Chef Thai Dang │ Make It the Best Experience You Can

Embeya’s Chef/Partner Thai Dang just got back from celebrating the Vietnamese Lunar New Year with his family on the east coast. If the first two months of 2015 are any indication of what kind of a year it’s going to be, the months ahead will be no less than an epic whirlwind.

To date, Dang hosted the Chef’s Social industry voting event for the Jean Banchet Awards at Embeya, bore the filmed stress of a Check, Please! segment [all thumbs up], received the Jean Banchet Award for Best Restaurant Service and successfully sailed through the grueling pace of Restaurant Week and Valentine’s Weekend.

  On March 7th, Chef Dang embarks for Vietnam on a “Culinary Journey” he is hosting for  R. Crusoe & Son. In addition to sharing local foods, culture and history with the tour, he will also cook for the travelers and take them to his family’s home where one of his sisters still resides today. (Pictured above: Vietnamese Fruit Market.) Follow his journey all next month on Twitter: @ThaiDangEats.

You just got back from visiting with your family, do you cook for them?

I cook for events. It [the New Year] is to give thanks to your parents who gave you life and to your ancestors. We are influenced by Chinese traditions and also add Catholicism to it. I brought my wife, she’s Italian American, for the first time this year. She loved it and was surprised by all the activity – all the kids get envelopes with money inside. I have six brothers and three sisters, and all of them have 2-3 kids. In Vietnam, businesses shut down for three days, and people visit each other.

I get made fun of when I go home because my family says I lost my accent. I was 6 when I came here, but my siblings were in their teens – plus they’re around my parents and the community there. I have the English accent when I speak Vietnamese now – do you see it? When I have an in depth conversation with them, sometimes it’s hard to find the words. They say the words I’m using, are very simple, like what a five year old would choose.

What do they say about your cooking?

They tell me my food tastes like home, but when they go home they can’t do it at home. That’s the best compliment my family pays me. That made me felt so great – that they can’t replicate it.

Around Town

What was it like to host the Chef’s Social for Banchet voting?

It went well. For me, I was cooking, and we were able to showcase the hospitality we have as a restaurant. We strive to show guests, even industry folks, what we’re about.

It’s not my food in the beginning because when guests come, it’s the experience they have with the hosts and the servers. I want to please the guests – it’s not about the chef and his ego.

How did Check, Please! go?

Great, but it all happened at the same time – during Restaurant Week. We got slaughtered every day; 200 covers a day during the week and 300 plus on the weekends. Then it was Valentine’s Day. It was crazy – we were going through cases CheckPleaseEmbeyaand cases of things.

Do you like doing Restaurant Week?

We LOVE Restaurant Week! A lot of restaurants don’t see to put out – the whole point is to showcase you can do great food at this price and give great service. To me, it is a challenge; I don’t get into that mindset of just putting up – some people were serving cookies and ice cream! ‘Cookies,’ really?

For two weeks straight we served a menu we were proud of. You can lose your soul when you do banquet food producing at a high rate like that – we skillet cooked each dish. ‘Don’t stop cooking,’ I told my chefs, ‘we don’t just want to serve people food.’

Cooking Lesson

How important is creativity to your process?

Creativity comes sporadically. It can happen when I’m inspired, or bored with a fish, or because something doesn’t sell. You have to take in feedback from the servers, customers, etc. – that’s where a lot of chefs are triggered by their ego. You can’t tell people they have to have it because you think that’s the way it should be. You have to change it; inspiration comes from the day to day.

If I see things elsewhere, it can give me ideas of how to do things. It’s pure, not based on easy, but the creative mind. That’s my goal. If I’m not creative, I’m not teaching my staff. We [chefs] need to be versatile. Sometimes I bring things in whole and then fabricate it myself.

Do you think self-fabrication has grown in recent years?

Yes, you can get anything today and quickly. I have that freedom to order and get things in. Sometimes I play with the product I get; you have to challenge yourself. I won’t say I can’t do anything – I have to try it out.

What have you fabricated most recently?

James [from Buedel] had the three bone plate split in half for me. Then I split it between the bone, so you can get the texture within the short rib where the meat and the tissues hold it together. The meat above the bone is different from the meat at the end of the bone – I wanted people to be able to taste the difference.

In Korean style, they eat bone on and cut it very thin. In Vietnam, we don’t use short ribs because we don’t use that cut. If it’s tough meat, we cook it until it’s tender.

Dang Short Rib (2)What did you make with the split?

Braised Short Rib with Grilled Royal Trumpet, Toasted Garlic, and Roasted Pearl Onions (pictured above). I hate braised meat that’s been seared hard, I find it loses its integrity because it’s already braised – it makes no sense.

We put the meat on a roasting rack with oil, salt, and pepper, and roast it at a high heat (500) for 20 minutes, turn it and roast for another 20. Then we make a braising liquid, add palm sugar, and then deglaze it, make stock and return it to the oven at 350° for one hour and then at 300° for 3 hours. We let it sit overnight in the liquid, so it cools it down, and we reduce the liquid by half.

The next day we baste it, deglaze again, add the royal trumpets, shallots, etc. – we fortify it. In Vietnam you cook in one pot; you should always be able to take a light spoon or fork to it to taste. All in all, it takes one day to make.

Skill Building

What’s your take on education?

When I tried college, I didn’t like it, I was lazy and didn’t have a direction then. Once I choose my path, I decided I wanted to be the best at it …better than my colleagues. I chose to put the work in and I learned so much working with Laurent Gras at L2O.

You have to invest in your craft, read cookbooks, go out and taste flavors. Everybody here has an opportunity; it’s up to you whether you want to be great. You have to set goals, instead of partying after work, getting up late and barely making it to work on time, etc. You have to look at yourself and ask, ‘Are you doing what you should be doing?’ No one is going to do it for you.

I also had to change too; I had to raise my maturity level – it had to be above the rest. I was 27 when we opened Embeya three years ago; now I’m 30. Do you want to do great things or not? It sounds simple, but that’s the reality.

It is a struggle to get cooks who are really ready to cook – their hearts are just not there – you have to have passion for it. I can tell how a cook is going to be just by how they handle herbs, how they set up their station. Cooking schools get them in and out, but they don’t teach them the real world. You’re going to get paid less than your servers and work lots of hours; you have to have dedication to your craft.

Whatever you do, even if you’re just selling tickets, why not make it the best experience you can? Everyone has a choice.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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8 More Beef Cuts Make the AHA Grade

Heart Check MarkBIG NEWS – eight more fresh beef cuts have passed the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Heart-Check test!

Meeting the AHA’s criteria for heart-healthy foods as “part of an overall healthy dietary pattern” is no small task. Given the fact the news broke during National Heart Month, it couldn’t have been better timed.

What does it take to get a lean stamp of approval?

The criteria used for heart-healthy consideration is based on science evaluations of nutritional requirements, values, and dietary recommendations. Here’s a look at the AHA guidelines set forth for lean meat:

Total Fat: Less than 5 g (also per 100 g*)

Saturated Fat: Less than 2 g (also per 100 g*)

Trans Fat: Less than 0.5 g (also per label serving*). Products containing partially hydrogenated oils are not eligible for certification.

Cholesterol: Less than 95 mg (also per 100 g*)

Sodium: One of four sodium limits applies depending on the particular food category:  up to 140 mg, 240 mg or 360 mg per label serving*, or 480 mg per label serving and per RACC*.  (See Sodium Limits by Category for details.)

Beneficial Nutrients (naturally occurring or historically fortified): 10% or more of the Daily Value of 1 of 6 nutrients (vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber)

lean burgersThe latest cuts to make the grade are all considered “extra lean beef options”:

Extra Lean Ground Beef (96% Lean, 4% Fat)

Bottom Round Steak (USDA Select Grade)

Sirloin Tip Steak (USDA Select Grade)

Boneless Top Sirloin Petite Roast (USDA Select Grade)

Top Sirloin Strips (USDA Select Grade)

Top Sirloin Filet (USDA Select Grade)

Top Sirloin Kabob (USDA Select Grade)

Center Cut Boneless Top Sirloin Steak (USDA Select Grade)

What does this mean for you?

