Why Relationships Build Value

By Chef John Reed, CEC, CCA, ACE

True story.

A professional contact of mine wanted to educate his staff on beef primals – where the cuts come off the animal. He went to his purchasing department to get the cuts of beef he needed to do a class, and they told him, “you can’t get that.” Still, he urged them to try; they did and the big purveyors said, “There’s no SKU for that.”

Case closed, right? Not so fast.

Determined to make this happe3-28Food For Thought  Meat 101 Trainingn, the Chef called me to ask if I knew anyone who could help. I immediately thought of John (Cecala). My contact was ecstatic and ultimately decided to have Buedel Fine Meats do the training for his staff.

The Big Guys love to say, I don’t have a SKU # for that. Every time I call John, he can get it done. (Pictured above, the primal training John Cecala led for Chef Reed’s contact.)

Building Value

What I love about this culinary tale is that it demonstrates the power of relationships. My contact thought well enough of me to seek help, I thought well enough of John for resolve.

This is what networking does. It also helps those who don’t get out from behind the desk – they’re used to people coming to their back door, but they don’t know people like John or me.

If you ask John why Buedel provides free personalized trainings and presentations, he’ll tell you it’s because they value “long term mutually beneficial relationships over individual sales transactions.”

Being able to call on someone at any time for help, makes relationships priceless. Many sales people (and Big Guys) don’t get that – they just sell, sell, sell.

Relationship Laggards

When you can go to a professional resource and say, ‘Here’s what I need to find out – do you have any info that you’re willing to share to help me with this problem?’, it’s absolutely empowering. Unfortunately, 25-35 year old decision makers in the current marketplace, tend to reign on the laggard side of networked relationships, knee deep in an old school/new school conundrJohnandJohnatWindyCityAnnualGala downsizedum. (Pictured Left: Chef Reed and John Cecala at the annual ACF Windy City Culinarian’s gala.)

Gen X and Millenials grew up being pounded with information. They surf smart phones and tablets for answers – they have hundreds of articles (and photos) at their fingertips. Access is quick, but no one actually knows how to process the information.

You can watch umpteen videos, but it won’t unleash the skills needed to execute. Things may look easy to assimilate, but until you actually experience use, there’s no intuitive or emotional tie. The same holds true for connecting with investors, buying equipment, choosing suppliers, etc. – when the humanistic piece is missing, you miss out.

18 years ago, I was part of an educational discussion on providing online culinary degrees. As you can imagine, there was great debate about the pros and cons of doing so. Ultimately, seeing how someone works in the kitchen was just too high a value stake to dismiss – you have to be able to quantify certification and expertise.

Anybody can up open a hotdog hut and call themselves an Executive Chef or sell commodities with prime beef as quality service. Without the ability to verify and relate to professional expertise, we all miss out.

Wrap Up

johnreednewsletterThere’s (still) a whole generation of chefs out there who saw kids coming out of school who had to be there – be on the line and learn how to cook. Information was shared, and career building (and long term) relationships were made.

Ultimately, when you want to bring someone or something to the next level in your business, you may call your client or boss and tell them, ‘We need to bring so ‘n so in …’. Ideally, your relationships will do the same in return.

Professionals learn how to walk before they run, bounce ideas off others, share new discoveries and provide help whenever possible. It is unfortunate that societal trends are diminishing the types of professional models that inspire value relationships.

Chef Reed is the current president of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) local chapter, Windy City Professional Culinarians, in Chicago and the President of Customized Culinary Solutions.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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On the Cutting Edge of Culinary Ed with EHS

100_0282Last month, the 13th annual Illinois ProStart® Invitational, was hosted by the Illinois Restaurant Association at Kendall College. High school teams from across the state competed for culinary and hospitality management titles. It was also the second year in a row the Elgin High School Culinary Team won the management part of the competition.

What is Pro Start?

