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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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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Meat Picks │ 2.11.14

Bac-N-Rama

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

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

The 20 Second Sell

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

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

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

Eataly Kudos

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

The Facts of Love Valentine'sDay

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

 

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

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Marketing Menus to Millennials

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

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

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

THE BIG SNAFU

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

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

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

ASKED & LEARNED

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

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

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

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

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

WRAP UP

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Meat Picks | 1.13.15

Global Trade

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

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

Jean Banchet Awards

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

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

Good luck to all of this year’s nominees:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Restaurant Design Boka, Celeste, Momotaro, The Radler

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

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

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

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

Meat PressedFree Report Cover small

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

The same holds true for restaurants and hospitality.

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

1.8JanIMCoverQuote-a-licious

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

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

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Meat Picks | 12.16.14

The Dawn of New Trends

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

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

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

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

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

It’s All Relativehandshake

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

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

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

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

Social Outlooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.4BigPigJigRescue Ratings

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

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

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

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

New Avenues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategic Differences

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

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

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

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

Wrap Up

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

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

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

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

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

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Eddie Merlot’s New Menu Scores Big

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meat Picks | 11.6.14

Millenial Mayhem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Fest in Town

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

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

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

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

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

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Chef Jake Burgess | On Trend at Prime 47

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

Why Cincy?

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

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

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

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

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

What first attracted you to the culinary field?

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

When did you fall in love with making food?

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

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

Industry Views

What do you see as your biggest challenges now?

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

How do you manage prices?

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

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

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

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

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

Are you an advocate of social media?Tuna + Wagyu

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

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

How’s ownership dealing with transparency?meat tray2

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

On Trends

What do you see as the next big trend?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logo with quoteWhat are your best selling meats these days?

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

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

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

Do you think the Steakhouse trend will change?

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

What would you do if steakhouses went out of vogue?

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

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

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

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Meat Picks | 10.10.14

Chef’s Hall of Fame

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year’s honorees are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Virgin

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

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

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

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

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

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Meat Picks | 10.3.14

Best ‘Burb Burger

ParadisePupEaterChicago Eater just published a guide to “11 Great Suburban Restaurants”. Running the gamut from pizza to upscale fresh, #4 on the list is Paradise Pup in Des Plaines, which made the list for their highly acclaimed cheddar burgers –Gene & Jude’s in River Grove took top dog honors.

Those in the know have long treasured the tiny fast food stand decades before Guy Fieri brought national attention to them on Diners, Drive-ins, Dives. The Pup’s char-grilled fresh ground with melt in your mouth Merkts Cheddar and grilled onions stake permanent claim in the upper echelon of Chicago’s best burger joints.

Hot dogs, Polish sausage and shakes are also major fan favorites. The 3 Layer Fries are hands down, to die for –sour cream, real bacon bits and Merkts cheddar smothered over a fork worthy pile of French fries.

Open six days a week from 11-5 (only!) you can expect to wait in lines that spill out the door and wrap around the building on any given day, at any time, in most any type of weather –that’s how good their food is!

Oktober Check-in

10665714_613092738809814_1277960021209318271_nFast approaching the midway point of a seven week long Oktoberfest, Executive Chef Klaus Lotter of Hofbräuhaus Chicago (HC) shared some thoughts on food fests and the return of German cuisine.

Since this is our second year running the Oktoberfest, we have a better grasp on what to expect and how to handle it. The main focus is on being prepared. As is the norm in the kitchen, as long as you are prepared and well stocked, you can handle any business that comes your way. Keep organized and work clean!

Raised in Chicago and having worked in Germany, Chef Lotter says it’s a “privilege” to be a part of the HC team and the resurgence of German cuisine.

You know, it’s really an honor for me to give Chicago back an authentic German experience and offer them a cuisine that has lost some popularity over the last two decades when there were more options and locations to go to. Just like some of my chef colleagues at the Brauhaus Chicago, Schnitzel Platz and Edelweiss, we bring to the public a taste of something close to our heart and from our heritage. It all starts with the authenticity and care.Schnitzel

Chef Lotter provides that “the ALWAYS favorite” at HC is Wiener Schnitzel, and their crispy Pork Shank is a local weekend favorite (served Fri-Sun only). Based on last year’s numbers and this year’s projections, he estimates they will go through 20,000 of their famous Giant Pretzels and another 30,000 of the regular sized during Oktoberfest.