Creating a dining experience that encourages your customers to perceive your food as healthy is vital to your success in today’s market. –Alan Philips, QSR Magazine

Retail studies show the use of AHA Heart Check labels on qualifying meats and poultry items boost sales on average by 5%. Restaurants and hospitality who embrace health marketing strategies may want to add this to their mix.

grass fed steakMeat as a legitimate healthy dining option has enjoyed a boost in recent years too. Food Nazis were more than rattled last year when The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet hit the New York Times Bestseller List and won numerous awards.

According to the NRA, over 70% of adults are trying to eat healthier at restaurants more now than ever before. Incorporating heart-check appropriate notes on the menu could be a great way to enhance your healthy marketing options further.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Fine Swine: Dry Aged Compart Duroc

Dry Aged Pork ChopsWhat can you find that’s new, unique and affordable to put on your menu? Just when you think there’s nothing on the market that could beat the epicurean luxury of dry aged beef, Compart Farms delivers a stunning alternative – dry aged Duroc pork.

Think dry aged pork is crazy? Think again! Compart Duroc Dry Aged Pork can spark new business for your operation, drive higher food margins, delight your guests and build customer base.

What Makes Fine Swine

Where the Black Angus breed of cattle is synonymous with superior quality, the same phenomenon is also true of Duroc pork. Duroc pork has been identified and documented by the National Pork Producers as a superior genetic source for improved eating.

Duroc-BoarOften described as “red pigs with drooping ears”, Duroc pork is thought to have come from Spain and Portugal dating back to the 1400’s. Unlike commodity pork deemed “the other white meat” by the National Pork Board, Duroc pork is bright reddish pink in color.

Pigs in the Compart Family Farms’ Duroc sired meat program, are of the same genetic makeup and fed the same proprietary ration throughout the growing and finishing phases. This combination reduces the variability routinely found in the pork industry today.

Only Compart’s Duroc pork contains a higher percentage of intramuscular fat (marbling) and a higher pH. Unlike ordinary pork, it is more heavily marbled, yet still 96% lean.

How Dry Aged Pork Works

Dry aging is an old world tenderization process that creates a more complex flavor in the meat. The outside of the meat becomes hard and envelops a crust, while the meat inside the crust develops a fine rich, concentrated flavor and tender texture, as the natural moisture in the muscle evaporates. When the meat has reached its desired age, the inedible outer crust is carefully removed and discarded.

Photo Feb 16, 5 26 52 PMTo properly dry age you must have separated refrigerated space with precise temperature, relative humidity and air circulation controls along with specific UV lighting to control bacteria growth to create the perfect environment. Compart Duroc whole pork loins sit in their dry aging room for 7-21 days compared to longer time spans used for beef. A shorter aging period is possible because pork loins are smaller and more delicate than beef, and thus take less time to achieve the benefits of dry aging.

The naturally more abundant intramuscular fat present in Compart Duroc pork provides the ability to adapt to the moisture loss of dry aging while still retaining the juiciness in the finished product. These attributes deliver optimum conditions for the dry aging process.

The end result is a firmer yet tender texture with a well refined flavor finish. Dry aging combined with the favorable muscle pH and marbling qualities of the Compart Duroc breed elevates pork to a whole new level.

Bag It Now!

Photo Feb 16, 5 27 32 PMTraditionally speaking, pork has not been dry aged – until now. The best cuts in this category you can buy for your menu are Compart’s Duroc dry aged pork Porterhouses and Ribeyes.

Compart Duroc Dry Aged Pork is an affordable, exciting new option to enhance your menu. It gives meat loving customers a new dining option and helps you drive additional margins for your operation.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks │ 2.11.14

Bac-N-Rama

BaconFestTickets for Baconfest Chicago go on sale next week for the now iconic annual event scheduled for Friday, April 17th & Saturday, the 18th! There will be over 160 chefs and restaurants on hand this year which benefits the Chicago Food Depository.

Buy general admission tickets beginning next Monday, including those for special lunch and dinner events here.

The 20 Second Sell

BuyNowA recent Nielsen post, urges marketers to accept the fact that brand engagement weighs in little (if, at all) with consumers in the big picture of things when it comes to buying.

According to the article, the average online consumer took just 19 seconds to make their purchase, and the majority spent less than 10 seconds. Studies now suggest that buying decisions are made with and without brand names in mind –basically coming down to a proverbial crap shoot at the time of purchase.

For restaurants and like others, the best rule of thumb is to be fresh and consistent with advertising and original content both online and off. Stay visible and don’t expect a coffee klatch over anything you do.

Eataly Kudos

EatalyKudos to Eataly for being named to Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies 2015. Ranked in the 23rd slot of the top 50, Eataly is the highest ranked food company on the list – no easy task when you’re being called out with the likes of Google, HBO and Tesla!

The Facts of Love Valentine'sDay

Americans will buy over 58 million pounds of chocolate and 150 million dollars’ worth of cards and gifts in the name of Valentine’s Day according to the History Channel. For an unromantic (Scrooge-like) look at what does and doesn’t motivate our Valentine rituals, check out Time’s recent post on the matter. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Put Your Money Where Your Pork Is

What do you do when your brand message teeters fictional? Put Your Money Where Your Pork Is – which is exactly what Chipotle did last month when they discovered one of their pork suppliers failed to meet their highly branded loyalty to animal welfare.

Walk the TalkChipotle

It’s easy to say you “serve only the best”, but how willing are you actually to walk the talk? Chipotle devotes pages of their website to FWI – Food With Integrity. (BOLD, to say the least!) Their written devotion to FWI is so in depth, in fact, one could characterize their marketing mantra as bordering on the obsessive.

When you repeatedly advertise a commitment to finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment, and farmers, you better be willing to back it up. Chipotle could have easily dealt with the supply chain fail on the QT but opted instead to address it publically – a definite walk the talk move on their part.

When a national chain opts for transparency over liquidity, it’s big (and refreshing) news. Chipotle pulled their pork carnitas from hundreds of their restaurants and posted a sign reading: Sorry, no carnitas. Due to supply constraints, we are currently unable to serve our responsibly raised pork. Trust us, we’re just as disappointed as you, and as soon as we get it back we’ll let the world know. Customer no carnitasloyalty and positive press prevailed pursuant.

Chain Reaction

Another point in Chipotle’s favor was the fact they refused to name the supplier who failed to meet their standards. In lieu of finger pointing, they chose to help bring the supplier’s “operations into compliance.” It was a class move by corporate standards, but not one void of potential other subsequent fallouts.

Whenever your customer takes a public eye hit, a trickle down chain reaction can occur. Such was the case for Niman Ranch, one of the most respected brands in the business and also Chipotle’s largest pork supplier. Was Niman negligent? Certainly not, but those, not in the know would certainly wonder.

Niman prudently followed Chipolte’s lead and spoke publically about it. What ensued was a highly publicized trail of what Niman was doing to help Chipotle get back up to speed in a real time demonstration of what a solid working relationship between merchant and supplier should look like.

NimanThe crux of this public relations issue is deeply attached to what makes meat natural – how animals are raised with respect to their environments if they’re free of growth hormones, antibiotics, etc. When you are committed to honoring sustainable practices, expediency is a non-issue – it takes more time to produce things naturally.

Unlike cows that bear one calf at a time over a 9 + month gestation period, it only takes 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days for a litter of pigs to be born. 114 days may not seem like a long time, but add to that the amount of time it takes to reach harvest maturity, and it becomes vividly clear how a supply chain gap can quickly sever fluid output.

Moral of the Story

Chipotle’s challenge was twofold: 1) tarnish brand perception by operating outside of message and 2) risk the loss of an ingratiated mass appeal. Offending Millennials, now the biggest consumer population in the U.S., who rank honesty as a top priority, and Chipotle almost just as high, wasn’t worth the risk. Anything but a celeritous and straightforward move could prove fatal for years to come.

The moral of this story is transparency trumps short term gain.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Marketing Menus to Millennials

The big news last week was Millennials are going to take the populous crown from Boomers this year tipping the strength in numbers scale at 75.3 million.

The shift is partially due to a growing death rate among Boomers, down from 78 million to 74.9 million now. Considering the Millennial birth year cut off is 1997 (widely debated at times), the Times reports new growth in the population was achieved by an immigrant influx.

