Why Relationships Build Value

By Chef John Reed, CEC, CCA, ACE

True story.

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

Case closed, right? Not so fast.

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

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

Building Value

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

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

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

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

Relationship Laggards

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

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

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

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

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

Wrap Up

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

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

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

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

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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Lessons from The Breakfast Queen

Last week, the ACF Windy City Professional Culinarians held their Dine-Around event at the famous Ina’s restaurant in Chicago. Ina Pickney is known in town as “The Breakfast Queen” for her remarkable breakfast recipes, attention to detail, and the type of personalized customer service that makes you feel at home. 

What made this event more than special was Ina’s willingness to dish out her recipes for life and business as they related to running a successful restaurant.

Have a Vision

Photo Nov 21, 9 56 22 AMIna baked her first cake at 37 years old and for 11 years ran a bakery.  Every day she ate out, choosing from one of only six restaurants in the area for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  What nagged at her was breakfast, something was wrong with that first meal of the day. 

There were hotels which offered either upscale fine breakfast or simple self-serve buffets, and there were diners which offered typical greasy spoon fare.  Ina thought there should be something in between these two options – a breakfast place that offered quality food, tablecloths, and provided a peaceful, nurturing experience.

The Breakfast Queen compared her vision to that of the late Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs’ vision for the iPhone was to create a product that broke the mold of traditional cell phones.Translation: Create something so unique, so advanced, yet so user friendly, the experience of just using it would be in high demand by the masses.  Her vision was to make the breakfast experience as rewarding to her customers, as Steve Jobs’ vision for the iPhone.

Big Flavor & Quality Ingredients

Ina chose to create a breakfast experience that would start with big flavors and quality ingredients,  prepared with more care – offer foods you couldn’t find anywhere else.  For example, you wouldn’t find pork sausage breakfast patties or links at Ina’s, but you would enjoy chicken sausage in a variety of flavors made with lamb (not pork) casing to appeal to a wider group of ethnicities.  Veal-Chive sausage, custom made Chorizo, and garlic roasted potatoes, in lieu of hash browns, were some of the other alternative dishes she chose to make.

Ina was one of the first restaurants in the city to use only pasteurized eggs.  They cost more money, but they were safe.  Back in 2010, when a salmonella outbreak traced back to eggs sickened 62,000 people and prompted a recall of  550 million eggs, Ina’s restaurant was not affected.

Photo Nov 21, 10 31 28 AMIna was also one of the first restaurants in the city to use only trans fat free oil.  At the time, most chefs didn’t believe food would taste as good with trans fat free oil and that it was too costly to use.  Ina, an industry advocate for healthy eating, invited a group of chefs to a private event where she served fried chicken dinner.  After the chefs had eaten, Ina told them the chicken was fried with six day old (and still good) trans fat free oil. Their thinking was converted.

She also committed to using name brand products such as, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise and Tabasco hot sauce, rather than generic or house brands. Ina feels that using only name and best brands supports her own brand. She also worked with Intelligentsia Coffee to create a custom blend for her restaurant and serves only real maple syrup. These are the types of subtleties that when combined, create a complete dining experience that’s simply delicious.      

High Touch & Personalized Service

Ina focused on the little things that most other breakfast places miss or don’t care about because creating a best experience for her customers was just as important as the quality of food served.  For example, the butter on her tables is always soft and sweet. You won’t find semi-frozen or foil wrapped pats of butter at Ina’s, but you will find a nice plate of soft sweet butter ready to spread on fresh baked breads.

Each table has its own hot pot of coffee too. Ina believes that nothing irks a coffee drinker more than when their perfect sugar/cream blended cup of coffee is dowsed with refills. Instead, the wait staff keeps the pot of black coffee on the table hot so the customer can refill their own cup as they wish.

No smoking, no cell phones, no alcohol, but high touch customer relations – Ina banned talking on cell phones in her restaurant when they used be the size of bricks. She believed her customers wanted to enjoy their breakfast by reading the paper or conversing with their party in peace, without loud cell  chatter or incessant ring tones at the next table. She also banned smoking in her restaurant before it was fashionable, anPhoto Nov 21, 9 56 18 AMd led the effort to ban smoking in public places in Chicago.

