Lessons from The Breakfast Queen

Last week, the ACF Windy City Professional Culinarians held their Dine-Around event at the famous Ina’s restaurant in Chicago. Ina Pickney is known in town as “The Breakfast Queen” for her remarkable breakfast recipes, attention to detail, and the type of personalized customer service that makes you feel at home. 

What made this event more than special was Ina’s willingness to dish out her recipes for life and business as they related to running a successful restaurant.

Have a Vision

Photo Nov 21, 9 56 22 AMIna baked her first cake at 37 years old and for 11 years ran a bakery.  Every day she ate out, choosing from one of only six restaurants in the area for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  What nagged at her was breakfast, something was wrong with that first meal of the day. 

There were hotels which offered either upscale fine breakfast or simple self-serve buffets, and there were diners which offered typical greasy spoon fare.  Ina thought there should be something in between these two options – a breakfast place that offered quality food, tablecloths, and provided a peaceful, nurturing experience.

The Breakfast Queen compared her vision to that of the late Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs’ vision for the iPhone was to create a product that broke the mold of traditional cell phones.Translation: Create something so unique, so advanced, yet so user friendly, the experience of just using it would be in high demand by the masses.  Her vision was to make the breakfast experience as rewarding to her customers, as Steve Jobs’ vision for the iPhone.

Big Flavor & Quality Ingredients

Ina chose to create a breakfast experience that would start with big flavors and quality ingredients,  prepared with more care – offer foods you couldn’t find anywhere else.  For example, you wouldn’t find pork sausage breakfast patties or links at Ina’s, but you would enjoy chicken sausage in a variety of flavors made with lamb (not pork) casing to appeal to a wider group of ethnicities.  Veal-Chive sausage, custom made Chorizo, and garlic roasted potatoes, in lieu of hash browns, were some of the other alternative dishes she chose to make.

Ina was one of the first restaurants in the city to use only pasteurized eggs.  They cost more money, but they were safe.  Back in 2010, when a salmonella outbreak traced back to eggs sickened 62,000 people and prompted a recall of  550 million eggs, Ina’s restaurant was not affected.

Photo Nov 21, 10 31 28 AMIna was also one of the first restaurants in the city to use only trans fat free oil.  At the time, most chefs didn’t believe food would taste as good with trans fat free oil and that it was too costly to use.  Ina, an industry advocate for healthy eating, invited a group of chefs to a private event where she served fried chicken dinner.  After the chefs had eaten, Ina told them the chicken was fried with six day old (and still good) trans fat free oil. Their thinking was converted.

She also committed to using name brand products such as, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise and Tabasco hot sauce, rather than generic or house brands. Ina feels that using only name and best brands supports her own brand. She also worked with Intelligentsia Coffee to create a custom blend for her restaurant and serves only real maple syrup. These are the types of subtleties that when combined, create a complete dining experience that’s simply delicious.      

High Touch & Personalized Service

Ina focused on the little things that most other breakfast places miss or don’t care about because creating a best experience for her customers was just as important as the quality of food served.  For example, the butter on her tables is always soft and sweet. You won’t find semi-frozen or foil wrapped pats of butter at Ina’s, but you will find a nice plate of soft sweet butter ready to spread on fresh baked breads.

Each table has its own hot pot of coffee too. Ina believes that nothing irks a coffee drinker more than when their perfect sugar/cream blended cup of coffee is dowsed with refills. Instead, the wait staff keeps the pot of black coffee on the table hot so the customer can refill their own cup as they wish.

No smoking, no cell phones, no alcohol, but high touch customer relations – Ina banned talking on cell phones in her restaurant when they used be the size of bricks. She believed her customers wanted to enjoy their breakfast by reading the paper or conversing with their party in peace, without loud cell  chatter or incessant ring tones at the next table. She also banned smoking in her restaurant before it was fashionable, anPhoto Nov 21, 9 56 18 AMd led the effort to ban smoking in public places in Chicago.