With this news, marketers can finally admonish their begrudged attention to maturity and happy dance their way to uninhibited 18-34 year old demographic bliss –or so they’d like to think.

THE BIG SNAFU

Much has been written about the coveted spending habits of Millennials. Current data-centric marketing trends would have none of us think beyond the digital tracking of who/what/when/where/why this group buys. But all the data collection in the world still can’t trump the unpredictability of human behavior –aka the big snafu.

BBDO graphicBBDO’s now iconic report on Millennial dining habits provides a transparent view on the matter. After an exhaustive survey of over 1,000 Millennials was made, the bottom line came down to one glaring result: the attitudes and behaviors of the demographic are often contradictory “…just like older generations.”

The BBDO SVP, who authored the study, told Media Post they just wanted to find the gaps. “We looked for a big ‘aha,’ but the most interesting part, for us, ended up being the contradictions.”

ASKED & LEARNED

Forbes called out The 11 Restaurants That Need to Cater to Millennials last year based on recent Nielsen studies – not one high-end restaurant was named. Chipolte (#1) and Panera (#2) were ranked as the top Millennial favorites.

Considering that nearly half of the BBDO respondents described themselves as “foodies”, one of the biggest contradictions within this group lays in their devotion to mainstream fast-food –Burger King, McDonald’s, et al. This, combined with an admitted conflict felt by a “top-of-mind” status when it comes to health, further muddles the population’s profile.

One of the most oxymoronic standouts in this group had to do with technology: 88% said they checked their phones at the dinner table, but 44% said they hated it when others did the same. (Classic snafu!) One in seven participants also wanted free Wi-Fi in restaurants.

When it comes to what matters most in how Millennials live their lives, honesty ranked the highest. This makes perfect sense in that Millennials also said they are “much more influenced by their friends’ opinions of a restaurant than by reviews on sites like Yelp.” When their friends make a recommendation, they listen.

Marketers need to take this little gem to heart as it speaks directly to the way social media pipelines and other marketing tools are used. Get the word out and allow the natural flow; running interference is a recipe for disaster.

WRAP UP

Marketing to Millennials, consists of staying on top of trend and sticking to honest policy. Accept the inevitable – human nature will throw a wrench into best campaigns every time.

Where fast food and fast casual may take precedent with the younger set today, Millennials also deem food and eating meals with friends and family as an integral part of their lifestyle. That translates to a solid patronage for years to come.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

 

 

 

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Meat Clips | Mobile, Malware & Mayhem

Recent research provides Android Malware attacks increased 75% last year! Interestingly enough, Adware actually decreased over the same time period, but ransomware hit new highs.

According to the Lookout study, four million Android users paid ransoms that ranged from $300-$500 to unlock their devices last year. Industry analysts fear that some Malware may have infiltrated devices at the factory level and are actually coming pre-loaded as such out of the box.

It’s tough enough to deal with cyber crime on a personal level, but the cost of such mobile mayhem on business is escalating to new heights. More than 68% of global organizations have experienced a breach of mobile security in the last year. Experts cite the lack of password protection, lost or stolen devices, lack of “VPN or firewalled networks” and fraud, as the top mobile security threats on business.

How close to home does all this hit our industry? VERY, according to a recent Independent Restaurateur post which reports restaurants account for 73% of the data breaches in the United States – a 29% increase over the last three years.

Estimates provide the cost to independents can escalate to hundreds of thousands of dollars for just one data breach. Considering that seven out of ten restaurants are independent according to the National Restaurant Association, no business is immune.

It’s tough for anyone trying to maintain a cyber secure environment to conduct business. Worse yet, you could have a system in place, not pay attention to it and face the types of unfathomable financial fallout like Target. (The chain spent $61 million batting clean up in the first 90 days.) Bloomberg Business reports that analysts estimate the retailer’s post-breach costs could “run into the billions”.

Unfortunately, P.F. Chang’s 33-location-breach of consumer credit data may be the tip of the iceberg. Here are five articles you may find helpful on the subject:

How To Prevent Target-like Data Breaches -Fierce Retail IT

Restaurants: How To Fight Back Against Data Thieves -QSR Magazine

Protect Customer’s Information from Security Breaches -Pizza Today

Top Mobile Security Tips -Telegraph

Protect Your Network From Hackers -National Restaurant Association

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn   @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 1.13.15

Global Trade

Trib interviews BuedelOn the heels of receiving the Governor’s Award for Export last fall, Tribune Reporter, Kathy Bergen came to Buedel to talk about global trade, dry aged beef and the process of international export for the business section cover story: Cool Climate for Overseas Growth.

View the video version here: http://tinyurl.com/buedel-trib-interview-on-trade

Jean Banchet Awards

1-11 embaya event2.jpgLast Sunday, industry voting for the 2015 Jean Banchet Awards took place at Embeya – aka one of Chicago’s “Sexiest Restaurants” according to Zagat – at the Chef’s Social reception.

The actual awards for culinary excellence will be presented at the annual Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Grand Chef’s Gala January 30th.

Good luck to all of this year’s nominees:

Chef of the Year Abraham Conlon (Fat Rice), Thomas Lents (Sixteen at Trump), Chris Pandel (The Bristol/Balena), Lee Wolen (Boka)

Pastry Chef of the Year Dana Cree (Blackbird), Claire Crenshaw (moto), Meg Galus (NoMI), Greg Mosko (North Pond)

Best Chef-de-Cuisine Chris Marchino (Spiaggia), Ali Ratcliffe-Bauer (Brindille), John Vermiglio (A10),  Erling Wu-Bower (Nico Osteria),

Rising Chef of the Year Ashlee Aubin (Salero), Jake Bickelhaupt (42 Grams), Noah Sandoval (Senza), Nathan Sears (The Radler)

Rising Pastry Chef of the Year Sarah Koechling (The Bristol/Balena), Genie Kwon (Boka/GT Fish and Oyster), Megan Miller (Baker Miller Bakery & Millhouse), Jonathan Ory (Bad Wolf Coffee)

Best Sommelier Charles Ford (The Bristol), Arthur Hon (Sepia), Elizabeth Mendez (Vera), Dan Pilkey (Sixteen at Trump)

Best Mixologist Alex Bachman (Billy Sunday), Bradley Bolt (Bar Deville), Mike Ryan (Sable Kitchen & Bar), Krissy Schutte (CH Distillery)

Best Restaurant Design Boka, Celeste, Momotaro, The Radler

Best Restaurant Service Boka, Embeya, Senza, Sixteen at Trump

Best New Restaurant 42 Grams, Parachute, TÊTE Charcuterie, Salero

Best Neighborhood Restaurant A10, Dusek’s, Owen and Engine, La Sirena Clandestina

Restaurant of the Year L20, Boka, El Ideas, moto

Meat PressedFree Report Cover small

When prices rise, what do most people do? They go on the offense and figure out how to stretch their hard earned dollars in a challenging economy.

The same holds true for restaurants and hospitality.

How can you manage rising meat costs? Find better ways to buy! Check out our free report on How To Buy Beef Better in 2015 for market outlook, tips and ideas.

1.8JanIMCoverQuote-a-licious

As Julia Child once said, “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” In the dead of winter here, when a sizzling, juicy bone-in ribeye warms you up in a way kale or beets never could, I totally agree. –Amanda Heckert, Editor-in-Chief Indianapolis Monthly.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website   LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 12.16.14

The Dawn of New Trends

L20 foodIf you haven’t heard about L20’s “reconcept” yet, check out Chicago Eater’s summative. The famed LEYE Michelin-starred seafood restaurant will close at the end of the year for redesign and reopen next February as Intro.

What makes this particular restaurant close so newsworthy is its next-gen objective: rotating chefs. When Intro opens next year, Rich Mellman, the undisputable Godfather of restaurant entrepreneurialism, will have created one of the freshest concepts to hit the Chicago market in recent years.

“Visiting” chefs will work two to three month stints at the new restaurant. The goal is to bring in top talent who operate at the executive chef level, but don’t have ownership. As Mellman described to Crain’s, “We’re going to introduce some of the bright young chefs in the country to Chicago and introduce chefs to a balanced way to think about business.”