ProStart® is an educational foundation program of the National Restaurant Association. It is a two-year curriculum plan that combines classroom learning and real-life experience aimed to skill build, develop talent and spur future restaurant and foodservice leaders. Over 90,000 students from 1,700 high schools in 47 states currently participate in the program, including students from U.S. Military bases and in Guam.

One of the core elements to this program is its working relationship between industry and education.  It is the hands on support from restaurant and hospitality professionals, food service companies, suppliers and state level restaurant associations in tandem with educators that provide this recipe for success.

IMG_3578The Hospitality Management part of the competition consists of developing a restaurant concept from scratch. Students analyze local demographics, develop marketing initiatives, design interiors, create menus and literally everything else that goes into launching and operating a restaurant. They have to prepare a 10 minute presentation for culinary teachers and professional chefs and field questions from the judging authorities.

The culinary part of the competition is equally challenging. Student teams have one hour to produce a three course meal (appetizer, entrée and dessert) for two, using only two portable camping oven/burners.

The Proof is in the Pudding

We asked the winning Elgin High School (EHS) team what they thought about the experience and knowledge they’ve gained from participating in their school’s culinary program and competitions. The team of four seniors had much to say – get ready, their enthusiasm is contagious and inspiring.

DSC04268Yahaira Bonilla told us she learned how to work as a team and develop speaking skills because they had to present in front of teachers and professional chefs. She also learned how to use more computer skills and do a PowerPoint presentation. “I can take this somewhere – doing this made me think of going for culinary or hospitality management in college – it has kind of guided me. ”

Bonilla is also in the culinary program and feels the “hands on experience” has really helped her.  “We have catering events outside of school and do a restaurant at school once a week.”

Louis Maldonado says he was “up and down” about getting involved because of the commitment level.  “There are a lot of practices, and I took Food 1,2,3,4 [classes]. Ms. Leider gave me the opportunity to go to competitions, and it helped me. There is a lot of writing and thinking. I was introduced to the President of Rosati’s Pizza last year at the competition, and she gave me a summer job – ProStart® really helps. It’s great to see this industry; I am going into theIMG_3649 hospitality side.”

Eduardo Rios says the program and competition experience made him put his English and school skills to the test. “It made things interesting for me. Running a restaurant has been so interesting – it made me think, ‘What are my opportunities in the future?’ Culinary Arts or Restaurant Management is what I think I want to do. With hospitality, I serve people and make people them happy – that is one of the most attractive things.”

Colin Flanagan echoed his teammates’ sentiments on learning and opportunity. “In the classroom we learn about food safety, how to cook things properly and what goes on in the background of a restaurant. I have friends that think this program is amazing because it gets you ready for college – they don’t have these kinds of classes at their schools. A lot of kids would just like to learn some basic cooking skills too.”

Learning from Those that Do

Equally refreshing, is the pride and positive energy the team’s teacher, Ann Leider, has for the program and her students. “We teach them all aspects of what goes into it and how to be successful in the industry,” she described. “They are exposed to all culinary – to its math, food costs, preparation, how to treat customers, front of house, back of house, safety, sanitation, how to keep employees happy …”.

100_0222If it sounds like Leider genuinely knows what she’s talking about, she does – Ann is also a culinary professional. She began working in restaurants as a young teen, earned her degree in hospitality,  worked as a line cook, prep cook, café manager, and in catering and event planning.

Five years ago she was offered the opportunity to take over the program. “I am certified to teach hospitality,” she explained, “my certificate is based off my industry experience.” Leider is also taking  classes at night to expand the status of her expertise.

Ann says she does the competitions “because it’s beneficial to the students.” She lets the student team set the hours and how much they want to practice. Her current team was dedicated to 3-4 hours after school and 8 hours on Saturdays.

In addition to the competitions, ProStart® also provides access to scholarships and job shadows. “We’ve done all day job shadows at TGI Fridays, Morton’s, Chili’s and Key Lime Cove.” Leider says a lot schools don’t have catering or hosting elements to their programs, curricula she’s equally proud of.

