The Answer to How Safe is Your Ground Beef? is VERY!

Much is a buzz over the Consumer Reports article How Safe is Your Beef? where 300 samples of retail ground were analyzed for bacteria between grass and grain fed beef highlighting best results as “sustainable” beef.

When a CBS Morning News anchor asked Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D. & Executive Director for the Center for Food Safety & Sustainability at Consumer Reports, “Shouldn’t we suspect some bacteria in any beef?”, her answer was all telling, “Absolutely”. So, what’s the beef with ground?

Buedel Fine MeatsPictured above: Three different headlines tell the same story. Kudos to CBS News (center) for taking the high road!

Getting the Facts Straight

Let’s get one thing straight: all raw meat has bacteria on it. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) documents the following:

1. Some of that bacteria [found in the report] such as certain types of Enterococci, are not pathogens and are actually beneficial like probiotics in yogurt. Clostridium perfringens and Staphylococcus aureus are typically associated with time and temperature abuse of cooked products and generally come from contamination after food is handled. All bacteria, antibiotic resistant or not, are killed with proper cooking to the recommended temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. The bacteria identified in the Consumer Reports testing is not the bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and generic E. coli are commonly found in the environment and are not pathogenic bacteria, meaning they do not cause foodborne illness. The primary pathogens of concern in raw ground beef are Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). These are not mentioned or reported in their findings.

3. The number one industry priority is producing the safest meat and poultry possible. This is done by focusing attention on bacteria which are most likely to make people sick, particularly E. coli O157:H7 and other Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. It is telling that Consumer Reports did not highlight finding these bacteria on products they tested as a strong indication of the overall safety of beef.

It’s also important to note Consumer Reports did not approach the industry for scientific data on the subject material nor make their data available to the industry for evaluation.

Safety in Numbers

Rangan went on to say, “The question here is, can we get it better?”

NAMI says the Consumer Reports data is staggeringly inconsistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) data which shows that E. coli O157:H7 occurs at a rate of less than one tenth of one percent in ground beef products. This has been reduced 93 percent since 2000.

You’d think a 90+ percentage improvement rate should be something to talk about. But the report makes no mention of that, or the highly regulated nature of the industry when it comes to food safety to begin with.

Federal compliance via on site inspectors takes place daily in meat plants to ensure food safety rules and technologies used to destroy bacteria are all in place and working. Some companies, like Buedel, also add a third layer of independent audits to their safety protocols.

Between regulating agencies and the industry itself, what kind of ‘better’ is Ms. Rangan really angling for here?

Cause Reporting

Throughout the news segment, Rangan compared each study finding between conventional beef [grain fed] and non-conventional beef [“sustainable, organic, natural and grass-fed”] to demonstrate conventional beef always had more bacteria.

NAMI also points out the use of, “Organic, Natural and Grass-fed are marketing terms that are not an accurate indicator of either sustainability or safety. All beef production models can be sustainable. The path to more sustainable beef is to ensure that every beef producer is utilizing the resources available in their part of the country to the best of their ability – whether grass, grain or other locally-produced renewable feeds like distillers grains.”

A quick visit to the Consumer Reports Facebook page reveals an ulterior agenda:

Buedel Fine MeatsFor those of you who aren’t familiar, Consumers Union (CU), is the non-profit “policy and action division” of Consumer Reports – a magazine published by Consumers Union. CU describes themselves as, “an expert, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.

Herein lies a huge problem for readers today, when cause masquerades as media.

To be an ‘expert’ in anything you need to have a deep command of the knowledge base on all fronts. This article is filled with quotes from Consumer Reports own department heads, Grass-fed cattle farmers, and an epidemiologist from the CDC.

There were no quotes from actual food scientists (federal or corporate) nor grain fed cattle farmers, food retailers, industry media, leaders, professional groups and the like. Talking to the Department of Agriculture should have been a slam dunk at the very least.

There is also no mention of the politically based Facebook post in the online published article either. Other than this social nudge: We urge you to #BuyBetterBeef and continue the conversation with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Vine.