Hoftoberfest runs through Friday, October 31st. Make online reservations here.

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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Meat Picks | 8.21.14

Menu Mayhem

esq-big-boy-081611-xlgAuthor William Poundstone’s four year old book, Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How To Take Advantage of It), is causing a new ruse for the hospitality community. Restaurant News penned a digital lead to a story published in the Daily Mail about it this week and the Food Network also blogged about it.

At task for restaurateurs, is a big reveal on what customers should keep an eye out for on menus—specifically spilling the beans on menu marketing tactics used by many restaurants and why.

One of the main points highlighted in both write ups, cites a 2009 study which showed that leaving the dollar sign off listed menu prices encouraged an 8% spend increase among customers. Which is why, as the UK press put it, “Pound signs are disappearing from menus as quickly as cod are vanishing from the oceans.”

Other coverage highlights included points on why certain items are set off in boxes on menus and why “specials of the day” really aren’t that special at all.

This is definitely one of those posts that any business cringes over. No company wants to advertise why they do or don’t include certain wording or aesthetics in things they publish for public consumption whether it be menus, ads, websites, etc.

Certainly, no one wants a server to say, “I’m going to try to up sell you right now,” right before they suggest more drinks, appetizers or dessert. Consumers are savvy—they understand the art of the deal. (They often try to use it to their advantage too.) Things like this needn’t be spelled out in neon.

Fests & Feasts

sausagefestThe bad news is summer is winding down. The good news is there are still some great festivals left on the calendar. Here a few:

Sausage Fest Chicago kicks off tomorrow at 5 pm in a new location, at St. Michael’s on N. Cleveland Ave. in Old Town and runs through Sunday.

What makes this event a stellar stand out is its “Sausage King of Chicago” competition. Contestants vie for the crown by raising money for charity—this year, for the Wounded Warrior Project. The contestant who raises the most donations for the cause is crowned king. In addition to the royal title, the winner also gets prizes and free food and drink throughout the festival weekend.

BashWabashLogo-300x284Also this weekend, the 11th anniversary of Bash on Wabash takes place between 13th Street and 14th Place on Wabash in the South Loop. The festival offers music, food, drink, vendor booths, arts and crafts, and is jam packed with lots of kid activities, including a 5k Run and 10 mile Bike.

Bash on Wabash brings neighbors and business together to benefit the GSLA (Greater South Loop Association) with a portion of the proceeds going to the South Loop Food Pantry.

Find more festival dates at Time Out Chicago.

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

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SOHO Chicago

bldgChicago has evolved as a restaurant mecca of design, dining and overall guest experience. SOHO HOUSE CHICAGO—which opened last Monday—is all these things.

Soho House Chicago is the fourth location to open in the US, joining New York, Miami and Hollywood. It is part of a unique and stunning group of member based hotel-clubs that aim to “assemble communities of members that have something in common.”

Founded in London in 1995, Soho House was built to accommodate people working in the creative fields—film, fashion, advertising, music, art and media—the goal being to “assemble communities of members that have something in common.” Since then, the brand has grown to 13 locations worldwide.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Nestled neatly near “restaphoto 4urant row” in the Randolph Market District, Soho House Chicago is located across the street from Green City Smoked Meats, on Green Street.

Pictured left: Fresh lunch counter

Soho’s club/hotel accommodations include separate dining, bar and lounge areas, a rooftop pool, 15,000 square foot gym (with a boxing ring), an ultra plush screening room and more. Add to this, three restaurants open to the public located at street level which are dedicated to local sourcing, prime quality and casual cuisine:

photo 5Pizza East Modern wood-fired oven pizzeria: open B/L/D and brunch on the weekends

Chicken Shop Just free range rotisserie chicken (and sides) sold by the whole, half and quarter: open 5-11 M-F and 10-11 on the weekends

The Allis Bar & Lounge serving B/L, Afternoon Tea, cocktails and small plates  Pictured above: Homemade Porchetta

One other standout about Soho is the rich history of their location—and the fact they took the time and care to document it on their website:

Soho House Chicago is located in the Allis Building, a historic five-story industrial warehouse…The building was commissioned in 1907 by Charles Allis, an influential industrialist, art collector and philanthropist from Milwaukee, as the headquarters of the Chicago Belting Company. Close to the city’s Union Stock Yards, which supplied the raw animal hides for its products, the Allis Building is one of the city’s best examples of concrete industrial loft design.