DSC04208How does the Elgin in-school restaurant work? “Our culinary classroom is the restaurant.” On Thursdays, the students spend the last 3 periods of the day flipping their classroom into a full serve restaurant, The Clumsy Chef. This week’s entrée of the day was Baked Tilapia Veracruz with Cilantro Lime Rice. Patrons can dine in or carry out.

School events and meThisWeek'sMenuetings also take place at the Clumsy Chef and catering is available: We cater anything from small box lunch meetings to continental breakfast for 100! Let us know your needs and budget, and we can work together to come up with the best options for you.

The culinary students rely on support from the faculty, student and parent populations for their restaurant and, successfully so as the Clumsy Chef is self-sustaining.

Community Outreach

Leider’s culinary teams have consistently placed in the top three statewide positions, in one or both categories, over the last four years – for as long as they have been competing. That’s a remarkable track record, to say the least.

100_0272This May, the EHS team, will be competing at the National ProStart Invitational® in Minneapolis. Last year, the EHS team, placed 10th at nationals in Baltimore. Funds are currently being raised to send the team to this year’s national competition with proper supplies, uniforms and equipment.

Cash, gift cards and other items are needed for raffle fund raising efforts. Large donations will be recognized on the team’s competition shirts by company logo. (Buedel is helping the team out this year with a donation of steak gift boxes for their silent auction.) If you would like to lend support to the students, please contact Ann Leider (soon!) by phone at 630-400-4064 or by email: AnnLeider@u-46.org.

Good luck EHS!

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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On the Road in NOLA with Steve Dolinsky

ABC 7 Chicago food reporter Steve Dolinsky recently hosted a four day tour of NOLA (aka New Orleans, Louisiana). The excursion would center around a mix of traditional and modern New Orleans gastronomy and mixology.

The invitation to a New Orleans tour masterminded by the ultimate foodie was just too good to pass up. The same held true for the twenty other cuisine enthusiasts who took the trip. We ate, we drank, we learned, and we became friends. I came away with a deeper appreciation for the culture and history of the Crescent City.

NOLA CureDay 1

It’s hard to appreciate the real impact that hurricane Katrina had on the people of New Orleans over eight years ago until you experience it firsthand. The effects of Katrina are still highly evident around the city.  To this day, New Orleans natives speak BK and AK – before and after Katrina.

Our first stop was Cure, a former Firehouse turned into a stylish cocktail bar that anchored the comeback and development in its uptown neighborhood after hurricane Katrina.

Saloons were places to get drunk, but cocktail bars were places of culture and civility where patrons could socialize with sophistication. Cure offered a variety of creative cocktails.  I particularly enjoyed the following selections from their menu:

HOLY SMOKE 10  A light & smoky sipper with a long finish of tropical 10 & cedar notes. MONKEY SHOULDER SCOTCH, ALIPUS SAN BALTAZAR MEZCAL, and BANANA are the major players.

ONCE OVER 10  APEROL, 86 Co’ sun aged TEQUILA CABEZA, lime, 10 and our house-made ORGEAT are the key players in this low-proof sour with hints of mint, bitter orange, and rhubarb.

NOLA 2014After drinks, it was time for dinner at Casamento’s Restaurant, a New Orleans landmark built in 1919 by Italian immigrant Joe Casamento.

In tune with the ceramic building traditions of his native Italy, Mr. Casamento embraced the cleaning ease of tiled surfaces. (So much tile was needed to meet Casamento’s requirements, it took four tile companies from across the United States to fill his order at the time.) Customers likened Joe’s restaurant to a “giant swimming pool”. The restaurant still sports the original floor and wall tiles today. The current owner, CJ Gerdes, has worked there since he was a kid.

Casamento’s is known for their raw oysters shucked throughout the day. Offered raw on the half shell, deep fried and grilled, we enjoyed oyster po-boys: fried oysters served on buttered griddled thick toast they call, “pan-bread”.