Wrap Up

If you’re still not sure whether How Safe is Your Ground Beef? is a valued news or views piece, perhaps their article disclaimer will help:

Editor’s Note: Funding for this project was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Any views expressed are those of Consumer Reports and its policy and advocacy arm, Consumers Union and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The takeaway on this is threefold: 1) Food safety is alive and well in the beef industry. 2) Always cook your beef to 160°. 3) Beware of expert media crusading cause.

Additional Reads & Resources

https://www.meatinstitute.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/106823/pid/106823

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/data-collection-and-reports/microbiology/ec/e-coli-o157h7-year-to-date/ecoli-o157-raw-beef-testing-data-ytd

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/newsroom/news-releases-statements-transcripts

http://meatmythcrushers.com/myths/myth-grass-fed-beef-is-safer-than-corn-fed-beef.php

http://meatmythcrushers.com/myths/myth-superbugs-are-on-most-meat-and-poultry.php

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Media Foodie & KCBS Master Certified Judge | 1:1 with Chuck Thomas

Chicago native Chuck Thomas is the ultimate foodie. A veteran media professional, Thomas feels fortunate to be able to marry his love of food with his day job as producer and host of Eat This!, a digital weekly covering the “local foodie scene” based out of Philadelphia.

Most recently, Chuck attained KCBS Master Certified Judge status, further cementing his dedication to the barbeque food category. He loves to cook, says he makes a “mean German Sticky Bun” and has traveled to more than 250 BBQ restaurants across 24 states, D.C. and Canada developing his palate.

How did you get into food media?

I’ve always been in newspapers. I worked my way up to photo editor and then ended up in Philly. It naturally evolved when the company [Calkins Publishing] realized they needed digital presence, product coverage and so forth.

We started with “Man Up” where I’d go and do manly things – I learned how to smoke a cigar, get a ‘manly shave’, etc. But that didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. Considering I had done food segments before, [Chuck was the “Cookie Man” in the Quad Cities when he worked there], competed in chili cook-offs, have my own barbeque sauce, etc., it seemed natural to regroup toward food. The next thing I knew I was creating my own food news.

Working with restaurant owners and chefs, what does the industry climate look like?

Everyone seems very positive for the future. Philly is quickly evolving to be a Chicago. It’s tough for us since we’re so close to New York, but some people are coming here from there now for dinner. We have great chefs, Jose Garces is here, Steven Starr and others.

Right now it’s thriving. The Pineville Tavern is going to be on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, (they drop the whole turtle in the pot [for their Snapper Soup]), and they are also opening up a drive-thru BBQ and a chicken place. I see a lot of the new owners who’ve seen this boom. It used to be you went to a chain restaurant or went to the city – the dining out market is strong.

What do you see as the biggest trend?

Farm to Table; really cashing in on fresh, local, regional foods. For example, you don’t get brats or sausage out here like you do in Chicago. Chefs are looking for speciEat This - Federal Donutsal ingredients they can be creative with.

How about BBQ?

In the ‘burbs they come and go; in the city they’re doing really well. High end BBQ especially – dinner only and other like places.

Pictured above: Chuck on location for Eat This!

What made you want to become a KCBS judge?

My first job was in Texas out of college. My dad was a great cook, but not a real BBQ’er. When I arrived in Texas, I quickly learned what BBQ was about – it was fabulous.

When you love food, you experience what the area has to offer. When Johnny Trigg challenged me on who had the best BBQ, and I said, ‘Clem Mikeska’s Bar-B-Q’, [in Temple, Texas] he was surprised because he didn’t think I’d say that – it’s his best choice too.

I did my 30th comp the first week of May this year. I did it [master certification] all in one year too; people were shocked – I also did it across 13 different states. I love doing this, and it also helps me with my job. My company helped me get my certification and with some of the travel.

Once you get out there, you get involved with the teams and spend time after judging hanging out with them. (There’s no conflict since you neve7.22THOMASct_trigg_1r know what team’s box you’re judging.) I can be in the middle of West Virginia in a tiny town and see people I know now, and many of the guys have restaurants too.

