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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