From day one, Ina kept a mailing list of her customers.  For over 22 years, she has written a monthly newsletter to her customers. (They were initially sent by mail with a “Love” stamp, before the preference of email.) Today she has thousands of customers on her mailing list with a successful open rate of 48-52%, compared to the 19% national average open rate for restaurants.

Ina believes that no one tells your story better than you – so do it with love and care. These are the types of things that make good restaurants great.

Small Business Advocate, Suffering & Second Chances

You won’t find a Sysco product anywhere in Ina’s restaurant either because she believes you need to have the same type of loyal relationships with your suppliers as you do with your customers. This loyalty would pay off in good times and in bad. Big business often talks the talk, but rarely do they walk the walk.

When the economy tanked in the post 9-11 aftermath, Ina’s business was severely affected for 25 months. The drop in business was so dramatic she was unable to pay her bills. During that time, every purveyor that she worked with gave her extended credit to help her along. While times were hard on everyone, it was the local independent businesses that worked together to see things through. In return, Ina made sure that as things improved, every bill was paid and then took it a step further by paying COD for every delivery in appreciation and reciprocation for the help her suppliers had given her. Ina firmly believes she would have been cut off and out of business had she been dealing with large broad line suppliers at the time.    

Integrity, Love & Giving Back

In 2008, the recession hurt Ina’s business, but she made sure to take care of her employees – every one of them which she knows all by name. “The lowest paid employees have the power to hurt you,” says Ina. “All it takes is one dirty dish served to the wrong customer that can ruin your reputation.”

Ina believes that treating everyone with respect, love and integrity is more important than anything. Treat people how you would like to be treated. Giving back to the community through charitable work is equally important to her. Stricken with Polio as a child, her favorite charity is End Polio Now. 

In 2005, CNN produced a Photo Nov 21, 5 05 51 PMshow called THE TURNAROUND which focused on helping struggling small businesses. Ina’s was invited to apply for an episode. “As an entrepreneur, you say, ‘YES’, and figure it out later,” says Ina.  Her restaurant was selected, and she was shocked to learn that her mentor would be none other than Richard Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Richard told Ina she was selected because she was still in business after the downturn that he kept hearing how Ina’s was the best place for breakfast, and due to her charity work in the community. 

End on Your Own Terms

After over 30 years of hard work in the food business, Ina, now 70, has announced her retirement – Ina’s will close at the end of the year. Her mobility is limited from post-polio syndrome – she wears a brace and has trouble standing and walking for long periods of time – the time had come to close, and she wanted the end to be on her own terms. 

In her November newsletter, she writes: I have always said that life is like baking a cake. It’s raw for a really long time. It’s perfectly baked for a short time, and it’s overcooked forever. I feel like we’re closing at the right time before we’re overcooked.

Ina wanted to exit with the same integrity with which she worked, and announced her closing four months in advance to give her staff adequate time to find new jobs. She also wanted enough time to be able to say, “thank you”. 

Having no children or family to pass down her recipes to, the woman who set the highest breakfast standard in Chicago decided to publish her one and only cookbook. Taste Memories: Recipes For Life and Breakfast is the legacy she leaves her only family – her customers and friends.

Thank You, Ina.

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Meat Picks | 11.22.13

Tornado Relief

www.buedelfinemeats.comWhen severe storms and tornadoes ripped through Central Illinois last Sunday, hundreds of people lost their homes. We can’t imagine what losing our home and everything we owned could possibly feel like – let alone having that happen just 10 days before Thanksgiving.

Since then, numerous civic, community and volunteer groups have been building a support network to help storm victims. Many of us will never have to face a cataclysmic disaster like this in our lifetimes, but for those who do, any and all help is more than appreciated. If you’d like to help the relief efforts, here are some resource links to get started:

General Resources  Facebook Recovery Page  Facebook Thanksgiving Dinner Page

Jean Banchet Awards



Earlier this week, the nominees for this year’s Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence were announced. The talent pool in the Chicago restaurant community grows richer every year, and the awards provide an opportunity for culinary professionals to shine and be recognized.