Pictured Rt: Trigg and Thomas mugging up at a competition.

Do you agree with the notion that the only way to win brisket is with wagyu?

NO! That’s not true! There are people with Creekstone beating them. It still comes down to a nice tip, good point and decent fat content. The top teams enter slices and burnt ends – unless they are dead on with those slices, sometimes those burnt ends can raise it a point. I think the best teams can do it without wagyu – they know how to smoke, season and re-season.

How do you feel about injections?

Injecting brisket doesn’t win. The best briskets are a good piece of meat with a good rub and decent fat content. You’ll see teams trim all the fat off. The best briskets we see, have a little fat on them.

What turn-in tips can you offer?

* Don’t sweat the greenery so much. We hate parsley stuck to the meat product! It drives me nuts when I can take a whole salad off a rib. If you’re picking the greens off, it’s in your head. There are some judges that will mark down for this. Don’t use red tipped lettuce either; use the proper greens, like green leaf lettuce and iceberg sliced thin. It should be about “putting green for the meat”, the meat is the star. And, NEVER put cilantro in the boxes – it will lend a flavor to what it touches.

* Nothing should be swimming in sauce – or mess to pick up. We’re not supposed to judge sauce, but you can lose points quicker with sauce. The good teams know there’s a balance, not too spicy – you want to please as many people as possible.

* Be consistent with your meat product. When I watched Tuffy cut his ribs, he used an electric knife and put them back together so well they looked like they’d never been cut. Make it look as good as it can possibly look.

Chuck will be judging at the American Royal this fall. Keep your eye out for him; he’ll be doing “a couple of periscopes” while he’s there for his show.

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It’s All About The Call │ 1:1 with David Stidham

StidhamNo one was more shocked than Pitmaster, David Stidham when he got “three top twenty calls” at his first major invitational last fall. A relative newcomer to the professional BBQ circuit, (with less than 20 competitions in his first two years), Stidham is wildly enthusiastic about the 2015 season, further honing his skills and the amazing success of his competition BBQ sauce.

How did you get interested in competition BBQ?

Most guys like to grill – and, of course, every guy thinks he’s the best. I fit that description.

I’ve always been someone who likes to cook and experiment with sauces and my own unique flavor profiles. I used to make my own pepper sauces, steak marinades, infused olive oils and so forth, and give them as gifts to my family and friends. I’ve dabbled in wings, almost got serious about it, and even in chocolate.

One day, my son, Jacob, and I were watching BBQ Pitmasters on TV; he was 8 at that time. He said, “Dad you could do this! Why don’t we start a BBQ team?” It definitely piqued my interest.

I didn’t even have a smoker at the time, so I called a long-time friend in Nashville (Jason Cole of The Hot Cole’s BBQ Team) to chat with him to get advice for smokers. I just wanted to get a smoker to cook for family, and he convinced me to get something a little bigger “in case” I wanted to compete someday in the future (he knew how competitive I was). I took his advice, ordered a large pellet smoker, started cooking that winter and fell in love with it. That’s when I knew I was going to end up competing sooner than planned.

In early May of 2013, we borrowed someone’s camper, showed up and didn’t really know what to expect from our first pro BBQ competition. My wife, two kids and my dog were all there; it was a chaotic mess.

By the time the cooking and turn in s were over we were exhausted, – it’s really a 30 hour process – so when we got to the awards, we just wanted to see who won. There’s no way we expected to get a call. It blew our minds when we placed 2nd in Chicken, 3rd in Pork, 7th in Brisket, 11th in ribs and 3rd overall!American Royal Ribbon

When I came back from the stage with that very first ribbon in my hands, my hands were shaking. My wife said she’d never seen me like that before – I was stunned by it too.

How did your family like the experience?

A large portion of the [BBQ] population is family, so it’s a fun atmosphere. We got team hats and shirts – my kids want to enter some of the junior competitions this year. We typically don’t even see the boys (Jacob, now 11, and Jack, 15) at comps now till the awards.