More history here.

RAVE REVIEW

When you work in a business auto-tuned to all things restaurant, hospitality and food service, the next “latest and greatest” is often met with great scrutiny. But that wasn’t the case when James Melnychuk from Buedel took in Soho’s opening this week. Here’s how James describes the experience:

The atmospherePicture1 is that of relaxed sophistication, without the fussiness and pretense often encountered in downtown Chicago. They have activities (seminars and classes) posted daily. It’s not limited to the constraints of an exclusive club—it’s also a meeting place.

The Allis feels like a lounge, where you can have drinks and a selection of great fresh food from the café counter for a relaxing midday or afternoon work break. At Pizza East, the platters of the day’s offerings surround the open kitchen in an absolutely enticingly display.

The atmosphere and deliciousness of the food speak for itself. I’ve been back twice already since the opening for lunch!

We wish Soho House Chicago much success in the Windy City.

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

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Big ‘Q in the City

10325158_738899809508482_1853034942772849674_nIs barbeque BIG in mainstream America? The simple answer to that is “Yessum.” To give you a feel for just how big, over five million reviews covering nearly 20,000 restaurants were tallied during Open Table’s Best BBQ survey this year.

Current trends have also stirred discussions on what’s authentic barbeque, and what’s not. Buedel Corporate Chef, Russ Kramer, (also a member of a local BBQ competition team) says authentic barbeque has an “honest approach” to it.

Authentic ‘Q

“BBQ definitely has gotten more popular not only in Chicago but all around the country,” says Russ. “Lots of places have opened up…chains are attaching [to it], and demand for beef brisket has dramatically increased.”

So what types of authenbrisket2tic things should people keep an eye out for? Kramer says authentic BBQ has more of a “rustic feel” to it. “They just concentrate on the food, the smoke, and the rest follows.”

That ‘rustic feel’ is highly void of frills. “If you go down south, to where BBQ was born, you order your food and go into another room to eat at benched tables – and some of those old time BBQ halls and parlors actually still exist.”

City ‘Q

Joining the ever growing list of barbeque branded restaurants in Chicago last February, Green Street Smoked Meats has been written up numerous times since opening. By May, it ranked in the fifth spot on Thrillist’s Top Ten BBQ Joints and continues to draw a steady flow of “best barbeque” guest reviews.

meatWhen Chef Russ walked into Green Street for the first time, he said he didn’t feel like he was in a restaurant but like he was actually inside a ‘BBQ hall.’ “It looks smells and feels like BBQ – they stay true to it. They present things on sheet pans and sell by weight. You can order a half pound [of meat], and it’s served on a tray with butcher paper.”

The restaurant keeps their meat wrapped in paper to keep it super moist. The meat is retrieved upon order and carved on the spot atop big butcher blocks. Part of their success can be credited to their in- house 12,000 pound Texas made J&R smoker, (J&R is a southern manufacturer with a global reputation for top quality) which can house well over fifty pork GreenStSMOKERbellies at once.

On the subject of authentic BBQ, Green Street suggests it’s really the “aficionados” who understand it outside of the average customer and for them, brisket is the highest in demand by far. So much so, the restaurant just added Creekstone Farms beef brisket to their menu this week.

On trend with high-end steakhouses and industry players, Green Street agrees there is a definite shift toward the Creekstone brand. From their perspective, it’s about premium quality and working with a company dedicated to über efficient and humane field to order protocols which also just happens to have a team of “really good people” on board too.

All Q’d Up

communualThere is no doubt that BBQ is big across the country these days and finding brisket is way easier than it used to be. (Picture: Open table seating area at Green Street Smoked Meats.)

Those who know something of barbeque history, understand authentic ‘Q is deeply attached to meat (“…you barbeque meat and grill vegetables,” as one foodie blogger put it) and society. It was the social aspect of barbeque that attracted people to congregate communal style to eat, visit and share the news of the day.

Wouldn’t it be great if restaurants like Green Street helped bring a little of that ole time congregatin’ back for good?

