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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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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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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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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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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Retaining Pride & Passion in a Conglomerate World

Companies make acquisitions for a number of reasons; often to gain new market share, intellectual property, additional products and new revenue streams. Most of the time however, mergers and acquisitions are driven by a desire for higher stock prices under shareholder pressure.

We’ve seen plenty of consolidations in the food industry over the past year. The largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, sold to the Chinese group, Shuanghui, Sysco is acquiring US Foods, Hillshire Brands moved to acquire Pinnacle Foods and then Tyson is acquiring Hillshire Brands.                                                        meat-knife-colorado-premium 

Lost in Transition

Acquired companies frequently lose their identity when they’re “synergized” into the large acquiring companies. (That’s code for grabbing the customers, products and profits while eliminating everything else that already exists within the acquiring company.) In essence, much of what made the acquired company valuable in the first place is tossed out, ultimately forcing the customer base into a commoditized system of doing business.

The not so synergistic trail has played out more than several times over in the meat industry. In recent years, privately held Chicago meat companies have been gobbled up by multi channel food industry companies. US Foods [now being acquired by Sysco as noted above] bought privately held Stockyards Packing and New City Meats and Allen Brothers was acquired by Chef’s Warehouse, a publically traded specialty foods distributor.

What would happen if two family run meat companies combined?

Buedel & CPF

Up until now, privately held meat companies have been largely acquired by food conglomerates with multiple lines of business. We are excited to share news of just the opposite: Colorado Premium Foods, a privately held family run fine meats processor, has acquired Buedel.

Buedel Fine Meats & Provisions will now operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Colorado Premium (CPF). Other than the change in entityPicture1 backing of our company, Buedel Fine Meats continues to operate with business as usual – abiding by our commitment to listen to our customers first, and deliver premium quality meats with professional services.

This marriage makes Buedel Fine Meats stronger than ever and gives us increased size, scale and capacity to continue to develop new offerings, expand into new markets and lead by example into the future.

Our profile now provides:

  • A complimentary customer base to serve larger multi-concept owners
  • Additional product lines, with more buying power benefits to our customers
  • Geographical expansion of the distribution footprint for both companies
  • Mutual growth potential to reach new customers with our value nationally
  • Additional capacity to support growth in both businesses across geographic markets

Wrap Up

Retaining value is a top priority for Buedel and CPF. Our respective customers will not experience the pitfalls of commodity service but gain the opportunity to reap new benefits from a combined product and resource pool solely dedicated to fine meats.

Unlike many of the acquisitions before us, Buedel will continue to operate with pride and passion in a conglomerate world – merging old world family traditions with the best modern practices of today.

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

About CPF: Colorado Premium Foods is a family run, privately held premier value added manufacturer of premium beef products focused on serving major U.S. retailers, restaurant chains and co-packing of specialty items for packers across the nation. Colorado Premium custom processes over 100 million pounds of beef annually, operates 2 production and 2 storage facilities with approximately 500 employees and over 100 customers nationwide.                                               Read more at: www.coloradopremium.com

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The Latest on Finely Textured Beef

The Wall Street Journal called me last month for thoughts on a piece they were doing regarding the resurgence of finely textured beef (aka “pink slime”) in answer to rising beef prices.

Back in August of 2012,img-learn-packaging-overwrap we addressed the potential future impact on the industry due to the pink slime hysteria ignited by the media on consumer markets. (Read 1 of 10 Things (at the very least) the Foodservice Industry DOES want you to know.)

Thousands of good working people ultimately lost their jobs at companies producing Finely Textured Beef (FTB) who were forced to shut down from an avalanche of cancelled orders due to the misguided media frenzy. What made the situation even more exasperating was the fact that these production processes were USDA approved. All laws and regulations were followed, but it was the processors that bore the immediate brunt of the fallout.

When this occurred, the beef industry was experiencing its lowest herd numbers since 1955 due to drought, and the impact of removing FTB from the food supply required a substantially large amount of additional cattle to fill the demand gap for ground beef.

It was more than logical to predict these effects would likely drive up cattle futures and eventually the price of ground beef for all of us.

How Much is Too Much?