Where did you grow up?

I was a military brat, born in Tampa, Florida, but grew up throughout the southeast including Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and even lived in South Carolina for a while. Most of my adult life has been in Nashville, and I also spent a lot of time in Memphis. I grew up loving BBQ but never thought about competitions back then. I live in a small town just north of Madison, Wisconsin now.

How’s that working out?

Wisconsin is one of the fastest growing states for competition BBQ, and the people are very genuine and friendly. We moved here for my full time job – I have been blessed with this wonderful hobby and am very fortunate to be able to do this. BBQ people are the real deal, and they all are willing to give you a hand. Many folks here in Wisconsin really helped me, and I am very grateful for them.

How did your BBQ sauce making come about?current sauce

It was never my intent to sell BBQ sauce. I just wanted to have my own flavor profile. But when we came in 3rd overall out of the gate, people came up to me and wanted to try the sauce I used. They really seemed to like it, and several people asked me to make them some. It all kind of snow balled from there.

I initially made it in my kitchen, and that’s how we ended up coming up with the name for our BBQ team. I first used wine bottles to package the sauce – that’s why we’re A Fine Swine, like a fine wine. When demand grew, I had to go to a commercial bottle. I never expected this to catch on as it has; the sauce is now sold nationwide through a wide variety of mostly online BBQ stores. I have to stock 2-3 full pallets of two different sauces in my garage at all times as more and more orders continue to come in.

You mentioned the ‘cost of competition’ before – how challenging is that?

Between supplies, travel, meat, entry fees, fuel, equipment, etc., it costs anywhere from $800-$1,200 a weekend to compete. It gets pricey; it’s not a cheap man’s game. I have heard others say how amazing it is the amount of time, effort, and dollars we spend just to hear our name called. It’s true. But it is also about the camaraderie and the true friendships we make. I have made more friends through BBQ in the past couple years than I can count, and that’s really what it’s all about.

I can only compete about 14-17 times per year tops right now, but if time and money weren’t an object, I would love to do this full time, every weekend. I’d love to see how I’d do if I was able to compete full time. Maybe someday I will.from the stage at American Royal

What are your current competition goals?

Last year, I had set a goal of winning my first Grand Championship and qualifying for the American Royal Invitational Tournament. I was fortunate enough to accomplish that and more as we not only won our first GC, we also won a reserve GC as well as numerous category wins and top ten’s overall. (Pictured above: View from the stage at the American Royal.)

I was fortunate enough to have two top 20’s with a 16th in Chicken and 17th Ribs out of 186 Grand Champion teams at the American Royal Invitational. The next day was the American Royal Open, where all the grand champions from the Invitational plus hundreds of other professional teams across the country competed. There were nearly 600 teams! I got called for 15th in Chicken and placed 70th overall which was a very proud moment for me.

I would love to win the American Royal. I want to get my feet really dirty.

What do you mean by that?

“Getting your feet dirty” refers to where the Royal is held. You get your feet dirty if you get called because you have to walk across an arena where livestock shows and rodeos take place to get your award.11157989_10153209432539886_1605373569_n

Competitive Pitmasters are highly dedicated to their protocols. What are some of the things you use?

I use a gravity fed Southern Q Limo and bring a junior gravity feed along too. I also only use Royal Oak charcoal and Hickory and Cherry wood chunks.

Do you “inject”?

I will inject brisket and pork.

How about flavor?

I use my sauce, a variety of commercial rubs and sauces and mix them all up.

How did you first hear about Buedel?

I saw you on BBQ Pitmasters. You really do have a good rep for providing great meats – especially the Compart and Creekstone brands that people are already winning with on the tour.

Is that why you like competing with our pork butts and briskets?

When I start out with the best meat, it helps me to compete to win. You have to use top quality to be competitive – you can’t run a race with an Escort engine in a Ferrari body. If you start out with high quality meat, odds are you’ll finish high. It’s worth the extra investment in your products.

What do you think is the difference between winning and not winning?