From day one, Ina kept a mailing list of her customers.  For over 22 years, she has written a monthly newsletter to her customers. (They were initially sent by mail with a “Love” stamp, before the preference of email.) Today she has thousands of customers on her mailing list with a successful open rate of 48-52%, compared to the 19% national average open rate for restaurants.

Ina believes that no one tells your story better than you – so do it with love and care. These are the types of things that make good restaurants great.

Small Business Advocate, Suffering & Second Chances

You won’t find a Sysco product anywhere in Ina’s restaurant either because she believes you need to have the same type of loyal relationships with your suppliers as you do with your customers. This loyalty would pay off in good times and in bad. Big business often talks the talk, but rarely do they walk the walk.

When the economy tanked in the post 9-11 aftermath, Ina’s business was severely affected for 25 months. The drop in business was so dramatic she was unable to pay her bills. During that time, every purveyor that she worked with gave her extended credit to help her along. While times were hard on everyone, it was the local independent businesses that worked together to see things through. In return, Ina made sure that as things improved, every bill was paid and then took it a step further by paying COD for every delivery in appreciation and reciprocation for the help her suppliers had given her. Ina firmly believes she would have been cut off and out of business had she been dealing with large broad line suppliers at the time.    

Integrity, Love & Giving Back

In 2008, the recession hurt Ina’s business, but she made sure to take care of her employees – every one of them which she knows all by name. “The lowest paid employees have the power to hurt you,” says Ina. “All it takes is one dirty dish served to the wrong customer that can ruin your reputation.”

Ina believes that treating everyone with respect, love and integrity is more important than anything. Treat people how you would like to be treated. Giving back to the community through charitable work is equally important to her. Stricken with Polio as a child, her favorite charity is End Polio Now. 

In 2005, CNN produced a Photo Nov 21, 5 05 51 PMshow called THE TURNAROUND which focused on helping struggling small businesses. Ina’s was invited to apply for an episode. “As an entrepreneur, you say, ‘YES’, and figure it out later,” says Ina.  Her restaurant was selected, and she was shocked to learn that her mentor would be none other than Richard Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Richard told Ina she was selected because she was still in business after the downturn that he kept hearing how Ina’s was the best place for breakfast, and due to her charity work in the community. 

End on Your Own Terms

After over 30 years of hard work in the food business, Ina, now 70, has announced her retirement – Ina’s will close at the end of the year. Her mobility is limited from post-polio syndrome – she wears a brace and has trouble standing and walking for long periods of time – the time had come to close, and she wanted the end to be on her own terms. 

In her November newsletter, she writes: I have always said that life is like baking a cake. It’s raw for a really long time. It’s perfectly baked for a short time, and it’s overcooked forever. I feel like we’re closing at the right time before we’re overcooked.

Ina wanted to exit with the same integrity with which she worked, and announced her closing four months in advance to give her staff adequate time to find new jobs. She also wanted enough time to be able to say, “thank you”. 

Having no children or family to pass down her recipes to, the woman who set the highest breakfast standard in Chicago decided to publish her one and only cookbook. Taste Memories: Recipes For Life and Breakfast is the legacy she leaves her only family – her customers and friends.

Thank You, Ina.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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Chef Rino Baglio | It’s Always About the Cooking

indexFew chefs can say they’ve served stars, royals and deity. Fewer still, 22 to be exact, can say the highest honor of their profession was bestowed upon them. Chef Rino Baglio can.

Master Debut

Italian born Chef Rino Baglio is part of the first group of chefs in the world to receive the inaugural Master Chef F.I.C.certification awarded by the World Association of Chefs Society (WACS). Equivalent to the likes of a culinary Oscar, the award kicks Chef Baglio’s already superstar status into an elite stratosphere. He is the only Chef in the North and South American continents to have made it – all the other recipients were from Europe.