Before the pink slime hysteria in 2012, the average price of 100% ground beef in 2011 was $2.78/lb as per the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has been tracking ground beef prices since 1984. By May 2014, the average price of 100% ground beef was $3.85/lb, a 38% price increase compared to the 2% average annual rate of inflation in the United States. Just last weekend, a friend of mine told me she paid almost $5/lb. for 80/20 ground beef at her local grocery store. Consumers, retailers and regrill imagesstaurateurs are all paying much more now for ground beef.

Ground beef is the most bought and consumed type of beef by far. With that in mind, combined with the fact that beef prices are at record highs, it’s no wonder that finely textured beef is indeed making a comeback.  Retailers and consumers, perhaps now more properly educated on the subject, are purchasing products that include FTB in the ingredients.

FTB is currently sold to over 400 retail, food-service and food-processing customers, more than before the 2012 controversy, albeit overall in smaller amounts. Production of finely textured beef has also recently doubled at some manufacturing plants from its low point after the controversy.

Environmentally Sound

The production process for finely textured beef recovers lean beef from steak and roast fat trimmings that would otherwise be wasted. It is made the same way the dairy industry makes cream by using centrifugal force to separate the cream from milk. Cargill posted an easy to follow video outlining the start to finish process early this year; watch it here.

ftbThe maximized use of harvested animals, further popularized by “nose-to-tail” culinary trends, also makes the most of the limited natural resources used to produce beef. Conversely, in a market free of FTB, the following occurs: 1.5M more head of cattle are needed to fill the gap, 10.5M more acres of land is used for grazing those cattle, 375B more gallons of water is utilized to feed and process the cattle and 97M more bushels of corn is needed to feed them, which is grown on 600K more acres of land.

Wrap Up

On the surface, the return of FTB to the market would seem to indicate retailers and consumers are more concerned about cost than method. The good news is, environmentally sound USDA approved beef practices, which produce quality ground beef at better prices, is back.

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

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Meat Picks | 6.5.14

Food Apps

mobile-appsAccording to Tech Republic, food apps are one of the hottest 2014 tech startup categories. Last week they published a slide article on “apps that are changing the food industry”, citing 15 new releases. Some highlights on the list: Harvest Mark – traces where your food comes from, Wild Edibles – identifies wild plants and flowers you can prepare for consumption and Farmstand – finds local and seasonal foods by mapping farms and farmer’s markets.

Score Card

Game 1 of the NBA finals may start tonight, but the battle between Pilgrim’s Pride v. Tyson Foods over who buys Hillshire Brands is heating up.

If you haven’t kept up with who’s on first, Pilgrim’s Pride is now up, 2 to 1, after raising the ante this week from their offer of 5.6 billion to 6.7 billion countering HillshireBlogPicTyson’s 6.2 offer. What’s most interesting in this war of the food titans is the fact that Hillshire was focused on acquiring other companies. Ironically, it was Hillshire’s most recent acquisition plan, to buy Pinnacle Foods, which turned the tables on them.

How will this affect food fans? In the consumer arena, ticket prices will most likely go up! Read our latest post: What happens to price after the food fight?

BBQ Semi Finals

Buedel Fine MeatsThe competition was intense last weekend in the first of two semi-finals on BBQ Pitmasters. Each team barbecued three different kinds of ribs, beef, baby back and country style, in an episode appropriately named, Ribs, Ribs & More Ribs. The semi-final round further challenged the Pitmasters by requiring three meats to be cooked versus the normal two.

Judged on “taste, tenderness and appearance”, Robby Royal of Rescue Smokers won the round by a margin of 2/10 points. It was poetic justice for Royal who lost by 1/16th of a point last year in the semi-final round.

The remaining three teams compete this Saturday, June 7th at 8pm CST on the Destination America network. Don’t miss it!

Top Meeting Spots

Crain’s just published a best list of private dining rooms in the city. Focusing on the downtown, River North, Gold Coast and Randolph Market neighborhoods, they whittled the list down to a choice 32 covering “traditional and trendy, refined and rustic, blow-out and budget-conscious”. Here’s their top picks:

Crainslist

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

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Meat Picks | 5.8.14

Beard Winners

PurplePigThe James Beard Award winners were announced earlier this week. Of the many winners (see full list here), three Chicago stars shined bright.