I believe it’s the details and being very organized. There’re a whole lot more details that go into this than people know. You have to be organized and consistent, have a system that is a refined process and be lucky; there’s a lot of people out there cooking the same stuff you are.

image2Follow A Fine Swine on Twitter and Facebook. If you’d like to try David Stidham’s sauce, find it any of these online retailers: thebbqsuperstore.com   atlantabbqstore.com   thekansascitybbqstore.com   bigpoppasmokers.com

Buedel Fine Meats is the official pork butt, ribs and brisket supply partner to A Fine Swine this season.

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Meat Merchandising │Next & Best Outlooks with Catie Beauchamp

The daughter of a hog farmer, Catie Beauchamp says she always knew she wanted to be in “AG” when she grew up. Today she is the VP of Technical Services at Colorado Premium, with a Ph.D. in Meat Safety & Quality.

Beauchamp’s3.18CPstaffpic (2) command of the beef production chain is highly astute, which includes, animal transport, harvest, carcass chilling, fabrication, grinding and storage. Her expertise in food technologies and safety is rivaled only by a laser focused passion for creating the best products for her customers.

How did you actually get into the “meat business”?

I knew I always wanted to be involved with agriculture, but on the nutrition side, which is what I started with in college. Then along the way, you meet people – in food microbiology and food production. That is how I came to do my graduate work in food science, meat science, and meat microbiology.

What do your days look like now?

From a departmental perspective, we do quality assurance, food safety, regulatory compliance, tech support for customers and R&D. We work in a high energy environment. When I started at CP [six years ago] we had 80-100 people and one production facility. Now we have three production facilities and two storage facilities. At any given time we have 30 projects in process. Our rate of commercialization is about 50% – it’s incredible!

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite area would be R&D. It’s fun to look into the future. You’re getting constant challenges, and when you resolve it, it’s a win. I love to create new products.

How do you do that with meat?

What we’re dealing with is an animal is that’s getting bigger and bigger. We have to address: How do we cut that? How should we process that? What do we need to do to have a good plate experience? You have to look at different cuts of meat in the carcass. There are other things we can use for things you wouldn’t expect.

For example, thin meats [flan3.19 CP Antimicrobial Interventionks, inside and outside skirts] are expensive, yet popular – but there’s only so much to be had because it’s such a small portion of the carcass. We can create new thin meats from other muscles that can mimic traditional thin meats. Skirts are expensive because they are in high demand and come from the small portion of the carcass. (Pictured Above: Antimicrobial Intervention Cabinet at one of Colorado Premium’s production facilities.)

Is it possible to come up with new steak cuts – like the Vegas Steak?

Yes, and no. The muscles without a lot of defects are pretty well known, but there should be a couple more ‘Vegas Steaks’ possible.

The combinations of muscles are standard in the Meat Buying Guide, but for a Packer to create a whole new SKU, break the muscles differently, etc., there has to be a market for it. You need to be able to merchandise all of it, plus find new ways to produce value.

From a steak perspective, the new novel items are going to have to be addressed in ways they haven’t been before, we need to look at fabricating. In addition to proper aging, tenderizing and injections, we’re going to have to look outside the box for processing.

Injection is a hot trend, how does that work from a production standpoint?

We marinate a lot of products, whether it’s tumble margination or injection. We do it for retail and food service. From a retail perspective, we provide products that are cook ready. From a food service perspective, we’re giving a little bit of insurance to meat drying out when cooked, especially for less than prime products.

How many speci3.19 PORK ROAST 2 - CITRUS HERBal service requests are you getting?

It depends on what market sector you’re talking about. In food service, restaurant groups are constantly reinventing themselves to stay competitive, usually on an annual basis. We work with a lot of up and coming concepts; our food service customers want to be on top of what’s new and available. (Pictured Left: Citrus Herb Pork Roast exclusively developed for a private label customer.)

In retail, the Millennials have impacted our business in a big way – they want clean labels, have more adventurous palettes, etc. Low sodium, clean labels and animal handling are key issues.

What is your definition of a ‘clean label’?