A total of only 35 chefs were hand selected for candidacy which required classroom study in Milan, Italy last November followed by a fully staged cooking challenge last March. Known for his mastery of Italian cuisine, Chef Rino says he went through the program “not for the acknowledgment, but as a personal challenge to be my best and see how far I could go.”

The Milan coursework honed in on chemistry, the moleculation of food, allergies and things like, pairing the right wines with the right foods. Scoring less than a point off a perfect score, Baglio says the dinner presentation was “challenging”.

The Presentation

What did you have to dph14o for the actual cooking part of the process?

We had to do a small wedding for 100 people – contact the client, create the menu, testing etc. Once the menus were approved, we did custom recipes and presentations with pictures. Clients would then say things like, ‘By the way, I have two guests that have [“X”] allergies’. Then you’d have to adjust the menu for them.

What was the “mystery box” you had to contend with?

You don’t know what’s inside beforehand and you have to use to every ingredient inside, or you’ll be disqualified. Mine was sturgeon and sea urchin.

Did you have any help?

You have two hours to do everything from scratch – no prep beforehand. You also get one student for help, but they can’t touch any food – they can get pans, help clean up – you have to do all the washing [of food], and so forth.

The two hour window is tough. In a typical day, you can do 300 people in two hours when you have staff and lots of prep done beforehand.

Special Guests

sinatra_very_good_yearYou’ve cooked for world leaders, deity, royalty, and Sinatra… how amazing was all that?

I cooked for Sinatra three times; the first time in Italy and the second time was in Phoenix. I had just finished for the day, it was 11 at night when I closed the kitchen. My boss called and told me the cast of New York, New York had just called him and would like ‘some food’. I went back to the kitchen and cooked by myself that night – Sinatra was there.

At that time, I was also [in the process of] moving to L.A. He called me shortly thereafter to do his 65th birthday party at his villa near Palm Dessert. ‘I want you to be in charge of everything’, he said, ‘flowers, food, everything – whatever you need.’ I had to ask my boss for the week off to do Sinatra’s party, which he gave me. The party was around his pool, there was an orchestra, he sang a couple of songs at the end of the night and he was even on the grill, cooking too! …he was a really generous person.

How did you come about being a personal chef for Princess Caroline of Monacbody dianao?

Because of Stefano [Caroline’s second husband], we grew up in the same town and went to high school together. He called and said, ‘I had to come work for them’.

This is one of the hardest jobs for a chef. You get up in the morning and hear things like, ‘By the way, we leave for New York today and tomorrow we’re going to the palace…’ – that’s how I met Princess Diana. I received a telegram from the Queen’s mother [after that], ‘Would I want to be part of the team for the wedding?’ She [Princess Di] was so beautiful outside and inside.

My best memory is Pope John Paul II. That [opportunity] was offered to me in Canada, where the Pope would be visiting while I was working for Weston’s Hospitality Group by John Arena there. There were special diets and security. I had to try all the food first before the Pope ate, (I also did that for [President] Reagan) and the wine too – they search you for everything. I actually got to talk to him for 10 minutes when he came into the kitchen, to thank the team afterwards.

The Pope actually came into the kitchen?


Did that kind of thing happen a lot?

Absolutely not.

Global Beginnings

Where did your interest in foItaly02_Countryside04od come from; were there any other chefs in your family?

It was my great grandmother, she was a baker. She had the only bake shop for miles around in a town of 8,000 in Italy. She would get 2-3 hours of sleep a night; they hand delivered the bread in the mountains back then. I learned how to make all those recipes from my mom and my grandmother.

Navigli-Milan_2383615bYou’ve worked all over the world – Milan, Paris, Hong Kong – how did you land in Indy?

I got a call from an agency contact in Chicago; ‘Do you know of a chef who’d be interested in a new hotel?’ I told them I was. At the time, I was the corporate chef for a hospitality firm doing large events, like the Republican National Convention (for 6,000), and grand openings for resorts.