Jimmy Bannos Jr. of River North’s The Purple Pig was a co-winner in the Rising Star category for chefs under 30. Dave Beran of Next won Great Lakes Best Chef and Outstanding Restaurant Design (75 seats or less) went to the design team at Lawton Stanley for their work at Grace.

Congrats to all!

Burger Bonanza

FlipTSignatureRiversBurgerMay is a popular month – gardens are tilled and grills get fired up – it’s also National Burger Month. (Read Art of the Burger and Fun Facts for the Burger Connoisseur.) River’s Casino came up with a nifty promo this year: a different burger every day for $10 at FlipT – great deal.

Rivers Chef Jason Herling brought some burger samples to Windy City Live last week. He said it took them two weeks to come up with 31 different variations and at 25, it got challenging. There was the Saigon, Philly, Makin’ Bacon, Carnivore and French Connection, to name a few, which had brie cheese, carmelized onions and pear slices – but his personal favorite remains their signature Rivers Burger, with cheddar, jalapenos and a large onion ring (pictured above).

FlipTChallengeRivers took their burger bonanza one step further by adding a weekly burger eating contest to the mix this month. Every Thursday in May, at 5, 7, or 9, you can challenge the (professional) standing consumption record of 5 Rivers burgers in 6:45. The first person to break the record wins $5,000; if you can come within 5 minutes of the record, you win a free burger every week for a year. Who’s hungry now?

NRA Countdown

Housewares – March, Restaurant – May, are fixtures on the Chicago convention scene. This year’s NRA Show (National Restaurant Association) is the 95th (yes, ninety five!) Anniversary of the annual event. Over 60,000 industry buyers from all 50 states and over 100 countries will pile in to McCormick Place May 17-20 to peer, poke NRA 2014and peruse through more than 900 product categories.

One of the new additions to this year’s show is the Foodamental Studio where attendees can learn (for free) from award-winning chefs such as, Tim Graham of Travelle, and then have the opportunity to try out the new skills for themselves.

If you’re going to the show, please stop by and see us! Buedel’s booth # is 7863!

P.S.

NtlBBQMonthMay is also National BBQ Month. According to the HPBA (Hearth, Patio & Barbeque Association), 58% of adults agree that cooking out is more fun and relaxing than dining out – being outside is great! In honor of National BBQ Month, the National Barbeque Association (NBBQA) is running a Facebook campaign throughout the month too. Simply post your best what-bbq-means-to-me pic on their fan page and win a prize.

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

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Buedel Goes Global

The FHA 2014 (Food & Hotethumb_showfloor02l Asia) expo was just held in Singapore. Promoted as Asia’s largest and most comprehensive international food and hospitality trade show, there were close to 65,000 attendees from well over 100 countries and regions over the four day event.

Industry buyerFHA2014_LOGO1s perused an extensive range of products and services put up by over 3,200 exhibitors inside 63 international group pavilions. Buedel Fine Meats was on hand exhibiting with our export distributor featuring USDA Prime Dry Aged Angus Beef.

Global Tastesthumb_showfloor07

One may think in Asia, where Wagyu beef and authentic Japanese Kobe beef are prevalent that Angus beef from the United States would be passe, but just the opposite is true. Highly coveted, Dry Aged USDA Prime Angus Beef is considered a luxury by the elite.

Ironically, dry aging is the way all beef used to be aged until the 1970’s, when vacuum packaging was brought to the meat industry. Today, USDA Dry Aged Prime, is highly valued because we, in the U.S., have mastered the sophisticated process of dry aging beef.

There were many exhibitors of Chphoto 3illed Beef at the show, including Wagyu from Japan, USA and Australia, but few with Dry Aged beef. Buedel exhibited a variety of USDA Prime Angus Dry Aged cuts. The excitement over our dry aged beef in Singapore was incredible, with the most favored Dry Aged cuts being:

  • Bone-In Strip Steaks
  • Boneless Strip Steaks
  • Bone-In Rib Eye Steaks
  • Bone-In Rib Eye Roast

Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan are all seeing an uptick in the number of steakhouses offering dry aged beef.

The Process

Dry Aging is a time honored, old world tradition where primal beef cuts are aged for 28-50+ days in a controlled open air environment.