The winners will be announced at the 17th Annual Gala Ball on January 31st at the Fairmont Hotel, which also plays hosts to an annual fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Buy tickets here

And the nominees are:

Embeya Lounge


Restaurant of the Year  Acadia, Brindille, Embeya, Grace  Chef of the Year Curtis Duffy (Grace), Carrie Nahabedian (NAHA), Paul Virant (Vie, Perennial Virant), Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia)  Pastry Chef of the Year  Lisa Bonjour (mk), Craig Harzewski (NAHA), Elissa Narow (Vie, Perennial Virant), Leigh Omilinsky (Cafe des Architectes) Best Chef de Cuisine  Ali Ratcliffe-Bauer (Brindille), Andres Padilla (Topolobampo), Sean Pharr (NoMI Kitchen), Nicholas Romero (Grace)  Rising Chef of the Year  Thai Dang (Embeya), Nicole Pederson (Found), Tom Van Lente (TWO), Lee Wolen (The Lobby at the Peninsula Chicago) – Chef Wolen will be going to Boka in January. Rising Pastry Chef of the Year  Dana Cree (Blackbird), Sarah Mispagel (Nightwood), Thomas Raquel (Acadia), Bobby Schaffer (Grace)  Best New Restaurant Fat Rice, Found, Gather, Travelle, TWO  Best Sommelier  Valerie Cao (Grace), Chad Ellegood (NoMI Kitchen), Richard Hanauer (Langham, Chicago), Arthur Hon (Sepia)  Best Mixologist  Charles Joly (The Aviary), Paul McGee (Three Dots and a Dash), Danielle Pizzutillo (Embeya), Sergio Serna (The Drawing Room)  Best Restaurant Design  Balena, Boarding House, Brindille, Embeya  Best Restaurant Service  Balena, Grace, Nightwood, Sixteen

Congratulations to all those nominated!

…because you want s’more

When you start looking for some cozy winter treats, (soon!), you might want to check out Zagat’s recent list of Must-Try S’mores in Chicago. Their top ten picks range from donuts to ice cream moto_smores_Amy_Stallard_680_340_85_s_c1renderings of the family favorite flavor.

Closest to the campfire classic, is Moto’s chocolate ganache, vanilla marshmallow and crumbled graham cracker version – roasted at table side.

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How to Manage Holiday Menu Costs with Boneless Strip Loin

Buedel Fine Meats StriploinPrime Rib and Beef Tenderloin are traditional favorites for carving stations and banquet events during the holidays. Due to the increase in seasonal demand, price spikes often occur, by as much as 30%.

The good news is, there is a premium alternative without a premium price: Boneless Strip Loin.

Anatomically, the Strip Loin muscle is part of the Short Loin. One side of the Short Loin is the Tenderloin; the other side is the Strip Loin, where the ubiquitous New York Strip Steak is fabricated.

The Strip Loin is a muscle that does little work when the animal moves, thus making it relatively tender. It is an extremely versatile cut of beef used for roasts or cut into steaks. Though not as tender as rib eyes or tenderloins, strip loins are very flavorful due to consistent marbling and nice firm textures.

Breaking it Down

Beef Strip LoinLike any cut of meat, there are variations of quality within the Strip Loin muscle. These variations can be left intact or removed depending on your application. An understanding of the anatomy of the Strip Loin can help better balance your food costs to your menu options and guests’ dining experience. The main parts of the Strip Loin are the Rib End or “Center”, the Sirloin End or “Vein End”, the Back Strap and the Tail.

Rib End or Center This is the main part of the Strip Loin. It’s a single muscle that is tender with a firm texture and delicious taste. The quality is determined by the marbling within the muscle as determined by the USDA grades, Prime, Upper Choice, Choice or Select. The higher the grade, the higher the quality, eating experience and price will be.