NOLA Commander's PalaceDay 2

We took the St. Charles Streetcar to the Garden District, a historic neighborhood of stately homes on tree lined streets – home to the New Orleans’ elite of yesterday and today.

The area was originally developed between 1832 and 1900 and is considered one of the best-preserved collections of historic southern mansions in the United States. Among these mansions, is the Commander’s Palace. Built in 1880, this former antebellum mansion is regarded as the one of the best upscale restaurants in New Orleans. Inside its aqua blue Victorian architecture, there is a blend of inventive modern New Orleans cooking that co-exists with haute Creole.

We were treated to a jazz brunch, which started with Turtle Soup, Shrimp and Tasso Henican appetizers served with champagne. Entrées featured Wild Berry Pancakes, Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish and my choice, Cochon De Lait Eggs Benedict, comprised of 12-hour barbecue pork shoulder over cheddar and bacon biscuits with poached eggs, ripped herb salad, natural jus, and herb hollandaise.   For dessert, there was Creole Bread Pudding Souffle, Triple Chocolate Truffle Terrine and Southern Style Pecan Pie.

NOLA GARDEN DISTRICTWe did a two hour walking tour of the Garden District after brunch which helped burn off some of the brunch calories – a very good thing. The Garden District is home to the famous above-ground cemetery Lafayette #1 which dates back to the early 1800’s. There are about 1,100 family tombs and more than 7,000 people buried there, in the size of just one city block. Movie buffs will recognize this cemetery from the films, Double Jeopardy and Interview with a Vampire.

NOLA Lu Brow Swizzle StickNext it was off to Café Adelaide & the Swizzle Stick Bar for more cocktails where we met Mixologist, Lu Brow. Lu shared her professional expertise by demonstrating techniques used to make classic cocktails. Brow’s key tips to us: Always measure portions, double strain fruit drinks and never stir the ice in a glass – gently sway the ice side to side

After cocktails, we headed to the Mississippi River Delta for an airboat tour of the wetlands. This is the heart of the region’s seafood industry. Still surrounded by remnants of Katrina fall out, the region was again hit hard by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Shrimp, oysters, crawfish and other wildlife have yet to fully recover from the affects of the oil spill.

NOLA Air BoatWe had dinner at the Woodland Plantation and Spirits Hall on the Mississippi River, hosted by Foster Creppel, the owner of this restored plantation built in the 1830’s. The home is featured on the label of Southern Comfort bourbon and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The menu was filled with local seasonal specialties including alligator sauce picante, jambalaya, oysters and a crawfish boil.  A row boat, filled with a specially boiled medley of crawfish, crab and vegetables, was an experience highlight. We used large bowls to scoop our own servings and then dumped them onto a paper covered table to enjoy.

We learned the correct way to eat boiled crawfish: Twist off the tail. Peel off the top part off the tail NOLA Woodlandshell. Pinch the delicious meat onto your tongue and then suck the juice out of the head to finish it off. The combination of flavors from the spices, meat, and juices were delicious.

We enjoyed the rest of our menu inside Spirits Hall, a wooden church built in 1833. The church was moved to the plantation and restored as a beautiful banquet hall.

Day 3 

NOLA BorgneOur third day on the tour started with a cooking demonstration by Chef Brian Landry of Borgne, the latest restaurant by Chef John Besh. Chef Landry taught us how to make two popular regional dishes, Shrimp Remoulade and Oyster Spaghetti. Chef Landry taught us: Oysters curl up on the edges when done and you should always save the oyster juice, called “oyster liquor”, for other dishes.

Next it was off to lunch at Parkway Bakery and Tavern in Mid-City, home of the original  “New Orleans Poor Boy”, or as locals refer to it po’ boy.

NOLA ParkwayOriginally founded as a bakery in 1911, Parkway produced delicious breads, donuts and a sweet roll named the Seven Sisters because there were six golf ball sized pieces in a circle with a seventh in the middle.