During this process, the external service of the meat becomes hard and envelops the meat with a crust. The beef inside the crust develops a fine rich concentrated flavor and photo 2tender texture as the natural moisture in the muscle is evaporated. When the beef has reached the desired age, the inedible outer crust is carefully removed and the meat can be cut into steaks that deliver an incredible flavor.

To properly dry age beef 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.

Dry aged beef is more expensive than wet aged beef because there is typical loss of about 20% of the meat during the dry aging process. Dry aging is best for cuts of beef that have higher marbling such as Prime and Upper Choice grades. The most typical dry aged cuts are from the short loin (Porterhouses, T-Bones, Bone-In Strips) and the ribs (Bone-In Rib Eye Steaks).

Overseas Logistics

Exporting to Asia is quite comphoto 4plex and requires a myriad of paperwork and certifications. Every country has their own set of specific requirements. Once the initial requirements are met, consistent evaluations must be made for any changes. Japan, for example, is now holding vendors accountable for certain anti-microbial compounds. This list is ever evolving, and it’s up to every business to stay on top of these requirements, and bear any on-site audits conducted by the USDA.

Buedel is currently exporting to Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. For this type of beef export, you must write a dedicated exporting program that includes source verification and tracing raw materials. (Read more about food safety guidelines and protocols here.) Collaborative efforts by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) have helped pave the way for achieving global standardization.

We are proud to be able to serve these growing markets and help build global appreciation for U.S. beef producers.

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

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On the Road in NOLA with Steve Dolinsky

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

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

NOLA CureDay 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOLA Commander's PalaceDay 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Escoffier Experience

By Russ Kramer, Corporate Chef at Buedel

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

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

A Little History

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

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

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

The Setting

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

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

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

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

The Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Final Course

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

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

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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WHERE’S THE BEEF?

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

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

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

BEEF SUPPLY CHAIN

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

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

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

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

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

THE CATTLE CYCLE

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

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

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

DroughtMapTHE DROUGHT OF 2011-2012

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

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

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

BEEF PRICES

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

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

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

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

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

TIPS FOR RISING PRICES

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

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

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

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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Meat Picks | 2.14.14

Upward Trends

dinner-in-the-skyHave you heard that Dinner in the Sky is coming to Las Vegas and other warm weather US towns in the near future?

The concept of elevating diners 180 feet up in the air (to the tune of $500/head) was first developed abroad seven years ago after a marketer and a “bungee jumping impresario” put dinner-in-the-sky-israeltogether an aerial dining event. The response was so great the duo was inspired to franchise the idea.

The US Franchisee says she has 3,500 names on a waiting list and 1,000 corporations with expressed interest in doing events. The Vegas franchise will no doubt debut to high acclaim.

Culinary Controversy

Last month, all H-E-double-toothpicks broke out over a crying 8 month old baby at Alinea. At $200+ a person, Chef/Owner Grant Achatz was compelled to tweet about the situation in real time citing angry diners and wondering if he needs to have a no kid policy – that set the perpetual spinning wheels of the media into overdrive.

Local and national coverage was dense, Huffington, Fox, CNN and Good Morning America, to name a few, then on to the UK, Australia and beyond. Search “Alinea Crying Baby” and you’ll get 28,000+ hits on Google today.AlineaBaby

In addition to igniting a global debate over whether kids belong at upscale restaurants, one other little gem popped up in result: @AlineaBaby. Born of (comic) necessity, @AlineaBaby has over 1,000 Twitter followers and an opinion on everything from, “what’s more annoying than me in a restaurant”, (pretty funny), to commentary on the “boring” opening ceremony of the Olympics.

It’s astounding to think, one infant could stir up such a conundrum. Will Whole Foods’ snow day snafu surpass the reach of Baby Gate? Stay tuned…

Upsell Rough Times

Winter is notoriously slow for hospitality – especially in cold and snowy markets. Find solace in the 80/20 Rule for sales: 80% of revenues come from 20% of the existing customer base. Upselling the customers you do have, can be a vital tool in rough times.

ihopInspiring Reads:

20 Upselling Tactics That Work from Restaurant News – No.14 is particularly intriguing, “Try downselling”.

How I HOP’s New Menu Design Gets Customers to Spend More from Bloomberg Businessweek – layout is king.

Upselling Techniques for Restaurants at SmallBusinessChron.com – offers a list of numerous articles on the subject.