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

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Meat Picks | 7.9.14

New Food Show

CNBCA new CNBC show called, Restaurant Startup premiered this week, where famed Master Chef Judge, Joe Bastianich, and renown Chef Tim Love compete against each other investing (their own money) in restaurant concepts they think will hit it big.

Casting for the show (ala Shark Tank) is ongoing: www.restaurantstartupcasting.com. You may also appreciate this video segment Bastianich did with an established NYC restaurateur on survival in the restaurant industry.

Tenderloin in Taiwan

image003 image001The global food market is ever expansive and Taiwan is booming. Last month, a record 7,400 international buyers (up 13% from 2013) visited over 3,900 booths at the Taipei International Food Expo, which took place over four days at the end of June. The core sections of the expo were: food, food industry machinery and packaging, hospitality, laundry and halal markets.

According to Austrade.gov US Beef is considered higher quality in Taiwan and has a “special grade” rating, as opposed to other beef imports classified as a “general grade”. The quality of meat also determines where it is sold. US Beef is usually sold to Western cuisine restaurants and contemporary supermarkets. Tenderloin, Rib Eye, Strip Loin and Short Ribs are some of the most favored cuts in Taiwan. (Pictured: Buedel Fine Meats on display by Tzy Yao at the Taipei Expo last month.)

Shmooze Date

Thursday, August 7th is the next date for the free industry networking event at Drink in Schuamburg, organized by Food Industry News. The featured speaker at the event will be Rich Labriola, founder of Labriola Bakery Cafe and the most recently opened Chicago version of, Stan’s Donuts. All food industry professionals are welcome.

Magic KISS

Paul-Stanley-and-Gene-Simmons-of-KISS-Venue-friendly-Rock-Brews-RestaurantYou have to respect the marketing prowess of KISS legends Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. They have over 3,000 licensed merchandised items and Simmons has built a highly successful multi-faceted empire across the entertainment, hospitality and financial industries for the last forty years.

Four years ago this summer, Stanley, Simmons and three other friends (Restaurateur, Michael Zislis and Rock & Roll Magnates, Dell and Dave Furano) came up with the idea for the restaurant chain Rock & Brews. With locations in California, New Mexico, Hawaii, Kansas and Mexico, the ever expanding brand announced it will also be going into arenas and stadiums opening its first “venue-friendly” location at the StubHub Center in Carson, CA., this summer.

Love KISS or not, you can’t dismiss this perfect parody of food, music and marketing.

Deal of the Day

10488075_759259007448679_8136965851066997891_nGreat hump day deal on “Fried Chicken Wednesdays” at Takito Kitchen. Enjoy $3 fried chicken tacos (sesame or crispy) on a hot sauce tortilla, with cheddar, herb aioli and avocado lettuce. TK also has a Farm to Table Prix Fixe Dinner and offers a Farm to Table Brunch every Friday through Sunday.

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

 

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Meat Picks | 6.26.14

Ed’s Fest

ED Debevic FlyerMake a note of this date: Saturday, July 26th. You’re all invited to a party at Ed Debevic’s from 11-5, for a luau-themed food and fun fest for the whole family. What makes this (fifth) annual event extra special this year, is Ed’s 30th Anniversary! Hard to believe it’s already been three decades since Debevic’s has been open.

For those of us around (way back in 1984), Ed Debevic’s was an immediate hit. Their shakes, burgers, retro diner setting and wildly entertaining wait staff exploded onto the casual dining scene. People just loved it – and they still do today. What’s not to love about a “cheap and deep” menu?

Don’t miss Ed’s 30th Anniversary on July 26th! A portion of the party proceeds goes to local charities too!

Best Burger in the Nation

1-kuma-flickr_RLeeThe Daily Meal expanded their annual perfect patty list from 40 to a whopping 101 Best Burgers in America earlier this month. The top slot went to Kuma’s Corner in Chicago for their signature Kuma Burger complete with: bacon, sharp cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and a fried egg. As The Daily Meal put it, “It’s not as though there’s not enough flavor in the burger, but that egg… whoah.”