Intro will also be the first LEY restaurant to embrace Tock, the cutting edge restaurant ticketing software developed by Restaurateur, Nick Kokonas of Alinea/Next/Aviary fame. LEY plans to “…initially sell pre-paid tickets, like Next and Alinea, costing between $65 and $95 per dinner, excluding taxes, gratuity and beverages.”

Mellman’s concept has all the makings of a home run if all pans out as expected – LEYE partners will have the opportunity to test new concepts and personnel, up and coming chefs will get the educational and exposure opportunity of a lifetime and customers will delight in a consistent flow of new offerings. The Intro stage is set for an ultimate Win-Win-Win.

It’s All Relativehandshake

In a recent Restaurant News post on How To Create Successful Relationships with Your Food Suppliers, buyers sound off on purchasing relationships.

One restaurant operator describes the procurement relationship “like a marriage” where there’s, “love, hate and everything between”. Another says that just shopping prices aren’t the way to succeed, “…building relationships with suppliers is crucial. If they’re not completely on your side, your product is affected.”

If you look up “relativity”, their sentiments make perfect sense: the state of being dependent for existence on or determined in nature, value or quality by relation to something else.

Limiting the number of suppliers you use, maintaining open communication and negotiable product pricing, are some of the top suggestions offered for building profitable, long-term and trustworthy relationships with your suppliers.

Social Outlooks

social graphicIt’s tough to keep up with the pace of digital media; frequency, relevancy and technology can quickly drive any business owner to drink!

True to the pace, social media marketers are consistently challenged by new tech and rapidly changing media platforms. For example, you can (finally) edit captions on Instagram and Twitter now offers the capability of being able to search every public tweet made since the platform’s inception in 2006 –that one, could be scary.

For more updates on these platforms and others (Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+), read the Trib’s recent social media outlook post.

P.S. If the thought of dealing with all this “social stuff” stresses you out, check out this Forbes piece on How Successful People Handle Stress – great tips for getting through the holiday season too!

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Life After BBQ Pitmasters | Robby Royal’s Secret Sauce for Success

What do professional Pitmasters have for Holiday dinners? At Robby Royal’s house, they smoke a turkey and “do a ham” on Thanksgiving to go along with cornbread, dressing, deviled eggs, gravy, butter beans and sweet corn. “I inject it [the turkey] with creole seasoning and smoke it ‘low ‘n slow’ overnight at 225,” attests Royal. “On Christmas, we usually grill steaks, prime rib roast, or fry fish.”

Royal says they grill year round. His wife Stephanie cooks at least twice a week on their Green Mountain Smoker or Holland [gas-burning] Grill – even when it’s “32”, which Royal notes is cold for them in Georgia.

12.4BigPigJigRescue Ratings

The Rescue Smokers competition team has racked up 89 1st Place rankings over the last five years among countless other wins. Since claiming the Season 5 BBQ Pitmasters title last June, Royal and his partner, Raymond Poor, have met with unexpected notoriety and new opportunities.

At a recent Georgia “cook” a 9-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl from Tampa made a beeline for the team’s trailer to meet the guys who won BBQ Pitmasters. A Dad from Lakeland, Florida, drove his kids, 10 and 13-year-old junior barbeque competitors, up north to shadow the team for a weekend. Surprised but delighted by the unexpected attention, Robby is quick to point out the kids on Junior BBQ teams absolutely “know what they are doing. They are great young Pitmasters,” he subscribes.

While there aren’t many junior level competitions (yet), Robby likes the idea of kids cooking outside versus being glued to “indoor technology” for hours on end. “I grew up around the grill – grew up hand-churning ice cream – we were outside all the time. Kids need to get out again!”

Royal has three grown daughters, 22, 25 and 26, and two granddaughters, ages, 5 and 7; Poor has two children, ages 14 and 19. Both men feel very fortunate to have “great wives” who support the competition lifestyle. Royal says his granddaughters are starting to show participatory interest, (and possibly a son-in-law), but is quick to warn, “when you start cooking 28-30 times a year, you may want to back off, so you can keep it fun.”

New Avenues

Outside of the competition circuit, the team is busy “ tweaking flavor profiles” for their own bottled sauce slated to come out next year in four varieties: Original, Sweet Heat, Mustard and Vinegar. Royal says the mustard sauce is inspired by his partner’s restaurant chicken dish. “Ray’s restaurant is doing very well – we have seen a wider variety of people coming in [since their TV win]. There’re only 9,500 people in our county, but Ray has lots of great reviews on Yelp from people travelling through!”

Royal and Poor also created a weekend barbeque school model to help others develop competitive skills. They had their first session last September, where they talked about the quality of rubs, sauces, and meats, demonstrated a variety of tried and true techniques and cooked eight different products over the course of the weekend.

CookingClass“We can cut the 3-4 year learning curve it normally takes to be competitive and potentially save people 30-40 thousand dollars in the process. Every competition you go to, costs – you pay for travel, entry fees, ingredients, etc. So you’re investing about $1,000 on average every time you go to a competition.”

Poor and Royal have spent as much as $10,000 on one competition – something he says they didn’t realize would be quite that expensive until they were fully committed to it.

They hope to offer the weekend session two to three times a year, and are looking to do the next class sometime in the Spring. Royal says they couldn’t do it without the help of Butcher BBQ, Stub’s BBQ, Swamp Boys, and others, who sent samples of their products to use for their first session. “They’re all great; we help each other.”

Helping others is what “it’s all about” according to Robby. “If we can help someone else get in the top 10, or get a win. To see folks get their first call, see them walk the stage for the first time… it’s about wanting to win, but also being happy for others.”

Strategic Differences

Royal feels the biggest difference for him between backyard and competitive cooks is that he isn’t necessarily cooking what he likes to eat in competition. “Judges lean toward the sweeter side. I put Montreal steak seasoning on my ribs and a little bit of butter – I want to taste the meat.”

When it comes to Dry Ribs, Royal claims they don’t compete well. “Judges are trained for sauce – they’re judging for flavor – even if they know that’s not what they want, they’re judging what’s in front of them.”

On the subject of sauce, Robby offers the main difference between tomato, mustard and vinegar based sauces is strictly, “100% regional. It boils down to what you were brought up on. We do sweet/vinegar sauce. The Carolinas and Virginia are going to be vinegar; in South Carolina and Kentucky they like mustard based sauces.”

RS TENTRobby professes if he and Ray had cooked just for Myron [Mixon aka The Winningest Man in BBQ] they wouldn’t have won. They tried to cook with a more Mid-Western flair (Kansas City, Iowa, Colorado) to appeal to Tuffy’s and Moe’s backgrounds because they needed to consistently win over two of the three judges on the show. Their “secret sauce” was strategy.

Wrap Up

Would they want to do Pitmasters again? Royal says he’d love the opportunity and would like to see an all stars version of the show. “If they call, we’d absolutely go!”

The team will always do their home cook, the Big Pig Jig, which they’ve won before, in addition to an annual KCB event in the area Royal currently organizes. He doesn’t think they’ll quit, but may scale back. He forecasts they’ll probably do 8-10 events next year, but quickly hedges over the fact there are 15 to 20 events in Georgia they still haven’t done.

Robby feels he and Ray have been very blessed. They are extremely appreciative of the support they have from friends, family and sponsors. He feels strongly about being proud of others and enjoying seeing them be happy.

“There are a lot of Pitmasters that love to see people do well and others that don’t like to see others win. We shake everyone’s hand even when we’re bummed we didn’t win. Be proud of others and enjoy yourself seeing other folks happy!”

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Eddie Merlot’s New Menu Scores Big

Ask a restaurateur or chef how they go about changing their menus and you’ll get a wide variety of answers depending upon the type of establishment they run. Whether the challenge is a full menu revamp, or a seasonal change, striking a harmonious menu balance between creativity, cost management and consumer demand is never an easy task.

Wagyu1IMG_0895EWhen Eddie Merlot’s revamped their entire fall/winter dinner menu, (50 changes were made), EM owner, Bill Humphries, further challenged his staff with a very specific task: find a new steak that has the WOW factor! “We went to numerous ranches and top purveyors to find it,” described Tony Dee, Eddie Merlot’s Corporate Executive Chef.

