I have a profound respect for life," she says. "I could never be comfortable knowing something I ate suffered."

That afternoon at the Ritz, she ordered the veggie burger. "They gave me a deep-fried vegetable fritter, smothered in cheese on a giant bun, with fries," she remembers. "It was so unhealthy. I couldn't eat that." She sent it back. When the restaurant offered to make her something else, Burgess declined. "There was nothing on that menu I wanted to eat. A salad? Forget it."

Burgess later discussed the incident with a chef she knew. "He told me it's a challenge to serve people who don't eat meat or chicken," she says. "You're forced to piece together sides into a meal."

Allison Burgess, founder of Match Foods, at her farm in Dittmer, Missouri.
Allison Burgess, founder of Match Foods, at her farm in Dittmer, Missouri.

Location Info

Map

Terrene

33 N. Sarah St.
St. Louis, MO 63108

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: St. Louis - Central West End

Lucas Park Grille

1234 Washington Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63103

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: St. Louis - Washington Avenue

Schlafly Bottleworks

7260 Southwest Ave
Maplewood, MO 63143

Category: Attractions and Amusement Parks

Region: Maplewood

Chris' Pancake & Dining

5980 SW Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63139

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: St. Louis - Dogtown

The Royale

3132 S. Kingshighway
St. Louis, MO 63139

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: St. Louis - South City

Duff's Restaurant

392 N. Euclid Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63108

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: St. Louis - Central West End

The Market at Busch's Grove-CLOSED

9160 Clayton Road
Ladue, MO 63124

Category: Grocery Stores

Region: Ladue

Helen Fitzgerald's

3650 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
Sunset Hills, MO 63127

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Crestwood/ Sunset Hills/ Sappington/ South Lindbergh

Whole Foods Market-Town and Country

1160 Town and Country Crossing Road
Town & Country, MO 63017

Category: Retail

Region: Town & Country

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The prospect of a lifetime wasting money on vegetable plates or deep-fried veggie patties and leaving restaurants still hungry disgusted her. "If I never eat another portobello-mushroom sandwich again," she declares now, "it will be too soon."

Burgess wanted variety when she went out, something she could sink her teeth into. She wanted meat — or, rather, meat that didn't come from an animal.

Her lunch at the Ritz and the chef's comments got Burgess thinking about vegetarian meat. "I looked at Boca and Morningstar products," she recalls. "The meat had no texture and was overly seasoned and pre-formed. There was nothing there that would help anyone cook. You can't take a Boca burger and make meatballs."

An experienced St. Louis businesswoman who ran her own company, Medical Video Productions, for many years, Burgess now saw an opening to make a meat substitute of her own, one that imitated the texture of meat and allowed chefs to add their own seasonings. "There was a real opportunity for restaurants to provide food for vegetarians and for people who don't want to eat fatty or unhealthy foods," she explains. "If I could get this up to gourmet quality, chefs would use it."

In 2001 Burgess began working on her meat substitute in the kitchen of her home in Westwood, a tiny residential enclave near Creve Coeur. Today there are six varieties of Match Meat: beef, chicken, pork, crab, and Italian and breakfast sausage. Made from soy protein, wheat gluten, water and natural flavorings, Match comes frozen and unseasoned, as bland as any supermarket meat.

Chefs cook and serve Match in more than 30 St. Louis restaurants, ranging from the formal Vin de Set, Terrene and Lucas Park Grille, to the more casual Schlafly Bottleworks and Chris' Pancake & Dining. It can be found at Washington University, in Busch Stadium and at St. John's Mercy Hospital. All 23 Dierbergs stores carry the product, and three months ago, Whole Foods increased its order to serve its 31 Midwest locations.

"We're on the verge of a major sea change in food culture toward more healthy foods," Burgess predicts. "We're on the verge of seeing a lot of vegetable protein in the American diet. To feed a cow for seventeen months, to water it and clean up after it — a lot of time and oil resources go into one pound of beef."

It's generally agreed among nutrition experts and food historians, most notably Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, that Americans are too reliant on artificial foods, manufactured from chemicals and artful rearranging of corn and soy. (The apotheosis of this, Pollan believes, is the indestructible Hostess Twinkie.)

"When you create an artificial food supply and create artificial flavors, the body doesn't know how to behave itself," explains Joan Gussow, a self-described "foodist" who teaches in the department of Health and Behavior Studies at Columbia University's Teachers College. "You're lost. You need some kind of balance."

Gussow and other experts recommend a return to "whole foods" that can be found in nature: fresh produce, eggs from pasture-raised chickens and grass-fed beef.

Match, made in part from soy and produced in a factory in Fenton, certainly qualifies as more "industrial" than "whole" food. "Match is processed food, no doubt about it," Burgess concedes. "But Pollan's way is not the only valid way to start making changes. Our taste buds and appetites change slowly. Very few people can make dramatic changes on a dime. Match gives you something you're used to eating. It's meat from a different source."


Back in the days when Burgess was still choking down portobello-mushroom sandwiches, a few St. Louis chefs were trying to make their own faux meat. Johnny Branze, kitchen manager at the Royale in south St. Louis, experimented with veggie burgers made from wheat gluten. "It took days," he recalls. "It's a long process: soaking, draining, baking. The burgers I made were good, but overall, not worth the effort."

"I couldn't get the consistency right," remembers Jim Voss, executive chef at Duff's in the Central West End, who tried to make his burgers with soy. "At first it was too wet. A few hours later, it'd be perfect. But by the next day, it would be too dry."

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