Gadget Giveaway

TailgaterTailgater Monthly is running a sweepstakes you might be interested in. They’re giving away $5,700 worth of outdoor tools, equipment and accessories you can use for barbeque and parties at home and on the go – everything from a compact portable generator to a floating cooler. Entry to the contest is free via online registration good through tomorrow, 6/27.

Fixin’ for the Fourth

carwfish boilLooking for something different to do on the 4th? How about a Crawfish Boil at Shaw’s? For $30, you can get an all-you-can-eat Louisiana style crawfish boil with potatoes, sausage and corn fixins’ from 12-9 on July 4th.

Find a complete list of July festivals and concerts at Time Out Chicago.

Post of the Week

Do you love this Facebook post from Niman Ranch as much as we do?

Post of the WeekFrom the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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The Grand Champions of BBQ Pitmasters

WINNER - RSSeason 5 of BBQ Pitmasters came to an end last Saturday night with Rescue Smokers taking the title of Grand Champion, $50,000 purse and an exclusive invitation to the prestigious Kingsford Invitational later this year.

Rescue Smokers and Squeal Like a Pig competed in a final showdown where they were challenged to cook an unprecedented four different meats for one turn-in box: chicken, spare ribs, brisket point and pork shoulder. At four hours out from the finish, a surprise “one bite challenge” for whole shrimp was added to the mix for a chance to win an extra point.

Rescue Smokers also won that challenge with a bacon wrapped grilled shrimp. Judge Myron Mixon told the team afterward it was risky adding “an extra protein” to RS-TURN IN BOXthe challenge because it had to be “cooked perfect too.” Squeal Like a Pig’s Pitmaster, Joe Pearce had never cooked shrimp before the challenge.

Robby says he knew their turn-in box looked perfect and affirms you have to be a hit with “appearance” because that’s where the judging begins. Pearce, the youngest competitor, to ever make it to the show’s finals, lost by an undisclosed margin. “Joe is an accomplished Pitmaster for his age,” says Royal, “and I respect him for that.”

BBQ Brothers

Where Joe Pearce actually competed with his brother, Robby says he and teammate Raymond Poore are definitely like brothers. “There’s always a front man, and I have the gift ofRS-TASTING gab,”describes Royal, “but Ray and I are equals…we also argue. You didn’t see this on air, but we had a disagreement in every episode.” Royal says it’s easy to disagree on things because it’s very frustrating when you have to cook something you’re not familiar with.

“The team that Robby and I used to compete on before we created Rescue Smokers believed that one man made it all happen, ” recalls Poore. “So when we got started we never put the “i” in team. If I need to do a comp and Robby needs to do a comp, we are confident that we both can make it happen. And if I make a change or Robby makes a change, we trust each others’ decision whether good or bad.”

Royal and Poore always kRescueSmokersnew each other, but never had a relationship before BBQ. Royal says he got into it because of his father. “My dad joined a cook team and my brother and I would go hang out with them. When my dad died in 2002, Ray came to me and asked if he could take my dad’s place.”

Their relationship blossomed as a social hobby at first. “When we originally started, it was Ray and our wives, then another couple joined us, and a younger couple was also with us for a while.” Both couples eventually dropped off according to Royal because, “…it doesn’t give you anything back. You’re lucky if you break even – it’s just been the four of us for the last 5 years. BBQ is a passion – it’s not about the money. I’d love to do this full time, but it doesn’t pay the bills.” And, there’s only one Myron Mixon, right? “Exactly!”

Winning Profile

RS-BRISKET AND BUTT ON THE PITWhen they’re not competing, Royal says he and Poore’s family get together in their backyards. “Our families taste test for us.” Their children take on the role of spectators, “They love BBQ, and they love to hang out.”

Having lost by a miniscule margin in the semi-finals last year, Robby professes the biggest difference between BBQ Pitmasters Season 4 and 5 was that he and Ray came back ready and prepared to cook anything. “We took swings to hit a home run and it paid off.” Some of that renewed readiness may be attributable to an experience they had late last year when Destination America was filming a new cook show in their home state of Georgia.

RS-BRISKET BURNT ENDSBBQ Pitwars would have four top crews (including Myron Mixon and Pitmasters co-judge, Moe Cason), competing against each other during BBQ circuit competitions. When Royal heard Pitwars would be filming at the Big Pig Jig® in Georgia last November, (his “home cook”), he called the show producer to tell them they better keep their eye on Rescue Smokers while filming because they were going to “take Myron down.” The gauntlet was somewhat brazen at the time given the fact that Rescue Smokers had come in 2nd behind Mixon for the last three consecutive years in a row at the competition.