What they found was a 20 oz. Wagyu Bone-In New York Strip that has never been offered in the U.S. from Greg Norman Australian Prime. Per their request, Norman’s company fabricated a “Signature Wagyu” with a marble score of 6.

Considering that most prime grade cuts have a marble score of 3, Merlot’s new Strip promised everything ‘wow’ and more. What makes the cut so different according to Dee, is “the texture and the taste. It has a buttery taste to it and the marbling is fantastic!”

Wagyu2IMG_0899EThe response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive from EM staff and customers. Are they worried that someone will try to copy them now? Dee mused he doesn’t know how you’d ever be able to copyright a menu, “there’s nothing we can do about it if someone copies us now – but that would be the best compliment.”

In addition to the new Strip, Merlot’s upgraded their 32 oz Signature Wagyu Tomahawk Ribeye, and added a 20 oz Bone-In Bison Ribeye and 7 oz Bison Filet Mignon to the mix. Wagyu sliders, burgers and even a ½ pound Wagyu hot dog are on their new Lounge Menu now too.

On the subject of changing menus, Dee says it’s important to do it for seasonal change and variety. You have to keep the freshest of ingredients on the menu when they’re in season to be satiable and fiscally smart. “We try to be smart as much as possible,” offers Dee, “but we’re also not afraid to go out and find great product. We want to provide the very best we can – that’s one of the reasons this company is so great.”

From the desk of John Cecala || Website   LinkedIn   @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Clips | 6 Posts for Managing Meat Costs

Last week, Fox News reported that some fast-food chains had experienced ground beef rates “up 24 percent from a year ago”.Steer Grass

Meat prices are high; that’s old news. News also not likely to change quickly according to a cattle market publisher who says, “livestock producers are just starting to replenish their herds”, and doesn’t expect prices to come down “until 2017.”

The challenges of drought in a market with steadily increasing global demands, puts us knee deep in the classic cycle of things get worse before they get better. Needless to say, keeping balance between food costs, and customer expectations is all the tougher for it.

If you’re looking for inspiration on cost containment, check out our most recent post: Why is it so hard to get a thick steak these days? (The short answer is larger cattle; with larger cattle there are larger muscles.)

Restaurants who want to offer a variety of smaller sized steaks without sacrificing taste or presentation will find this a helpful read. Smaller portioned Rib Eyes and Strips can be thick, juicy and cost efficient!

For additional tips and ideas on managing meat costs and menus, check out our list of relative posts below.

Premium alternatives to Prime Rib and Tenderloin without the premium price:      How to Manage Holiday Menu Costs with Boneless Strip Loin

Bill & Hold, Reduce Portion Size, Alternative Cuts, Trim Specs and Buy More/Receive Less are some of the best methods for defraying cost:                     5 Tips to Keep From Paying More

What if we said you could make more money (real margin dollars), with a higher food cost percentage? Crazy, right? How Food Margins Get You to the Bank

How do you maintain profits with food costs escalating faster than your customer’s disposable income? Quality Doesn’t Cost, It Pays

Help in four words: chop-ready-primal-cuts …no waste, hidden costs or by-products!  How to Slim Down Your Food Costs in the New Year

From the desk of  John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Why is it so hard to cut a thick steak these days?

With the bumper corn crop this year and record high cattle prices, feedlot operators are bulking up cattle to make more money. Great for them – not so much for restaurants.

buedel website steakWhile menu trends have “beefed up” in recent years, ‘bulking up’ makes it tough for restaurants that want nice thick steaks on plates while adhering to portion control sizes.

It’s important to know that restaurants don’t always have unilateral control over how thick steaks can be when cutting to a specific portion weight. This leaves many chefs wondering, Why can’t I get thicker cuts of my favorite rib eyes or strips in the portion sizes I want?

The Dilemma

Heavier cattle, also means larger muscles. Rib Eyes, for example, are commonly running over 16 pounds in size when in years past the average was 12 to 13 pounds. At the same time restaurants like to plate nice thick steaks, usually 1.5″ or thicker while keeping to the portion control weight that best controls their food costs.

The increased average size of cattle makes it harder and harder for restaurants to get the portion size they want in conjunction with the thickness they want. The dilemma leaves many to choose between serving thicker steaks that are higher in portion weight, or properly portion weighted steaks that end up very thin and wide making for a less than desirable plate presentation.

Why Size Matters

Let’s say your goal is to serve a 1.5” thick 14 oz portion cut steak. The size of the loin that you start with will largely determine if both your goals can be met.

14oz CutLineImagine you have two whole rib eye loins. One loin is smaller; one loin is larger. As you can see from the picture above, your cut line will be in a different place depending on the size of the loin to achieve a 14 oz portion. Consequently, the larger loin will yield a much thinner 14 oz steak, and the smaller loin will yield a much thicker 14 oz steak.

Price Buyers Beware

The obvious solution would be then to purchase smaller size loins, right? Technically yes, but smaller size loins, or “downs” as we call them in the meat industry, are getting harder to come by and thus, usually carry a higher price.

Price shoppers who buy the lowest cost boxed beef to cut their own steaks will likely be getting random sized loins. Lowest priced commodity boxed beef often comes with higher loin weights from the larger loins of heavier cattle as opposed to lighter loins harvested in years past.

The problem steakhouses then have in offering smaller (lower ounce) sized steaks like Rib Eyes and NY Strips, is that smaller sizes would look like pancakes on the plate because the muscles are so large. People are accustomed to large, thick and juicy steaks –thin cuts are just less impressive on the plate. Steakhouses would be embarrassed to serve steaks in this fashion.

Alternative Solutions

Hand Selecting

If you’re cutting your own steaks and want thicker steaks without giving away portion control, request that your meat supplier hand select lighter loins or pick lighter master case weights to fill your boxed beef orders.

RibEyeWhile hand selecting is sometimes impossible with large broad line distributors, specialized meat purveyors like Buedel Fine Meats can usually accommodate such requests. This helps you deal with the problem before your meat comes in the door.

You can also achieve a nice balance between price, steak thickness and lighter portion weights by being a bit creative with your trim specification and merchandising on your menu. Try using the Boston Cut.

Boston Cuts

You can take a large loin size, say 15+ lbs, and cut it in half lengthwise making two 7.5 lb pieces. From each half then you can cut a thick small portion weight steak.

Boston CutWe call them “Boston Cuts” and they make a beautiful plate presentation for smaller ounce steaks. Boston Cut steaks are becoming more popular for a la carte menus and banquets.

These cuts are trending now for several reasons. Diet conscious people who prefer eating in moderation can still enjoy a smaller portion size with the luxury of a hearty looking delicious steak. Chefs can enjoy consistent sizes and cooking times while having a more attractive way to serve smaller portion sized steaks.

Boston Cuts of Rib Eye and Sirloin Strip are also great alternatives to higher priced tenderloin filets for banquet menus and split plates.

ABF Natural Beef

Another way to battle record high beef prices is to retreat from commodity cattle weights – specifically those getting heavier due to the increased use of added growth hormones, antibiotics and beta-agonists in the feed. Consider purchasing beef that was raised without added growth hormones or antibiotics.

True All Natural Beef such as, Niman Ranch and Creekstone Farms Premium Angus, which come from cattle raised without added growth hormones or administered antibiotics and tend to be smaller in size.

Don’t be fooled by the USDA’s generic definition of “natural” [a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed] either. Pretty much all conventional beef fit this description today. Rather, look for brands that publish their handling protocols which specifically state never-ever policies.

The nation’s low cattle supply will portend the current state of all time high beef prices a few more years before things return to normal. Or, perhaps what is happening today may indeed be the new normal. The good news is, you do have options to get the thicker steaks you want.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 11.6.14

Millenial Mayhem

Last week the NPD Group, a leading industry market research firm, released a study on the latest spend trend findings related to Millennial influence.

Coveted as the sweet spot market niche for everything from tech to tacos, restaurant owners may be surprised to learn where the 18 to 34 year old age group spent most of their $95 billion food bucks for fiscal year ending June 2014.11.6 NPD Chart

Marketers would like to think 25-34-year-old Millennials, settled into careers, buying homes and having children, are devoted to the fast casual category. But according to NPD’s findings, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Of the 14 billion restaurant visits made by Millenials in this fiscal time frame, the destination majority weighed in at QSR s (quick service restaurants) across its 18-34-year-old population. While trends do provide an increase in fast casual spending, the number is extremely small when compared to the big picture spend.