I interviewed and did a staging – they gave me a mystery card to work off of. Two weeks later, I was offered the job as Executive Chef for Osteria Pronto at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis. This was a new trend for them; Osteria is the first Italian restaurant inside a Marriott. They’re building a new hotel in Austin due to open in 2015 and I hope to be part of the team to open the next Osteria Pronto there. I am extremely happy with the move I made. White Lodging is one of the best companies I’ve ever worked with.

Continuing Ed

ph03How important are industry organizations like WACS and the ACF (American Culinary Federation)?

They’re very important, in order to be recognized in the work. It would be extraordinarily difficult to do so without them, unless you spent a lot of time and money self-marketing yourself – it’s hard to put yourself up and out there.

I really like these organizations because they have classes and courses to keep chefs up to date. There are so many new things coming out, you need to be up on it all. I still go back twice a year to see what’s going on in Italy – especially in Italy it’s a continual evolution – like gluten – we are most attached to that. Ten years ago we didn’t know about it, now, at least 4-5 people tell me daily they are intolerant to gluten. People got sick, but we didn’t know it was gluten.

Knowledge is so cautionimportant, a chef today is more of a dietologist than a chef, they need to know these things to feed people, not kill them.

Isn’t it tough to do gluten free with Italian cuisine?

Gluten free is not so hard. They’re making pasta and bread with corn flour and rice flour. Working with the different flours, chefs need to come up with new recipes. It’s all about the right combo, once you got it, keep it. I make a great gluten free pizza; it’s just the ingredients you use and the combo.

In Italy, it’s easier than you think because there are so many different types of risotto. Cookies and desserts are made with potato flour and rice flour. The U.S. is on the same path with these trends following the European nations.

What tips, would you offer people shopping for gluten free products and ingredients?

gluten freeRead the labels of every ingredient you buy. (BFree Foods has one of the best gluten free product lines I’ve seen.) If you can’t get to a specialty store, you need to pay attention to the label. You have to be careful with everything. For example, even frozen French fries; sometimes premade fries are coated with flour [that has wheat or gluten] to make them brown during cooking.

That’s a Wrap

Having had so many wondrous experiences and such great professional success, what do you love to do the most now?

Cooking… still. I’m 59, and I still have the passion for cooking. When I come out with new dishes, I still have the passion for that. After that, it would be helping with new openings and sharing my knowledge with my team.

It used to be that chefs would never tell you secrets, or about their spices, or whatever because they wanted job security. I don’t have to look for jobs anymore, jobs look for me.

ph12Cookery fans and foodies will be able to study with Chef Baglio when Cooking with Rino” launches this fall at Osteria Pronto. Patrons will have an opportunity to learn, cook and get an intimate look at how this award-winning Chef blends food, culture and history into culinary perfection.

The first monthly class is set for Saturday, September 21st. Contact Grace Baker for reservations at 317-860-4988 or at grace.baker@marriott.com.

From the desk of John Cecala  Twitter @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook BuedelFanPage

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Chef John Reed: What are the Culinary Olympics and Why Should You Care?

windycitychefs_june2013_Page_01Chef John Reed, CEC, CCA, ACE, is a business owner and the current president of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) local chapter, Windy City Professional Culinarians in Chicago. The ACF is a professional organization for North American culinarians dedicated to education, networking and industry news.

Reed started his business, Customized Culinary Solutions (CCS), five years ago in response to a gap he saw in the marketplace when companies needed the skill set of professional chefs but could not afford them full time. CCS works with off premise caterers, hospitality management and corporate dining and helps companies set up IT catering and recipe software. Chef Reed also works with large companies as a front man for client demonstrations.

As if running a business and chairing the local ACF doesn’t keep him busy enough, Chef Reed is also in training to be part of a prestigious international competition he passionately says is, “the contest that everyone wants to be in.”

The Culinary Olympics

The International Culinary Exhibition – aka Culinary Olympics – is sanctioned by the World Association of Culinary Societies (WACS), of which the ACF is a part of. (wacsThe national ACF president is also on the WACS board of directors.) WACS is the global authority for the culinary profession. Created by a Germanic chef’s organization in the 1950’s, more than 1,500 chefs representing 54 countries participated in the global competition which took place in Erfurt, Germany last October.