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Chef Ricky Hatfield | Working the Independent Market

Google Peterson’s Restaurant and you’ll see a first page return of four and five star reviews.The Indianapolis steak and seafood hotspot is well known for their ambiance, premium service and “superb” food.

chef in the kitchenPeterson’s Executive Chef, Ricky Hatfield, credits part of their success to the strong team they have in place. Hatfield is a young looking 35 year old pro who did his first cook at the ripe old age of 8.

How did you get your start?

I started off with a small independent, working on the line and going to school while I got my degree.

I worked at Bone Fish, worked under Tony Hanslits, (now Culinary Director at the Chef’s Academy in Indy), for McCormick & Schmick’s and then had the opportunity to be part of an open for a Weber Grill as Sous-chef.

When I finished school, I went to Pennsylvania and worked at Sullivan’s Steakhouse. At that time, the plans were to move my family there, but we couldn’t sell our home. Just as the distance was becoming too hard on my family, the opportunity with Peterson’s came about. I came here for the Sous-chef position about two and half years agIMG_1480o and then was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to become their Executive Chef.

We are in the top 25 restaurants in the City now. My day starts at 10, and I take Sundays off – except for inventory once a month. I think it’s really important for families to understand the time involved, but you also have to manage your time to be with them too.

When did you know you wanted to be a chef?

I started in industrial sales after high school, but I always had a part-time restaurant job on the side – always had my foot in it. I didn’t want to sell nuts and bolts the rest of my life.

We lived far outside of the metropolitan area when I was growing up. We always had a garden and family meals at home. We didn’t go out for dinner. After school, I’d watch shows like, The Galloping Gourmet, Frugal Chefs, Great Chefs of the World. I never watched cartoons.

What was the first thing you remember cooking as a kid?

I was in the second grade when I first started making food for other people– it was potato leek soup. That’s still my go to favorite soup today.

What do you like most about being an Executive Chef?

Having the respect – finaChef2lly, after 15 years of being in the business – and the ability to create food for people to enjoy and be remembered for it. Along with that, it’s always about the food and camaraderie in the kitchen.

I built a team around myself that I love to work with, so it’s not stressful. It takes time [to build a team]. Sometimes you get lucky with the first hire. You have to test people out, find the right personality. We’re at a level where you have to have the skill level to be accepted.

You’ve worked both sides of the fence, what are the differences between corporate and independent kitchens?

Kitchens are more regimented in the corporate environment. You have less creative influence, unless you’re developing for the company. You’re also always putting fires out. There are Chef/General Managers – I’m lucky to work with a general manager.

The owner of the restaurant, Joe Peterson, is a highly successful businessman outside of the hospitality industry. Your website says it was his dream to build this restaurant.

1011191_630817690310590_55395698_nYes, it was his dream. His company, Crown Technology, is right across the street. We take care of the restaurant for him. I have gardens over there too. I’d love to help keep this restaurant going for the next 15 years…

What type of community work is Peterson’s involved in?

We are currently putting together a Peterson’s team to work for Habitat for Humanity in Hamilton County, and we do event fund raisers every year for organizations like Cystic Fibrosis, and others. I’ve always been actively involved with Second Helpings too – they serve over 3,000 meals daily [to those in need].

How does the Indianapolis market compare to a market like Chicago or New York?

Indy is a really changing market. A lot of independents had been pushed out because they didn’t have the marketing to compete with large chains. That attitude is changing now, and there’s a new independent trend emerging here.

Across the street is Indianapolis, we are Fishers, on this side. We’ve grown from a population of 7,000 to 78,000 in the last twelve years. It can be tough with a lot of openings popping up around you; we’re lucky to be on the north side of Indy.

What other challenges do you face?

People don’t havindex01e the expense accounts they used to; now it’s more like, “I’ll pay for it IF it’s done well”.  It’s a hurdle for independents to remain competitive with pricing because they don’t have the buying power. We are only open for dinner and closed on Sundays.

How valuable are reservations to your business?

It used to be more consistent, we could expect more reservations coming in on a certain day. We average, 75 % reserved and 25% walk-ins. We also do special occasions. There are usually no kids at night, except when we do Easter and Mother’s Day brunch.