There are two sides to that question; one is the actual protein product itself. A portion of the population is interested in the use of antibiotics in animal feeding, etc. However, that’s still at a niche level and cost is also prohibitive for a lot of consumers.

The second part speaks to an ingredient perspective: people want to see things familiar to them on a retail package. (Food service is now adopting to that too.) Some ingredients are preservatives, some are for shelf life, but there’s also antimicrobials that ensure safety. Helping our customer base understand the purpose of antimicrobials is important to food safety.

What are your expectations on cattle supply?

As we start increasing the cattle supply we’ll be looking at something different – you still have areas in your prime states that don’t have water, plus other weather interferences that occur. There are people being weeded out of production groups that may never come back.

It’s very hard to project what volumes we’re going to have. The historical trends, peaks, and valleys can be thrown off trend, even when supply and demand are better. When consumers are paying higher prices, we need to produce healthy and affordable proteins. We have to get really good at how we merchandise beef.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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It’s Okay to Chew the Fat!

BigFatSurprise2Have you heard about “The Big Fat Surprise” yet? It’s a new book which takes to task over a half century’s worth of bad fat rap.

Pursuant to nine years of trailing the research and conducting expert interviews, author Nina Teicholz’s challenging revelations on Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet is rattling the cage of many a diet guru and medical pundit.

Good Fat/Bad Fat

An independent investigative journalist, Teicholz relentlessly pursued a tedious journey of facts and fiction which began with a post-World War II rise in heart disease in America. Triggered in part by President Eisenhower’s 1955 heart attack, a WSJ review recounts Teicholz’s tracking of (government backed and tainted) clinical study results which were irrevocably embraced by the media and echoed forward by food manufacturers.

Teicholz describes the trail of historical data as “the blood sport of nutrition science” suggesting that decades of scientists would use extreme measures to shield their findings over contradictory others. Some of Teicholz’s provocative conclusions include:

* The health benefits of eating red meat high in saturated fat outweigh the benefits of eating lean red meat with less saturated fat.

* Red Meat is the only food which improves good HDL cholesterol levels

* Diets which are void of the saturated fats in meat, eggs and dairy have ultimately increased carbohydrate consumption thus contributing to diabetes and obesity

As you can imagine, contemporary proponents of cardiovascular health are quick to contradict. In a CNN interview, Doc du Jour, Dean Ornish, professes, “If you eat a diet that is high in animal protein, your risk of dying from everything goes up considerably. If you eat a plant-based diet, which is naturally low in fats and refined carbs, a whole foods plant-based diet, the disease risk decreases.”

Industry pub, Meating Place, notes that Teichholz’s book comes at a time when the 2015 issue of the DGA (Dietary Guidelines for Americans) is looming in the wings. Interestingly enough, no less than 20 government agencies (see the full list here) legislate and rely upon the DGA.

The odds of reversing current DGA guidelines from low intake of saturated fat echoed further (and lower) by the American Heart Association by next January are pretty slim.

Food for Thought

Ornish also says Teicholz’s book is “dangerous” because it tells “people what they want to hear.” And there’s the AMEN moment –who doesn’t want to eat bacon with great abandon?

You can’t help but wonder if the Atkins Diet wasn’t closer to the mark than decades of critics would have us think. Everyone I’ve ever known who tries it loses weight quickly—but as soon as they stop “doing Atkins,” they gain it all back.

Where swapping out sugar for fat may be a great accelerant for weight loss, it still always comes down to balance. Low fat, doesn’t mean no fat, and bacon, will always rule!

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

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Meat Picks | 9.12.14

Hoftoberfest2014oktoberfest-v31

Tonight is THE night at Hofbräuhaus Chicago—the kick off to an amazing seven-week long celebration—Oktoberfest. Unlike any of those weekend tent events you may go to, there’s no better way to take in this annual German-pa-loosa than at Hofbräuhaus.

If you haven’t been to Hofbräuhaus yet, you absolutely don’t know what  you’re missing. From the inside view of their shiny micro-pretzelsbrewing vessels to the gigantic pretzels flown in from Germany and their amazing pork shanks and schnitzels, they take European ambience and cuisine to whole new level.