Other notes made by the study pointed to voice and expectations. What this 74 million + population says on social media about where they go, and what they found there, remains one of the biggest cursory markers for the industry. Foodservice providers acknowledge brand injury through technology and the power of influence at hand.

Price promos, coupons and loyalty programs are also uber-essential to Millennials because they “expect to be rewarded for their loyalty”, reports NPD. What sets this group above others may be the fact that when their “dining expectations” aren’t met they are, “quick to spread the word.”

Down the road, NPD says growth in this spending segment, “the largest of the six key US generational groups”, will be further spurred by Hispanic influence.

New Fest in Town

11.6 RamenOrganizing Chefs, Bill Kim of bellyQ, Tai Dang of Embeya and Gene Kato of Sumi Rolata Bar appeared on Lunchbreak earlier this week in honor of Ramenfest.

The inaugural event, which debuts this Saturday, will challenge a line-up of 20 local chefs to interpret their take on the classic dish – a polar opposite to the pennywise micro-cook student favorite.

A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales and a planned silent auction will also benefit Common Threads, dedicated to educating children about different cultures through food and art.

The event sold out immediately online, and the Chefs are already hoping to make it bigger and better next year by adding a culinary contest to the mix.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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One on One with Gibsons Top Chef, Randy Waidner

2014 marked the 25th Anniversary of Gibsons first restaurant –Gibsons Steakhouse on Rush. Since then the Gibsons Restaurant Group (GRG) has grown to a family of six, with additional expansion plans in the works.

We sat down with GRG’s Top Chef, Randy Waidner, to talk about meeting the challenges and expectations of running and maintaining a successful restaurant operation today.

gibsons headerYou’ve been an Executive Chef for over 20 years and GRG’s Corporate Chef for the last 8, what do you see as the biggest differences between these positions?

The corporate structure definitely has more to do with admin, managing the exec chefs, labor, cost of goods, menu development, global expansions, etc. Sometimes I miss the cooking every day, but this is an exciting part of the business. It’s very rewarding driving sales, controlling costs and so forth.

What’s your favorite part of your job right now?

Expanding the restaurant and providing opportunities for people. Cooking is my passion, and there’s still so much to it.

What have you found to be your biggest challenges in recent years?

That could be several different things depending on what aspect of the business you’re talking about. But, staffing, finding quality staff that are able to be trained, then cost of product and consistent supply of good product.

It’s tough to find really good quality people. Our business is very demanding, and it takes a special person who can adapt to our environment –it’s not hour by hour, it’s minute by minute here. You also absolutely need to have a culinary background to be in the kitchen.

Have you noticed any shifts in consumer behavior in recent years?

They are more educated and want to know the chefs. They’re into where the product is sourced ‘…is it from a farm?’ Just to say something is “organic” doesn’t mean as much anymore –is it sustainable? Our customers know where we get our produce from, and they like to frequent those places.

How do you get those messages across?

We train our staff to tell them, sometimes we put it in on the menu, but it requires a lot of staff education.

What type of marketing works best for you these days?

Now, social media has helped a lot. I truly believe an educated staff, both front and back, goes a long way – that’s more measurable than any ad anywhere. It’s hard to measure ads. Once customers are in the building, you take care of them – that’s what you do – that’s an immediate measure.

What is the key to a great steak?

It’s sourcing, not just “USDA Prime”. For us, it’s all about the source. We try to source the breed, the farm, the packers, etc. all along the chain. We actually go and see how the animals are being born, treated, fed, harvested… Then when we take delivery, we just add our seasoning salt and extremely hot heat to get a nice char. It takes anywhere from 14 to 20 months and sometimes longer before our cattle are ready –when the farmers say the animals are ready. SteakWhat’s your favorite cut?

W.R.’s Chicago Cut [a 22 oz. bone-in rib eye], but it’s really tough to pick just one.

What first attracted you to culinary?

Apparently, when I was 3, I told my mom and aunt that I wanted to be a chef. I don’t know where that came from, but my first job was as a busboy at a country club. I was mesmerized at the orchestration going on in the kitchen. I’d watch them [the kitchen staff] sautéing, chopping, moving about without looking – they just knew when someone was behind them.

Where did you grow up?

In Northbrook [Illinois]. I took some cooking classes in high school; it was called “Home Economics” then, but I still took them. Then I went to J&W in Rhode Island and spent five years out there.

What advice would you offer to young chefs?

You want to say, ‘Are you crazy!?’, but TV has done an incredible amount for our industry. It’s gone from blue collar to white collar –taken us from the dungeon of the kitchen to the limelight. BUT, there’s only one Bobby Flay, just like there’s only one Tiger Woods.

I think culinary schools should also consider offering equipment care. Everyone looks to the Chef to get these things done. If you’re the Chef, you’re the general, when something goes wrong you need to know how to figure it out.

It’s a lot of hard work, dedication, time… you give up things. I know lots of people who are great chefs, but just don’t know how to make money, you have to have a balance of both.

Gibsons has expanded steadily; what new properties are on the horizon?

We’ve got a project in Manhattan, Orlando, and Philly; we’ll have some more in Chicago too, it’s exciting! Since I’ve been here, we’ve done four, and now we’re adding three more.

Let’s talk a moment about the current properties in the Group. How is the Montgomery Club doing?

We’ve had it about a year; we started with a soft open. We can do 2-300 plated, and we’ve done 1,000 for cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres. We’ve done Charles Tillman’s [Chicago Bear] charity event twice.

What made you open an event only venue?

We did it because there were times when we were limited to parties of 180 at our restaurants, and people started asking us about doing more.

How is Quartino Ristorante doing?

Quartino is doing great. Chef Colletta, the managing partner is wonderful. Everything is from scratch; it’s a fun place to go to and a fun place to eat. It is really casual, but the level of the food is very high. To keep increasing sales over the last 9-10 year time period, is amazing.

Then there’s ChiSox Bar & Grill

ChiSox

We’ve had it four years now; it is right outside of Parking Lot B …and tied to how well the Sox are doing. It’s a great sports bar; there are 75 screens. We have a giant smoker in the back, and everything’s done fresh.

Will you do more sports venues?

I’d like to…

What was it like putting a restaurant inside a casino?

Yes, Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House in the Rivers Casino. They wanted a steakhouse, but we made it a chophouse with a blended menu – Gibsons [Rosemont] is so close to it. They sell a lot of fish too. We’ve heard a lot of people go to the casino for Hugo’s food without ever gambling!

The new Florida venue will be more like a Hugo’s; the NY location will be an American high end, and Philly will be a Hugo’s chophouse kind of a thing. HugosHow hard is it to keep the operational side up to speed with the growth?

That goes to the people. We really hold our employees in very high regard, without them we don’t have anything. We are always looking for great people; we are always training.

One thing that sets us apart is we don’t upsell. You don’t have to go through another series of questions before the order is finally taken. Unless you order Bombay, we’ll give you a gin and tonic. We want to make people feel they’re being taken care of versus being sold more.

It’s unusual to have a server talk you out of something too, but we want to make sure to let them know when they’re ordering too much food with portion sizes, etc.

What do you think is the #1 standout about GRG?

Whatever venue we’re talking about, it’s always about the quality of the product, service and the extreme value of what you get. These are the three things that stand out. Nobody beats us on product; nobody beats us on service; nobody beats us on value.

How did you feel about winning Eater Chicago’s Best Steakhouse contest this year?

That’s HUGE because that’s our customers saying so! (Who knows how all those “best steakhouse in the country” ads ever get into the magazines you see on airplanes.) Chicago is a force to be reckoned with! Over the last 24 years, there are always one to two Chicago chefs being recognized by James Beard…

Are you excited about the JB Awards coming to Chicago?

It’s SO huge the awards are coming here next year. It’s not about beating out New York; it’s about having a global view. We are coming together as a culinary nation.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

 

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Meet Chuck, Your New Bestie

What’s one of the best things you can do to handle rising meat prices? Get to know Chuck!