That brings to mind a recent issue in the news; what do think about the “Alinea Baby Scandal”?

The question of justifying price relates to the demographic you’re going for. You have to have guidelines for carrying it out. You have to learn where to pick the battle, but if it were me, I think I would have eaten the no cancel policy.

Has Peterson’s ever had a crying baby problem?

We opened up for SunIMG_1292day brunch last Spring and never had a problem with kids. Everyone knew that kids were going to be there, you kind of take that into consideration because you know they’ll act up. Brunch is not a higher level experience – very different than the Alinea situation and spending that much.

What happened with brunch?

It didn’t work out for us. On a weekly basis, there was too much cost involved putting that out – 1,000’s of dollars just to open up – you need at least 150 people to break even. We’ll stick with special occasions, fund raising events and Monday/Thursday specials.

Right now, is a bad time for most restaurants. People don’t want to go out in the cold weather. We work with Order In, a restaurant service website that delivers meals. It’s a good alternative for times like this. 

What’s it like there over the 500 weekend?

There’s a big spike then – it also depends on how good of a relationship you have with the hotels. The volume has definitely gone down in recent years and spread out across a bigger area.

If you could change anything at Peterson’s, what would it be?

There are always new things in the industry that you may want to add to improve upon. There are little nuances we are always working on but, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

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Dollars & Cents vs. Dollars & Sense

Let’s compare and contrast two stories in the recent news about pork production.  One is a story of dollars and cents, and one is a story of dollars and sense.

Dollars & Cents

3D chrome Dollar symbolLast September, Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer sold itself to the Chinese for $4.7B. Smithfield raises about 15M pigs per year producing over 6B pounds of pork sold under popular brand names including Farmland, Armour, Cook’s Ham, Krakus Ham, Patrick Cudahy and John Morrell. When the sale to Chinese went through, Smithfield’s CEO stated: “This is a great transaction for all Smithfield stakeholders, as well as for American farmers and U.S. agriculture. The partnership is all about growth, and about doing more business at home and abroad. It will remain business as usual — only better — at Smithfield.”

‘Business as usual’ is a telling comment. Smithfield is notorious for factory farming; incorporating the use of inhumane gestation crates, confined animal feeding operations and environmental pollution.

To quell some of the220px-Gestation_crates_3 negative press, Smithfield is “recommending that its contract growers phase out the practice of keeping female hogs in small metal crates while pregnant.” This is quite the bold move for a factory farmer where disease, pollution and animal confinement are standard practice.

On 1/21/14 more news broke: Problems Persist After Smithfield Sells Out to Shuanghui; Future Remains Uncertain.  The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation and Waterkeeper Alliance issued a Notice of Intent to sue the current and former owners and operators of a Smithfield owned feeding operation, located in North Carolina, to stop pollution caused by illegal waste disposal.

Dollars & Sense

Ironically, one day earlier, the NY Times posted this story: Demand Grows for Hogs That Are Raised Humanely Outdoors.

Consumer awareness and c7960787444_a1b4b8476d_ooncern about the use of antibiotics, humane animal treatment and the environment is growing. More chefs and restaurateurs are featuring pasture raised, all natural pork on their menus. The popularity of “farm-to-fork” and “nose-to-tail dishes” is growing.

Opposite to the Smithfield mass production model, pigs raised by family farmers who use sustainable production methods which preserve the land and its resources for future generations, is fast becoming en vogue. The pigs are happy, the farmers are happy, and consumers are happy eating a better product.

pigsinsnow-300x224Pigs raised outdoors using traditional farming and animal husbandry methods cost more because it costs more to raise them this way.  However, the Times article also points out that as much as consumers say they want their meat to come from humanely raised animals, they still resist paying higher prices for pasture-raised pork.

This resistance is what continues to drive companies like Smithfield to keep producing cheap pork, and the consequences that go along with it.

Finding Middle Ground

The situation becomes one of trade-offs. Which is worse: Paying less for cheap pork thereby supporting the issues associated with pervasive factory farming, or paying more for pork thereby supporting the issues associated with humane, natural and sustainable farming? In my opinion, one will never fully replace the other, but both can improve.

As a consumer, I prefeMenusr to spend a little more to eat healthier and better tasting naturally raised pork. I also feel good that a by-product of my preference, is supporting the family farmer.