In 1929, the “Poor Boy” sandwich was invented to help feed striking street car conductors. The term originated from the expression, “What are we going to feed these poor boys?” The original Poor Boy sandwich consisted of potatoes and a drizzle of roast beef gravy on fresh baked bread. Today, Parkway offers over twenty versions of the Poor Boy sandwich served on New Orleans’ famous Leidenheimer bread.

After lunch, we took a ride to the Bywater area to visit the outdoor art studio of Dr. Bob, a New Orleans folk artist famous for his use of bottle caps and thematic images found on vintage building materials. Dr. Bob’s art is proudly displayed throughout the city, and his signature “BE NICE OR LEAVE” signs have become a ubiquitous part of the city’s subculture. Among the celebrities who have added Dr. NOLA DR BobBob’s work to their private collections, are Emmy Lou Harris, GiO (The Burlesque Queen of New Orleans), Oprah Winfrey and Mariah Carey, who posed with the artist’s piece in People Magazine. Dr. Bob’s work can also be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institute, The Memphis Blues Foundation, the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, and the New Orleans House of Blues. Bob gave us an incredible talk about his life, his art and his philosophies. It was quite an experience.

Later that day we visited SoBou, a spirited bar South of Bourbon Street (S-o-Bou), where we learned the history of the Sazerac – the first truly American cocktail and the classic by which all other cocktails are judged.

NOLA SobouMixologist, Abigail Gullo showed us how to properly prepare this famous New Orleans cocktail. The Sazerac Cocktail was named for the Sazerac de Forge et Fils brand of imported cognac. In the 1800’s, a bar called Sazerac House began serving the “Sazerac Cocktail” made with Sazerac cognac and bitters created by a local druggist of the time, Antoine Amedie Peychaud. Today the drink is made with rye whiskey, cognac, or a combination of the two, using hints of absinthe or Herbsaint, and Peychaud’s bitters.

NOLA CochonDinner was at Cochon, one of Steve’s favorite restaurants. We dined on a family style menu of Chef Donald Link’s signature traditional Cajun Southern dishes that he’d grown up with. Cochon uses locally sourced pork, fresh produce and seafood, focusing on traditional methods, creating authentic flavors of Cajun country. The restaurant is set in a rustic, yet contemporary interior in a renovated New Orleans warehouse.

Day 4

Breakfast at Café du Monde consisted of the restaurant’s famous beignets and dark roasted coffee with chicory. The beignet is a square piece of dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar, served in three pieces. Chicory is the root of endive lettuce; the root of the plant is roasted and ground and added to the coffee to soften the bitter edge of the dark roast. NOLA Cafe du Mond(It adds an almost chocolate flavor to Monde’s Cafe Au Lait.) Established in 1862, the Café du Monde is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week closing only on Christmas Day.

After breakfast, we strolled through the cobblestone streets of the old French Quarter (to make room for lunch), visiting local shops, antique displays and voodoo stores.

Our final stop and farewell lunch was at Galatoire’s. A famous Bourbon Street landmark, the restaurant was established by Jean Galatoire in 1905 and is run by David Gooch, a fourth generation descendant, son of Clarisse Galatoire Gooch and grandson of Leon Galatoire.

Back in 1905, Jean Galatoire came to New Orleans from France with recipes and traditions inspired by the familial dining style of his homeland. He purchased the building on Bourbon Street and converted it into a fine dining restaurant. The restaurant’s culinary customs and reservation statutes have been preserved with little change throughout the NOLA Galatoire'sdecades.

We enjoyed a classic French luncheon menu starting with Galatoire Grand Goute and main courses of Shrimp Creole, Gulf Fish Meuniere Amandine and Crabmeat Sardou with sides of Rockefeller Spinach, Au Gratin and Brabant Potatoes.  For dessert, it was Banana Bread Pudding and a flaming finale of Café Brûlot – French for highly seasoned incendiary coffee.  Orange peel, lemon peel, sugar, cloves and cinnamon are combined in a stainless steel bowl, doused with brandy and then set on fire. The flaming mixture is  ladled high in the air with impressive tableside showmanship, then extinguished with strong hot black coffee and served. It tastes like a very thick, sweet coffee, with deep citrus and clove flavors mellowing the sweetness. It was truly a memorable way to cap off our fantastic trip.