Sirloin End or Vein End Found on the posterior end of the Strip Loin, this part is commonly called the “vein end” because it is where the sirloin muscle joins together with the strip loin muscle. Between these two muscles is stringy connective tissue called the vein – a huge variation of quality in the Strip Loin. The connective vein is practically inedible and does not break down when cooked. Vein Ends can however, be removed and used for other applications such as, Steak & Eggs, Steak Salad, Chicken Fried Steak and Sandwich Steaks.

Back Strap Also known as, “Strap”, the Back Strap is a 2” thick ligament membrane which runs along the top-back of the Strip Loin. It is edible and can be left on, however, for higher quality steaks and roasts the back strap is often removed for a better eating experience.

TailTail Sometimes referred to as a “Lip”, the Tail is found at the tapered end of the main strip loin muscle. It is comprised of fat and connective tissue.

When purchasing Strip Loins, you’ll typically hear the term, 0x1 or 1×1, which refers to the size of the tail on the strip loin. 1×1 means the tail size is 1″ long all the way across the end of Strip Loin. 0x1 means the tail is 0″ on one end (No Tail) and 1″ in size at the other end of the Strip Loin. As you would expect, 0x0 means there is no tail on the Strip Loin.

Why would/should you care about the size of the tail? The tail is a variation of quality; the less tail, the higher quality and price. The Tail is often the part left on diners’ plates.

Putting it All Together

Striploin DiagramWhen ordering Strip Loin Roasts or Strip Steaks you can specify the trim level you desire for your menu application and quality. More trim, means fewer variations of quality, a better eating experience and higher price whether you’re cutting your own or buying portion control.

Manage your holiday menu costs with these common options for purchasing Strip Loins, Strip Loin Roasts and Strip Steaks:

Boneless Strip Loins, Roasts & Steak Ready

• Boneless Strip Loin 1×1: A whole boneless strip loin with 1″ tail fat across the entire loin.

• Boneless Strip Loin 0x1: A whole boneless strip loin with 1″ tail fat on the Rib End and 0″ tail fat on the Vein end. This is the most common option for whole strip loins.

• Boneless Strip Loin Back Strap Off Steak Ready: A whole boneless strip loin with the back strap ligament removed. Buyers can also specify the tail length desired.

• Boneless Strip Loin Center Cut No Vein Steak Ready: A whole boneless strip loin with the vein end removed. A single muscle cut for roasts or steaks. Buyers can also specify tail length and removal of the back strap.

Boneless Strip Loin Steaks

• Full Cut or End-to-End, MBG#1180: Steaks are cut from the entire strip loin from the rib end to the vein end.

• Center Cut, MBG#1180A: Steaks are cut from only the rib end up to where the vein end appears one only one side of the last steak. In addition to the portion size, buyers can also specify the tail length and back strap on or off with Full and Center cuts.

The Strip Loin roast is a tender cut with a delightful beefy flavor and texture that when properly aged and cooked, will receive rave reviews. Strip Loins provide a great premium alternative for your holiday menus.

New York Strip Roast Recipe

1 (5-6 lb) New York Strip Roast
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper

Strip RoastPreheat oven to 500ºF. Place roast, fat side up, in roasting pan fitted with rack. Rub roast with olive oil and season all sides with salt and pepper. Place in the oven for about 12 minutes. Reduce oven temp to 300ºF and continue cooking about 15 to 20 minutes per pound depending on desired doneness: Very Rare 130°, Rare 140°, Medium Rare 145°, Medium 160°, Well 170°.

Loosely tent roast with foil and let stand 15 minutes. Slice roast across the grain. Find more recipes at: http://www.yummly.com/recipes/beef-strip-loin

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Meat Picks | 11.14.13

Shooting for MG 2014 Chicago ND 9782067186996the Stars

If you haven’t heard by now, the Chicago restaurant scene increased its Michelin rating’s share earlier this week. As Phil Vettel reports, the Windy City jumped from 19 to 25 starred restaurants. While other cities like New York have more than double that (62), Chicago is still in its Michelin infancy, having only been published since 2010. 