On the other side of the fence, I see the daily dilemma Buedel Fine Meats customers face between their desire to avoid offering commodity pork and trying to manage their food costs. Many chefs and restaurateurs are simply unable to absorb the higher cost of all natural pasture raised pork and maintain their desired profits.  They too are voting with their dollars.

Perhaps there is a middle ground.

A movement to change the status quo can be ignited by slowly adding pasture raised pork items to meals and menus. Start with one or two items, promote them and educate the consumer on the value. My guess is that a few will stick, and then maybe a few more.

If we all do this, we can begin to deliver a subtle message to the Smithfield’s of the world in a language they understand – money.  Soon they’ll listen because they have to return profits to their shareholders.  When the factory farmers see more dollars being spent for pasture raised pork, they’ll want to capture some of the growing segment – then someday perhaps, most of it, and we’ll all be better off.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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Pride and Passion in a Conglomerate World

Late last year, another chapter in the Chicago food industry closed. Local meat supplier, Allen Brothers, was bought by Chef’s Warehouse, Inc., a Connecticut-based food conglomerate, after a 120 year run of family ownership.

If you didn’t see one of the few blurbswatchdog7 about the deal, you probably haven’t heard about it. The company’s (recently revamped) website makes no mention of it, and it is business as usual on their fan page where holiday specials and New Year wishes filled their Facebook feed throughout December and into January.

Reports provided by a, “Chef’s Warehouse spokeswoman” claim,  “…the Allen Brothers’ management team, including Todd Hatoff, [great grandson and grand nephew of the founding brothers] will be retained. The big question is, will this really matter going forward?

History (Does) Repeat Itself

When businesses change ownership structure from family to conglomerate and beyond, it’s tough to keep the “q” in quality alive. Reach replaces service and diversification destroys the very brand essence from which many local and family owned businesses were built.

Looking back to the 19th centmeatpacking industry in Chicago in the 1930s364pxury, when Chicago was first being developed as a livestock mecca, there were the Armour brothers. Yes, Armour & Company was started by Philip and Herman Armour in 1867. The family owned the brand until the 1920’s when they sold to Frederick Prince, an investment banker and chairman of the Union Stockyard & Transit Company, due to financial problems. Prince continued building the meat brand and expanded into by-products, such as deodorant soap (Dial).

The Chicago slaughterhouse was eventually closed in 1959 and by the 1980’s, the Armour meat brand had morphed into two lines: “shelf-based products” (ie hash, chili, etc.)  and “refrigerated meat products”. The lines were eventually split and sold to different entities.Swiftcar

Today, the refrigerated meats brand is owned by Smithfield Foods, notorious for their use of antibiotics in pork production and most recently, the ethically suspect sale of the company to the Chinese.

Swift Brothers & Co. was also started by two brothers, Gustav and Edwin Swift, in 1878. (The company name was changed to Swift & Co. in 1885.) Gustav Swift was credited with pioneering the refrigerated rail car and the use of animal by-products in the manufacture of soap, glue, fertilizer, sundries and medical products. Swift & Co. is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Brazilian company JBS, the “world’s leading animal protein processor”.

In 1971, the doors of the UniChicagoUnionStockYardlimestonegateon Stockyards closed for good. All that remains of more than a century’s worth of rich and tumultuous industrial and labor history is its famous limestone gates.

You have to wonder what the Swift and Armour brothers would have to say about that.

Future Forecast

In an ultra fast paced global economy, it is easy to understand why Allen Brothers made the move from family run business to enterprise ownership. Maintaining market share and integrity against volume discount suppliers is challenging, to say the least.

Could Buedel compete head to head with a Smithfield? No. Nor, do we want to, because our customers deserve far better than that.

AnthonyBuedelfromVideoThis is an industry where chef, restaurant and hospitality reputations are on the line with every meal served. It is a proud, caring and passionate arena. Our customers deserve the same blood, sweat and tears they pour into every dish, delivered in every center of the plate product they buy.

Buedel Fine Meats is now the oldest family owned meat supplier left in Chicago – 2014 marks our 107th year in business. We merged old world family traditions with the best modern practices of today. Delivering premium quality meats and professional personalized services remains our sole initiative.

Pride and passion can’t be commoditized.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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