I look forward to visiting New Orleans again, and even more to the next food adventure Steve cooks up.

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The Escoffier Experience

By Russ Kramer, Corporate Chef at Buedel

2014-03-09 17.59.48The annual Escoffier Society Diner d’Hiver was held at the Langham Chicago last Sunday. To say it was an exquisite event would be a gross understatement.

It is a reverent experience where an intimate group of 100 chefs, culinarians and food service professionals come together to honor the “Father of Modern Cuisine”, Auguste Escoffier.

A Little History

Escoffier’s name is synonymous to fine cuisine on many different levels. He was the first “great chef” who spent his entire career in the public sector in an era where working for royals and private clubs reigned supreme. He is credited with developing the “kitchen brigade” system to instill kitchen organization and decorum, establishing sanitation standards, and pioneering the concepts of food preservation.

Simplicity and respect for food preparation was extremely important to Escoffier. He believed culinary professionals, at any level, should pursue a reverence for improving their skills and fervor for ongoing education.

Escoffier updated French cooking methods, wrote numerous articles and books on cookery and blazed an industry trail for the service of cooking and serving the public.

The Setting

2014-03-09 20.04.28At every annual dinner, there are commemorative fine china plates, long tables and elegant place settings with a bouquet of fresh wine glasses to accommodate the ten course meal. There is a “grand style” ambiance to the evening.

This is a society representation; a members-only function that honors the art of culinary. If you want to bring a guest, you must submit their name for approval. The goal of the Society is to preserve a culinary experience for professionals only – this is not something you bring your Cousin Vinny to.

Guests are also asked to put their mobiles away, a request, not adhered to by and large. (Our techno driven society is evidently bigger than Escoffier’s.) Part of the pageantry of this event is being in the moment, at the moment. Sharing at the instance is great, but it also takes away from the instance.

(Pictured above: “Contre-filet Rôti, Ris de Veau Croustillant, Poule des Bois, Sauce Albuféra”** Translation: Roasted Strip Loin, Crispy Sweetbreads, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Sauce Albuféra. ** In the style of Escoffier. Creekstone Farms’ Prime All Natural Premium Black Angus Beef Striploins were supplied by Buedel.)

The Experience

2014-03-09 18.58.29The Society is known for its preservation of protocol and tradition. One such protocol is wearing your napkin at the neck. It is a custom first attributed to 1700’s France, for the protection of ruffled shirts worn by “fashionable men” at the time. Everyone at the Society dinner wears their napkins like this.

(Napkin Models back to front: JW Marriott’s Execute Chef, Michael Reich and Sous Chefs, Russell Shearer and Tony Biasetti.)

At the center seat of the head table, there is a red velvet cushioned and gold framed throne of sorts. In solemn tradition, the chair remains empty throughout the dinner in honor of Escoffier. Food and drink are served “as if” he was there, and then removed accordingly. 

During the meal, there is silence when courses are being served. All talking stops, while a new course is being served to take in the complete experience; to focus on the sight and smell of what’s being plated.

Dinner guests receive an educ2014-03-09 21.35.49ation throughout the meal; there is an explanation of the menu before each course. This could include a history of the main components of what’s being served, when it first came into vogue, how it was originally prepared, and so forth. World renowned Chef Michel Bouit gave the course lessons at Sunday’s event.

After the meal, the Host Chef sits down in the red velvet chair at the head of the table. This is done to pay homage to the chef and the facility for performing the dinner. Guests greet the Chef and offer comments on the dinner in general. New members to the Society may also be revealed at this time.