Celebrity keg tappers, food specials, live music (every day of the week), contests porkshankand more will elevate the routinely jovial Hofbräuhaus atmosphere through October 31st. And, of course, there will be “Oktoberfestbier”, a full-bodied lager with a “toffee like sweetness.” Hofbrähaus still uses recipes “handed down by the Duke of Bavaria, over 400 years ago”—you can’t get more authentic than that.

Make reservations online and check out their Sept/Oct newsletter here for more info. #HoftoberfestCHI

Foot Long Reaches New Lengths

100ftBratThe town of Bellville, Illinois plans on celebrating their 200th anniversary with a porkwurst of preposterous proportion. The town will attempt to cook a 200 foot “gluten-free lean pork” bratwurst at their bicentennial celebration on Saturday, September 21st.

In August, an attempt to do a 50 foot brat failed, but the town team of dedicated volunteers successfully cooked a 100 foot ‘wurst earlier this week in preparation for the 200 foot milestone. Read more at belleville200.com.

Craft for Conservancy

ChiAleFestA new festival will premiere at Grant Park next weekend. The Chicago Ale Fest, dedicated to the celebration of American craft beer, will run from Friday, September 19th through Saturday the 20th at Grant Park.

More than 200 beers from over 100 breweries will be featured, in addition to live music and food from area restaurants such as, Shaw’s Crab House and Tokio Pub, to name a few. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Grant Park Conservancy.

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

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Quality Doesn’t Cost, It Pays

9.8Foodstuff IndexWe’re all paying more for food now than we did last year. According to a recent report by Bloomberg’s Chase van der Rhoer, food prices are up 19% from December of last year. In the meat industry, we’ve seen as much as 44% food cost inflation since 2012 on many popular cuts.

At the same time, average base pay increases for 2014 will remain at 3 percent for the second year in a row in the U.S.—roughly one percentage point below pre-recession levels, according to the seventh annual Compensation Planning Survey by Buck Consultants.

The dichotomy of faster food price escalation over wages presents major challenges for restaurateurs. How do you maintain profits with food costs escalating faster than your customer’s disposable income?

Quality Costs Customers

Restaurant patrons are faced with paying higher prices—myself included. I’m much more discerning about where I spend my money now. I want quality, and a dining experience that satisfies me—that makes me feel my hard earned money was well spent. People want to walk out of a restaurant saying, “We’d come back here!” no matter if it’s fast casual or fine dining.

Some of my favorite local restaurants have cut the quality on their food to deal with higher food costs this year. As a customer, it’s disappointing to me. I find myself saying, ‘No, let’s not go there. It’s not as good as it used to be.’ I’d rather spend a little more money and go to a place where I walk away feeling satisfied and delighted.

What gives customers that, ‘come back’ feeling? It’s a combination of great service and great quality food. When I have a bad experience with the service, but the food is delicious, I’m much more forgiving than when I have bad food experience. When the food quality is poor or less than what I expected, I’m hesitant to go back. Sure nobody’s perfect and there are times when something goes wrong, but if I give the place another try and I have the same poor quality food experience, I’m done—cross that place off my list.

How do you feel when you dine out and are met with disappointment?

How Quality Pays

9.8Quality EffectWhen buyers opt for lowest prices despite quality, customer experience problems often begin. Quality ultimately reduces costs and builds customer loyalty. While that’s hard to measure on comparative bid sheets, there are many studies that prove quality pays in the long run.

In the 1979 book, Quality is Free, author Philip B. Crosby explains the idea of understanding the true “cost of poor quality,” by illustrating out how much it really costs to do things badly. Crosby demonstrates the cost of bad quality is inevitably more than the higher costs of good quality from the onset.

Every dollar you don’t spend on making up for poor quality becomes a dollar right to your bottom line. In the food service industry, every dollar you don’t spend to comp a meal, replace spoilage or decrease yields on finished goods from cheaper products, are dollars going straight to your bottom line.