Some of the starred newcomers to the list this year are, The Lobby, at the Peninsula Chicago and Sixteen, at the Trump Hotel Chicago. See the complete list of stars here.

I Say, ‘Pō-tā-tō’ and You Say, “Rice”

Imagine being at an event in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton on South Michigan Avenue. You and 1,599 other people are having dinner and someone at your table sends back their fabulous potato side dish because they’d rather have rice with their filet.

HiltonBallroomConsidering this starch for starch switch had nothing to do with dietary needs, and everything to do with ill-mannered persnicketiness, one might expect the Hilton staff would have been well within their rights to respectfully decline the request.

Certainly this guest had no consideration for the amount of preparation it takes to feed 1,600 in one sitting, but then again it was the Hilton. Executive Chef, Mario Garcia, had the spuds replaced with rice within fifteen minutes.

Gobble Gab

According to a recent post on Today.com, 84% of men now participate in the preparation of Thanksgiving dinner and 43% will be involved with making the turkey. Butterball has even added male operators to its holiday hotline staff, now in its 32nd year of operation.

BubCityThanksgivingPromoCooking outdoors is also trending according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), who estimates over 50% of consumers are likely to cook their birds outside this year. (Maybe because so many men are involved these days?) Alternatively, hospitality estimates provide for 14 million Americans dining out on Thanksgiving and 16 million using restaurants to “supplement” their home cooked meals.

For those of you who’d rather dine out than in on Thanksgiving, check the roster at Open Table for special offers and holiday menus – Thanksgiving is two weeks from today – reserve now! You may also want to keep an eye out for restaurants who include “give back” promotions in their offers. Bub City is supporting the No Kid Hungry program this year by donating $40 to the organization for every dinner ordered.  

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Should You Care If “Finely Textured Beef” Is In the Ground You Buy?

Remember all the buzz last year around “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (LFTB) aka “Pink Slime”?   

Last August, I wrote about how the fallout from unfair and erroneous media reporting affected employment and ground beef prices in “1 of 10 Things (at the very least) the Food Industry Does Want You to Know“.   

The product was perfectly safe, and USDA approved, but much of the ado was over the fact that consumers were unaware of the process large manufacturers used to produce ground beef. That uproar took most of the product off the market.

What Goes Around Comes Around

11-12price of ground beefHere, we are a little more than a year later, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the price of ground beef is 17% higher on average than last year.  Compare that to the CPI for all food, which grew only 1.4% over last year.

Consumer demand for lower prices is now bringing back finely textured beef.  This time, however, it will be marked as such on the label – kind of.  

Cargill, one of the world’s largest beef companies, just announced it will note the use of finely textured beef in its U.S. ground beef product labels, when applicable. 

In reality, the product never actually went away.  The USDA does not require specific labeling for finely textured beef because the product is 100% beef.

Following the Label Trail   

Cargill has continued to produce finely textured beef for inclusion in its ground beef products and has been doing so since the 1990’s. However, in response to consumer demand for transparency, Cargill will begin to put “contains finely textured beef” on bulk boxes of its ground beef sold to grocery stores for repackaging.

The $64,000 dollar question then is: Will your grocer or foodservice purveyor put that same information on their in-house label when they repackage bulk ground from Cargill?  11-12groundbeef-300x225

Cargill’s labeling disclosure of finely textured beef is voluntary.  A grocery store or foodservice purveyor can purchase Cargill’s bulk ground beef containing lean finely textured beef for a lower price than ground beef without it. They can repackage either product under their own in-house brand and sell them as ground beef or burgers. The possibility exists then that you the consumer may not know which beef you’re buying.  

Next Question: Should You Care?   