2014-03-09 21.38.42The Langham’s Executive Chef, Anthony Zamora, and his staff did a spectacular job. It is no small feat, and a big honor to be chosen as Host Chef for an Escoffier dinner. Once the committee scouts properties and chefs for the event, interviews are conducted, menus are submitted for review and tastings ensue before a final decision is made. The Society must believe you’re “talented enough” to do this type of event.

(Pictured L to R above: The Langham Chicago Chefs: Executive Chef, Anthony Zamora, Executive Sous Chef, Damion Henry and Banquet Chef, Augustin Oliva.)

The Final Course

The annual Escoffier Society dinner is immersed in pure respect and grandeur of what culinary could and should be. It celebrates the talent of the modern culinary in a classic setting. It is a social event, where culinary camaraderie is the focus, and no business is to be done.

There is talk of scheduling a European Escoffier trip in 2015. Gala dinners would be held in London and then in Paris at the Ritz, where Escoffier worked with Hotelier, Cesar Ritz at the pinnacle of his career. This would be the journey of a lifetime for any culinary professional fortunate enough to attend.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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Meat Picks | 3.6.14

Where They Are Now

There’s a fun read in the Trib this morning about what six Chicago chefs (out of a cast of 16) Top Chef contestants from season 9 are doing now, just two short reality TV years later.

CT 3_Top_Chef10.JPGTopping the list is Richie Farina, who returned to Moto after the show and subsequently became their Executive Chef. (Photo by Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune, Feb. 27, 2014)

Of the six, all are still working in the food industry, but not necessarily at the same place or in the same capacities. Most of the chefs give creds to the subsequent door opening ops they had after being on the show.

Don’t Miss the IHHS

The International Home & Housewares Show is just around the corner – it is an expo extravaganza bar none. For those of you who’ve never been, the cornucopia of banner_piccolors and innovation is well worth the effort.

Over 60,000 industry professionals and 20,000+ buyers will be on hand at this year’s show from March 15-18 at McCormick Place. The exhibits will be broken down into four, show-inside-a-show expo hot spots, plus one, for “International Pavilions” – gym shoes, required.

housewaresNaturally, “Dine & Design” is a big attraction – anything that has to do with food always is. Celeb Chefs like, Rick Bayless, Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro, Fabio Viviani, Gale Gand and a host of notable others will be at the Cooking Theatre (Gourmet Foods & Specialties in the South Building) dishing up culinary splendor throughout the four day event.

Some of the new products you can expect to see this year, vary from design changes to simple products like, the Floating Mug, to radical new snack foods like the, potato-chip-pretzel-popcorn-caramel-chocolate mix by Funky Chunky (the name alone makes us want to check them out). We’d also like to suggest you stop in and see our new friends at Ergo Chef, read their enlightening story here.

Bearded Update

The finalists for the 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards will be announced on the last day of the Houseware’s Show, March 18th, at the Fulton Market restaurant. (See the Chicago list of semi-finalists in the February 21st edition of Meat Picks.) Good luck to all in the running!

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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Have you noticed the rise in beef prices lately? Or, should I say, ‘OMG – what’s going on with the price of beef?’

pricesIn a nut shell, there is a shortage of cattle nationwide. Demand exceeds supply, so prices are on the rise. Next question: Why are we short on cattle supply and when will it get better?

First, let’s understand the key components of how beef gets to market in an easily digestible way.


Cow-Calf Operators  Our beef supply starts with these folks. These are the farmers or ranchers that keep cows to produce calves to sell. A mother cow’s gestation period is a little over 9 months. A newborn calf takes about another 12 months to reach 400-500 lbs. before they can be sold off to feeders. They make their money by selling off their calves, which the industry calls Feeder Cattle.

Feed Lots / Backgrounders These are companies  that purchase the 400-500 lb. calves and feed them to harvest weight, typically 1,200 – 1,400 lbs. Feed lot operators use grain for feed. Backgrounders keep the animals on grass for feed. Grain fed animals take about 6 months to reach harvest weight. Grass fed animals can take up to 9 months to reach harvest weight. These feeders make their money selling animals, called Fed Cattle, to packing plants for harvest.

beef supply chainFuture prices for both feeder cattle and fed cattle are traded as commodities on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). The future price of cattle is a reasonable indication where beef prices are headed.