Good quality increases income by attracting more customers and repurchase probabilities. At the same time, good quality lowers costs by elimination of lost business, rework and waste. Some studies show that implementing quality-focused programs can increase profits by 5%-10% of sales. Quality is not only free; it pays.

Quality is Relative to Consistency

What most restaurant patrons look for is consistency. When it comes to food, consistency starts with the quality of the products purchased. They can be consistently good in quality, consistently bad in quality, or inconsistent in quality. When food is purchased consistently good or consistently bad, the result is predictable. The worst scenario is when there is inconsistent quality.

Inconsistent quality usually stems from shopping for the lowest price and being fooled by the promise of quality. We see this every day in the supply side of the food service industry. Potential customers send out bid sheets with generic descriptions of the products they want prices on like, “GROUND BEEF” or “CHOICE FILET—ben franklin28 OZ”, and then often buy the lowest bid. This is why shopping the ‘exact same item’ is so important; not all ‘GROUND BEEF’ or ‘CHOICE FILET—8 OZ’ are the same.

Any purveyor can quote a low price week to week using lower quality products to win the bid. But in the end, what do low quality, lower bid winning products really do for your restaurant? They deliver inconsistency and ultimately damage future returns.

Increase Quality & Consistency

Quality Doesn’t Cost, It Pays! was a tag line a friend of mine had painted on his produce trucks. I love this expression because it speaks directly to successful food cost management. Here are four cost savvy tips you can use to help increase quality and consistency:

  • Survey your staff. What does your wait staff hear from your guests about the food quality and consistency? What do your chefs and line cooks say about the quality of the food they prep?
  • Check your garbage. How much and what kind of foodstuffs are in your back of the house garbage? Low priced/Low quality food often spoils faster, has more waste and less yield. How much uneaten food are your bussers clearing off the table? Were your guests less hungry than they thought, or less happy with the quality of their meal?
  • Be specific and finite with your purchase specifications. Cite brand names or sources, specific quality grades and origins.
  • Work with suppliers that care about quality as much as you do. Define what quality means to you and how you measure it. If your suppliers don’t understand your true objectives, their guestimates can introduce inconsistent quality.

Paying a lower vendor price versus a higher one seems like a beneficial move—but the critical comparative here is that the purchase is for the exact same item. Look beyond price and focus on quality to improve your bottom line. You will reap positive results in the long run and be glad you did.

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

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Meat Picks | 9.4.14

B2—Bookings

With the holidaLeadGenGraphy booking season in full swing, hospitality, event planners and suppliers may gain inspiration from a new report by Chief Marketer, which provides 67% of B2B marketers say content marketing is one of the top channels they rely on for lead generation.

In addition to content marketing, the survey cites website registrations, social media and pay-per-click advertising “posted the most significant gains” in seeking new leads. Only 12% of respondents say they rely on single channels for lead gen versus 64%, who rely on multiple channels to drum up new business. Read more about the report here.

Top Cluck

BuedelPoultryPicAccording to an Allegra Food Service trend report, chicken accounts for 31% of all restaurant main dishes. Easy prep, cost and religious preference, are cited as the reasons for the recent spike in poultry popularity.

Other noted trend categories include street food, all-you-can-eat, small plates, healthy choices, gluten-free labeling, craft beer, all day breakfast, artisan coffee and BBQ. Trends on their way out are fruit bars, bubble tea and gourmet hot dogs.

Bacon Bubbles

BaconGumYou love bacon. We love bacon. But do we really want to chew this fat—in the form of bubble gum? Believe it or not, there are meatball, foie gras and pickle flavors available too. For more bizarre bubble brands, check out the Daily Meal’s weirdest gum flavors list.

If you want to stick with the real thing (and who doesn’t when it comes to bacon), The Great American Bacon Festival takes place this Saturday at Union Station. Buy tickets online.

Those who can’t make it to the fest this weekend might want to check out Zagat’s best bacon spots in Chicago; among the top picks, David Burke’s Primehouse and Benny’s Chop House.

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

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