Ground beef made with lean finely textured beef is perfectly safe and is technically 100% ground beef.  LFTB is made from the chunks, bits and pieces of beef that remain on the unused parts and fat of the animals, harvested through a scientific separation process. It is the scraps, but still 100% beef and quite inexpensive. 

Lean finely textured beef serves to fill certain demand in the market for low cost ground beef and as a low cost food ingredient. It also relieves the pressure on ground beef pricing by increasing the available supply to meet that demand.

Wrap Up

Food labels are ever evolving. There is current debate whether or not to label genetically modified foods, “GMO”s, and demand to tighten up the loose definition of “Natural” on labels.  Chefs, restaurateurs and consumers want and deserve to know what’s in their food. 

The disclosure of the use of lean finely textured beef as an ingredient is currently voluntary for ground beef and burgers. Thus, buyers can use price as a key indicator for the ingredients and quality of what they’re buying. If the price is cheap relative to similar other choices, the type of ground beef being merchandised, may be suspect as such.

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Are You Ready for Chinese Chicken?

Coming to your table soon; processed chicken from China.Thanks to a recent USDA Department of Agriculture ruling, poultry processed in China, can now be sold in the United States. chickennuggets

Remember the Avian influenza H5N1, aka “Bird Flu” – that highly pathogenic virus that first infected humans during a poultry outbreak in China? A new strain of bird flu, H7N9, from chicken flocks, infected humans this year and has already killed 45 people. It started in …You guessed it, China. 

Next question: Why would the USDA Department of Agriculture allow processed chicken from China into the United States?  

How It Evolved

In one word: politics. If we want access to Chinese markets, we need to grant China access to ours. 

The U.S. last year exported $354.1 million worth of poultry products to China, representing about 7 percent of total U.S. poultry exports, according to Census Bureau data. This granted access stems from a 2004 request from China to the USDA to audit its processing plants so poultry could be exported to the United States.   

Pursuant to five years of audits, Congress lifted the ban on processed poultry from China in 2009, on the basis that China’s facilities were equivalent to those in the U.S. Over the next four years, the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) worked with China, to certify their food safety inspection system for processed poultry met the United States standard for equivalency.

Under the terms of the tradBirdFluOutbreakShanghaie agreement, the imported processed chicken from China must be fully cooked to an internal temperature of 165.2°F prior to export and processed only from chickens slaughtered in the U.S. or Canada and exported to China for processing.  No chickens raised or slaughtered in China are eligible for export to the United States. The USDA would also conduct border inspections and China’s processing facilities would be audited annually.

What You Don’t Know, Can Hurt You

You probably won’t know if you’re eating cooked chicken products that came from China such as chicken wings, chicken nuggets, or chicken noodle soup because currently, processed foods do not require Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). 

Country of Origin Labeling is a labeling law that requires retailers notify their customers with information on the label regarding the source of certain foods. Under the current law, where chicken is concerned, only raw muscle cuts and ground chicken are included. 

In our global economy, U.S. poultry companies enjoy access to the Chinese market. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. broiler chicken product exports in 2010 were 6.8 billion pounds, worth $3.1 billion, about 18% of all U.S. production. About $680 million went to China. Of course, China expects reciprocation – but at what cost?  

Since 2007, we have seen from China: tainted baby formula, evidence of melamine in pet food and eggs, and, shrimp, catfish and carp with illegal antibiotics and chemicals. This year, 580 dogs in the U.S. have died after eating chicken jerky treats made in China.

Wrap Up

Is the USDA’s newest ruling BuedelLocalLogoTMthe first step in opening the door for China to export Chinese raised poultry to the United States? Given China’s food safety track record, that’s the fear of many, including Food & Water Watch, a non-profit organization that works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainably produced.

The good news is the Local, Natural & Sustainable movement continues to gain momentum within our domestic food industry. Expect more and more consumers to support its growth.

Related Reading: Sustainable Agriculture: The Short Course   What Makes Meat Natural?  Why Local is Hot   How To Buy Local   Antibiotics & Pork Production

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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