Packing Plants  The companies that purchase fed cattle at harvest weight typically between 18-24 months old, harvest them for beef production. The largest packing plants in the country are run by Cargill, Tyson, JBS and National Beef, who operate multiple plants across the country. These packers make their money selling the beef they harvest to further processors and distributors who bring their finished goods to market to the end users – retail stores and food service operators.

Adding it all up, it takes over two years for one animal to come to market. Each operator in the trail needs to make a profit to remain in business.


The Cattle Cycle is the alternating expansion and contraction of the U.S. beef cattle supply. Under normal conditions, the cattle cycle is approximately a ten year period. During this time period, the supply of cattle will be alternatively expanded and reduced over several consecutive years, in response to changes in profitability by the cow-calf operators.

When cattle numbers are high, beef prices are lower, which precipitates several years of herd liquidation. As cattle numbers decline, beef prices begin to rise, prompting several years of herd building.

The herd building cycle is relatively long due to the length of time it takes a cow-calf operator to expand a cow herd by breeding more cattle between the cow’s 9 month gestation period and the subsequent 12 month period it takes for a calf to reach feeding weight. Ultimately, the cycle takes at least 3 years before an increase in beef production will be seen on the market.

DroughtMapTHE DROUGHT OF 2011-2012

The available supply of fed cattle had been declining since 2010 amidst a normal cattle cycle until the severe drought of 2011-2012 that disrupted everything.

Over 80% of the nation’s agricultural land was hit hard by severe drought. Seed crops used for feed dried up and prices of feed shot up. No crops meant no feed for livestock. Ranchers couldn’t fatten up their herds profitably, so they sold them for slaughter.

Beef production has dropped nearly 8% since then. Three years ago, meat packers processed an average of 620,000 cattle a week; today that number is in the low 500,000′s. The U.S. is the world’s top beef producer, and our nation’s cattle herd is currently at a 63 year low. Experts predict that it make as many as 8 years for U.S. agriculture to fully recover from the effects of the drought.


The economic laws of supply and demand largely determine what we pay for beef. Beef demand was up 1.7% in 2013 to the highest level since 2008. Overall beef demand is 7.4% higher than 15 years ago, which is a bigger increase than  pork, chicken or turkey. Export demand for U.S. beef in 2013 was up 4.9% compared to the year before and was 24.2% greater than 15 years ago.

chart-retail-meat-pricesHigher demand and lower supply caused beef prices to rise.

Beef prices have been on the rise since the drought, and especially so over the past six months. We’re just now feeling the real impact of the low cattle supply. Live cattle futures closed at an all time high in February at $150/cwt. – 16% higher than last year.

It is expected cow-calf producers will continue to build their herds as they are getting higher prices for their cattle this year. Feed lot operators, while benefiting from declining feed costs, are losing that benefit by paying higher prices for feeder cattle to keep up with demand. Consequently, packing plants are paying more for fed cattle and passing on the increased prices to consumers.

Ultimately, consumer demand will determine the future prices of beef. Retailers and restaurants will eventually need to pass on these increases and consumers will either accept them, or reject them by spending their dollars on lower cost alternatives. It remains to be seen how all of this will play out in real time, but it appears we will see high beef prices throughout 2014.


In the midst of the drought, we posted a blog (October 2012) that is even more relevant today with strategies to battle the rising cost of beef: What’s Your Beef? | How to Combat the Rising Fallout Cost of Drought.

beef-300x282Chefs and restaurateurs should look for suppliers that are able to create customized solutions tailored to their specific cost management needs. Having a strong partnership with key suppliers who can demonstrate creativity and flexibility, is the best way to deal with rising beef prices.

Ironically, it was 30 years ago this past January, when Clara Pellar shot to rock star status when she queried, WHERE’S THE BEEF? Here’s the link.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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