With meat prices at an all time high, chefs and consumers alike are scrambling for ways to buy meat affordably. One of the best things you can do to meet the challenge is to get to know Chuck –intimately.

Chuck 101

ChuckMapThe upper shoulder area of a steer, the forequarter, is commonly known as the “Chuck”, comprised of a network of interconnected muscles that move the animal when it walks.

The amount of Chuck’s connective tissue makes it generally less tender and tougher than middle meats such as rib eye and strip loin. But what makes Chuck so attractive is its inexpensive price and versatility.

Chuck costs 30% – 40% less than other cuts. Worth repeating, Chuck costs 30% – 40% less than other cuts! Add this to the fact that Chuck can be ground, as well as cut into a variety of roasts and steaks, and it’s easy to see why hooking up with Chuck is an economically smart and versatile move.

Chuck Cuts

Below are just some of the varieties of ways Chuck can best serve your menu and budget when cut into roasts or steaks: (Pictures from BeefItsWhatsforDinner.com)

Roasts from the Chuck

Roasts cut from Chuck contain a lot of connective tissue, including collagen, which partially melts during cooking. This makes the meat excellent for stewing, slow cooking, braising, and pot roasting.

Chuck Roast (Pot Roast) Shoulder Pot Roast  Pot Roasts offer robust beef flavor; are lean, moist and tender when braised (pot roasting).
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 182 calories; 6 g fat

7-Bone Chuck Roast  The 7-Bone Chuck Roast includes a cross cut of the shoulder blade. The bone is shaped like a “7”, which gives the cut its name. The 7-Bone roast or “steak” is generally considered a rather tough cut of meat and needs to be slow cooked or braised.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 215 calories; 11 g fat

Petite Tender Roast  The Petite Tender, also known as the Teres Major, is the second most tender muscle in the animal after the Tenderloin. It’s found deep inside the Chuck and is lean, has a great beef flavor, a nice bite texture and is about half the price of Tenderloin. It can be roasted, or cut into 4oz medallions that look just like tenderloin filets which can be skillet cooked or grilled.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 150 calories; 6 g fat

Steaks from the Chuck

The different muscles found in the Chuck can be further cut into steaks. Recommended cooking methods are Marinate, Grill or Broil and Skillet.

Steak StripFlat Iron Steak  Also known as Shoulder Top Blade Steak and Top Blade Steak
The Flat Iron Steak is a trending favorite on many of today’s menus. It is the sixth most popular steak at restaurants in the U.S. now according to recent statistics provided by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 189 calories; 11 g fat

Chuck Eye Steak  Also known as English Steak, London Broil and Shoulder Steak
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 178 calories; 9 g fat

Ranch Steak  Also known as Shoulder Center Steak. Ranch steak is cut from the shoulder roast; it has a beefy flavor but is tough. It is best when braised, or grilled, to no more than medium.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 155 calories; 6 g fat

Short Ribs  Also known as Chuck Short Ribs. Short ribs can be bone-in or boneless, are hearty in flavor and offer a versatile number of menu options –absolutely delicious when slow roasted or braised.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 201 calories; 11 g fat

Wrap Up

ChuckGroundLast, but not least, Chuck also makes a highly flavorful Ground. It is often used for Hamburgers, Meatloaf, Meatballs, and as an ingredient in many ethnic dishes.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 215 calories; 13 g fat

You can’t beat the affordability and versatility of Chuck. Use these cuts with creativity and help manage your food costs, increase your food margins and satiate your appetite.

For more tips and ideas read, Value Steaks from Lesser Known Cuts and Cheat Sheet for Meat. Find recipe ideas at: http://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/recipes.aspx.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats   Facebook

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BUEDEL HONORED WITH GOVERNOR’S EXPORT AWARD

CHICAGO Buedel Fine Meats & Provisions was honored last night with the Governor’s Export Award in the category of New Exporter by the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

Exports are a vital part of Illinois’ fluid economy and continued economic growth in the State. The Governor’s Export Awards are the State’s highest recognition of export achievement honoring Illinois companies that achieve excellence in exporting and to organizations which provide substantial export assistance to Illinois companies.

The State encourages all Illinois companies and organizations that work to promote Illinois products and services abroad to participate in this awards program.

Award Criteria

Illinois businesses are judged on their activities in the following of cateGovAward6.jpg.pnggories: export sales figures, foreign destinations, history of export activities, company size, products/services, business strategies, solutions and innovations.

Each year a DCEO judging panel reviews applications for this prestigious recognition in 6 categories: New Exporter, Agricultural Business Exporter, Service Exporter, Export Awareness & Development, Exporter of the Year and Exporter Continuing Excellence.

Recipients of the New Exporter award must have no more than three years of activity in foreign markets. Buedel Fine Meats began exporting to Asian and Asian Pacific destinations in 2013.

Thrilled & Honored

Buedel’s VP of Sales, John Cecala and General Manager, Tim Vlcek, accepted the New Exporter Award at a reception which took place last night at the Union League Club of Chicago.GovAward1

Pictured L to R: Adam Pollet, Director Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, John Cecala, Buedel VP of Sales and GM, Tim Vlcek, Daniel Geoff, Deputy Director DCEO.

Cecala credits much of their company’s global strategies to the guidance they received from programs offered by the Illinois Department of Agriculture Marketing, (IDAM) and exposure to international buyers afforded at the National Restaurant Show (NRA).

“Combined with our direct marketing efforts,” Cecala says, “Ag Marketing and the NRA show helped our company successfully develop foreign market initiatives for our products. We are absolutely thrilled and honored to receive this award!”

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From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

 

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How Food Margins Get You to the Bank

The majority of chefs and restaurateurs we talk with use food cost percentages as a primary measure of effective purchasing and implied profitability. Monitoring food cost percentages is certainly an important metric; however it is margin dollars that take you to the bank –not food cost percentages.

What if I told you that you could make more money, i.e. real margin dollars, with a higher food cost percentage? Crazy, right? Read on…

Percent V. Margin

The Food Cost Percentage measures the cost of the ingredients as a percentage of the menu selling price of a dish:10.21MarginCalc3

Most would agree this is a good metric that measures the purchasing side of the equation. However, it fails to tell you how much money you made and by itself paints an incomplete picture.

To calculate the food cost percentage for an entire menu in aggregate for a time period, inventories are necessary:

10.21MarginCalc2If you were expecting a theoretical food cost percentage to be 39% and your actual food cost percentage was 45%, that difference is a measure of inefficiency.

The reasons for such discrepancies may be caused by over portioning, theft, poor product rotation, spoilage or excessive waste. Subtract your Actual Food Cost from the Expected Food Cost and multiply that result by sales for the period, to understand how much money was wasted for that time period.

Actual Food Cost Percentages vs. Expected Food Cost Percentages can help you identify problem areas in the kitchen. However, looking at food cost percentages alone fails to tell you how much money you actually made or lost.  It’s margin dollars that pay the bills not food cost percentages.

Margins Bank Bucks

Your Food Margin measures the actual margin dollars a menu item contributed to your bottom line profits. You take margin dollars to the bank, not food cost percentages.

Focusing on a menu item’s contributing margin dollars versus food cost percentage can potentially make you more money despite a higher food cost percentage. Thus, focusing on Food Margins could then be a more impactful method to building a profitable menu.

Calculate the Food Margin of an item by subtracting the Total Item Cost from the Menu Selling Price. This will illustrate the profit made every time you sell this item:

10.21MarginCalc1The following example compares the two methods on a typical menu decision:

10.21MarginChartAt first glance, the steak sandwich cost appears significantly more expensive to produce than the chicken –until you take a look at the cash drawer.

In this example, the gross profit on the steak sandwich is 16% higher than the gross profit on the chicken sandwich, yet has a 12% higher food cost percentage. You will take more actual dollars to the bank with the steak sandwich in this case by focusing on Food Margins instead of Food Cost percentages.

Plus One

Add one more part to the equation – the psychology of your customer.

Consumers prefer to pay a little more when they perceive the item to be of higher value. It’s called the “Price-Quality Effect” as researched in Holden and Nagle’s book, The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing, A Guide to Growing More Profitably.

According to Holden and Nagle, price-quality research provides, “…customers worry less about the price if higher prices denote higher quality. Creating a perception of exclusivity, rareness or quality will persuade the buyer to be okay with spending more. The product itself doesn’t need to be of the highest quality. If the branding denotes a high-quality ethos, customers will spend.”