Placing 9th in Ribs, 4th in Shoulder, 1st in Chicken and 1st in Whole Hog out of 130 teams, Robby and Ray did beat Mixon and won the 2013 BPJ Grand Champion title. [You can see the win in Episo2013BigPigJigChampionde 3 of BBQ Pitwars.] How did Myron react? “He was happy for us,” says Royal, “as he would be for himself.” After that win, Rescue Smokers was invited back to BBQ Pitmasters for Season 5.

Beating Mixon was a full circle moment for Robby who says it wasn’t until he went to Mixon’s cooking school in 2007, that he truly learned how to cook BBQ. “We never won anything before that time and at the very first competition after that, we won a state championship!” Royal is also quick to point out that winning championships Myron competes in is absolutely essential. “You want Myron there. If we’d won [the Big Pig Jig®] without him there, it would be like Barry Bonds’ home run record – there’d always be an asterisk after your name.”

In competitive BBQ, “you have to be extremely consistent,” offers Royal. “Don’t change anything, try it again – be very careful with timelines, and get the product out at the right time. Be confident, have fun, be consistent, and get lucky …in judging.”

Status ‘Q

RescueSmokehouseGrillIn 2007, Ray and Robby each put in $1,000 and have never put in anything since. “We’ve been blessed to have it pay for itself,” says Royal, who says they’ve been able to buy their equipment, supplies and cover expenses with their winnings.

In 2012, Ray opened a restaurant in Ashburn, Ga., Rescue’s Smokehouse Grill, on the same day Robby received a promotion to Director of EMS and County Fire Chief. Poore says winning BBQ Pitmasters has meant the world to him and his family, “…not only is it nice to see your dad or husband on TV, but it has greatly helped out my restaurant.” He likes “making people smile with great food” and the challenges that come along with that. “I have one customer that wants his steak med-rare with no blood, who would figure?”

Prior to restaurant openings aMyron & Ray outside restaurantnd promotions, Rescue Smokers used to compete over 28-30 weekends a year, now they limit it to 10-12. Royal says it’s always been a stress release for him, “The average working life in EMS is only 7-8 years. You see a lot of awful things.” He says the guys at the station have always been supportive of the team, “…and now I’m their boss.”

The team’s winning track record, BBQP experience, and lighter weekend travel schedule has also paved the way to new opportunities. Ray and Robby are getting ready to launch a line of sauces (in July) and have plans to open a cooking school in the very near future. “We don’t just cook in one sanction – we cook them all across a 3-4 state area,” points out Royal. “We were the first team to win in four different sanctioning bodies; your flavor profiles change so much by cuisine, region and requirement. We are one of the most versatile teams in the nation.” [Read more about sanctioning bodies here.]RS- RIBS OFF THE PIT

Royal is looking at the new endeavors as an opportunity to “make a little bit” from their competitive efforts. He also made a point in saying that Rescue Smokers has never had any sponsors until recently – kinda. “Last December, my wife and I bought a camper. Several weeks later, the guy we bought it from invited us to lunch. He wanted to know why with all the BBQ competitors in our area, he wasn’t selling more trailers.” Royal ended up buying a new trailer for Rescue Smokers (which they’d planned on doing) by striking a “better” deal with the dealership in exchange for putting their logo on the trailer.

That’s a Wrap

BBQ Pitmasters was filmed last January and February over a five week period. “Every 3-4 days they did a new round,” describes Royal, “we were there from sun up to sundown – at one point it was 32 degrees – it was really cold!”

BUEDEL FINALS MEATAfter the final episode was filmed, they brought their check home and hid the trophy. It wasn’t too tough keeping quiet about the results until after the first episode aired in April when people kept asking them how they ended up in the competition. Robby tooled a standard reply: No matter if we won or lost, we met some great people, cooked some great product and had a great time.

Royal says they didn’t do anything special for the first airing of the final episode last Saturday night. “We had a bigger crowd. I smoked some sausage; Ray cooked some pizzas. Afterwards, it was a blast.”

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

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