Bank on it!

The next time you review your end of period financial statements and think, my food cost percentages are too high, the ingredients I’m buying are too expensive, and/or I can’t afford to upgrade my food, figure the bankable math first!

Calculate your food margins and note all higher qualities on your menu. Train your wait staff to properly explain higher quality and leverage the psychology of the price-quality effect.

Bank on Food Margins versus Food Cost %.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Chef Jake Burgess | On Trend at Prime 47

Prime 47 is one of downtown Indy’s top upscale steakhouses. With a second location in Carmel, and a third recently opened in Cincinnati, we spoke with Prime’s Regional Executive Chef, Jake Burgess, about expansion, the state of his industry and trends.

Why Cincy?

The investment group plans to expand the Prime 47 name. It had the same feel and vibe of the [first] restaurant – huge windows… you’re looking outside the whole time.

Pictured Above & Below Right: A long table view from Prime’s mezzanine and  historic preserved windows.

Prime 47 in downtown Indy was originally the Indiana Gas Company, we kept the original floors, ceilings, etc. In Cincy we found the same type of building there, located by the performing arts center.

How many restaurants are you looking to open in the future?

We’ll stay in the Midwest for now for the next 5 years, then, further west/southwest –southwest is where it’s at.

What first attracted you to the culinary field?

I grew up on the east side of Indy in Fortville and started washing dishes at a pizza joint at 15 in 2001. The oven guy called in one night and I got to work the ovens, and that’s when it changed. I majored in Food & Hospitality [at Ball State], but then didn’t think I’d like to take the corporate G.M. route, so I went to work for the best restaurant I could. I did a stint in Georgia, came back, worked for Mo’s, [former Prime owner group] then at Capital Grille, Sensu and on to my dream job with Prime 47.

When did you fall in love with making food?

At 17, when I was managing the pizza place. I came up with some new pizza and styles of pizza. Some of my ideas were put on the menu, and I was really excited about it. But, I started really learning culinary when I went upscale. The best words of advice given to me were, ‘You just have to engulf yourself.’Cooking pic

Pictured Right: Chef Burgess carefully drains bacon grease to reserve for making future stock. Cooking bacon on parchment keeps the bacon in place for easier draining, a kitchen tip he says home cooks can use too.

Industry Views

What do you see as your biggest challenges now?

As most of the restaurants felt with the weather in the Midwest last winter, it was hard to get people out of their houses while prices on protein and fish were going through the roof. We’re heavily convention based downtown; the convention base is down 30% for the year in Indy. Some of the annual conventions have also stopped returning due to cutbacks.

How do you manage prices?

We get steaks in whole and fish in whole and come up with 3 or 4 dishes out of it. We can make fish stock out of bones, etc., for soups and specials. In the past, we wouldn’t have a use for it.

It’s all about “Nose to Tail” now, isn’t it?

Yes. We take stuff that 10-15 years ago was deemed unusable, or nobody wanted.

How easy or hard do you think it’s been for customers to accept that?

Social media is a double-edged sword – but people are now intrigued by it. When people “like” on social media it helps others to want to try new things. You can have some fun with it too.

Are you an advocate of social media?Tuna + Wagyu

I think social is huge – we rely on it a lot – it’s helped a lot of people to change their minds. 15 years ago, there were no phones allowed at work, now we encourage the staff to check in on their accounts and let people know they’re at work. It’s free advertising! It’s changed the way we do business.

Pictured Above & Below Right: Plated Tuna & Wagyu. Prime’s table side fresh meat presentation.

How’s ownership dealing with transparency?meat tray2

They’re getting used to it – you don’t want to be behind or too far ahead. You don’t want to be New York in Indy right now – they say we’re 5 years behind Chicago and 10 from New York – but some things today, wouldn’t have flown then, and can now.

On Trends

What do you see as the next big trend?

Farm to Table –there are a lot of places where that’s all they do …if we can just get corporate into that. There’s a lot of product I’m buying from farmers 15-20 miles away from me now.

What’s the difference between Farm to Table vs. Buying Local?

We intertwine both. We buy the freshest and the best we can buy. So, if my beef prices go up, I have to raise menu price, because I’m not going to sacrifice for grade.

That brings up another good point; how do you feel about the way many restaurants misuse the word, “prime” on their menus?

Prime marketing… Prime Steakhouse has just one prime steak on their menu –a lot of their stuff is choice. Anytime I get a deal; my customers do. I have a great deal on Wagyu right now, better than some of the others, and we pass that on.

Which steaks are really prime? If there are several same steaks on the menu, ask; research before you go in to compare prices.

Logo with quoteWhat are your best selling meats these days?

Our 8 oz. filet is the top seller and Ribeye, which is handcut in-house and a little cheaper, if you’re into marbling. The 14 oz. bone in filet is hot right now too. We also have a 30 oz. Wagyu Tomahawk –it’s known as, “Indy’s most expensive steak”, people split it 30% of the time.

Do you see a difference in the amount of food consumed by customers?

I see carbs going down, lots of steamed vegetables and fresh produce going up… and fish going up. I also had a customer in here recently who ordered the 30 oz. Wagyu, with sides and had dessert too.

Do you think the Steakhouse trend will change?

I hope not. Indy is really booming; there are more coming in. I don’t see any change in the near future, but over time trends happen.

What would you do if steakhouses went out of vogue?

We are a big bourbon steak feel – we’d have to do some quick market research to see where you can take it. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Our steakhouse has the best services in the state; we are very interactive –we like to put on a show. We’re “fine dining”, but we like to say, ‘fun dining.’ The martinis are shaken at the table every time, we have the meat presentation and we wish our customers “happy birthday” with a personalized piano rendition played especially for them.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 10.10.14

Chef’s Hall of Fame

The next inductions to the Chef’s Hall of Fame will take place at Castle Nightclub on Thursday, October 16th at the annual fund raising benefit for the Chicago Culinary Museum.2014CulinaryHallofFame

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year’s honorees are:

Chef of the Year, Chef Stephanie Izard –Chef/Partner Girl & the Goat, The Goat, James Beard award winner, Top Chef Season 4 winner and cookbook author.

Pastry Chef of the Year, Chef Gale Gand –Former Food Network Sweet Dreams host, cookbook author, James Beard award winner, co-owner of TRU and the newly opened Spritz Burger.

Industry Leader, Phil Stefani –Restaurateur of more than 15 restaurants and private event venues including: Tuscany, Riva, Crystal Gardens, Chango Loco, Navy Pier Beer Garden, Castaways, The Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier, Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush, Phil Stefani Signature Events and Tavern on Rush.

Legendary Chef, Chef Michael Kornick –Chef/Partner DMK Restaurants: DMK Burger Bars, Fish Bar, Ada Street, County Barbecue, DMK Burger & Fish and Henry’s Swing Club.

Industry Legend, Larry Levy –Founder of Levy Restaurants, an internationally recognized specialized food service organization with market leading share of high-end sports and entertainment facilities throughout North America and Europe and network of restaurants.

25 local restaurants will be serving at the event, which also includes an open bar, DJ and silent auction. (Buedel Fine Meats is proudly donating a shopping spree to our online store for the auction.) There’s still time to buy tickets here.

Book Virgin

VH ChicagoIt is official, Virgin Hotels Chicago is now taking reservations for 2015. From the iconic messaging, “calling them rooms is like calling the Space Shuttle an airplane” (they call them chambers), to the dedicated Step Outside pages on their website filled with food, attractions and stores to see outside of the hotel, VH Chicago is in full marketing mode.

Located in the heart of the Chicago Loop, the hotel took over the 27 story Dearborn Bank Building on the corner of Wabash & Lake –Virgin also restored and recreated the architectural features of the historic 1928 Art Deco landmark.

VH Chicago2The impending roster of food and spirits is equally inviting: Miss Ricky’s (American diner), Two Zero Three (coffee and wine bar), Common’s Club (a breakfast, lunch and dinner social club where “everyone’s a member”) and The Rooftop Bar.

We wish all the best to Virgin Hotels Chicago and Executive Chef Rick Gresh.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn   @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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