“The U.S. does okay,” says Reed. “Last year, the ACF Culinary Teams (national, military, regional and youth) finished in the top 10 with two gold and five silver medals.” Chef Reed’s regional team won a silver medal in “cold-food display”, missing the gold by just one point.

Reed says the ACF didn’t originally think they could fund the competition “as an organization” because there was no “ROI” on it. “In 2009, we decided to do it and see what happens – but we had to fund it ourselves. The team went out and fundraised to do it. Prior to that, the regional team paid their Denver Cold Food Tryouts 029way – it was a huge commitment. Today we have a little money in the bank and more people are interested in helping us now.”

How do the other teams do it?

“The teams on the podium,” says Reed, “are well funded and recognized by their nations – they look at this differently than we do. Some of these guys, that’s all they do full time, compete on a team. Sweden swept every category at the last competition. Their resources, efficiency and what they put out…they had a team behind the team; they are full time. If you tell someone about this, people here say, ‘What? Are you going to cook for the athletes?’ This is why we need to get the word out!”

The ACF is about to publish a video documentary to help promote awareness for the Culinary Olympics. “Iron Chef and all those shows – they make it good television,” attests Chef Reed, “our documentary will highlight what we go through. You can get a glimpse of it on a YouTube trailer called, The Unknown Olympians, right now.”

Team USA

Currently preparing for the second round of “cold display” tryouts for the 2016 team, Reed says going through the process is a tremendous sacrifice because the U.S. team does this all outside of their jobs and businesses. “It’s a choice I make, but I’m lucky I have my own business and work out of my home – it helps.”

Denver Cold Food Tryouts 291Chef Reed says the teams that are very successful are really grounded in terms of real food; its foundation and its core. “It has to be solid cooking, things have to make sense. Professionally, people see what we do as unrealistic. In the cold category, [for example], we prepare all this food, put it on a table and the judges don’t taste it – they have to see flavor. They look at it, they weigh stuff, they may even cut into it – they may not speak English either.”

More than 30 countries competed in the “hot food” category over 4 nights last fall. Each team had 6 ½ hours to prepare a three course meal for 110 diners in a setting which fully encompassed, “restaurant service”, according to Reed. “There are 6-8 teams that go off each day. Diners have to get reservations if they want to be at the competition tables inside the convention center. There are hired waiters working the floor who put the [order] tickets in… that whole process, including how you manage the servers, is evaluated.”

Denver Cold Food Tryouts 292When Reed last competed in the hot category (in 2009) he had to make 10 plates of fish and meat. His team had only 3 ½ hours to do it which included butchering the meat, working from scratch with fresh vegetables and so on. Chef Reed says the food has to look like it’s hot and that it’s something someone would want to eat. “The judges look at the food and decide if it makes sense. When you forget about these things, it can bite you in the butt sometimes – you may not do things at that certain level. I had one dish, which went through 11 or 12 evolutions before it got to the table.”

Being on the ACF U.S. Culinary Olympic team is like being on an “all star” team according to Reed. “Very few people can compete at this level – you’re setting a precedent, and you’re repping the U.S.”

Can young chefs participate?

People on the team are usually veterans. When you practice, you have an apprentice. Apprentices are “invited” and can earn their way to Germany. [The Culinary Olympics are always held in Germany.] “We had five apprentices come with us last time – the competition helps them professionally and personally.”

Chef Reed says his goal as President of the local ACF is to bring new interest into the competition because it changes how people go about their work and helps them grow. “For me, I appreciate being able to say, ‘I’m on Team USA, and we won a medal!’ Ultimately, I can grow with this in my business.”

Buedel Fine Meats is a proud supply supporter for Chef Reed. If you’d like to lend a hand with the Olympic efforts, contact Chef Reed by phone at: 847-287-3604. Check these links for more information about the Culinary Olympics and the ACF Windy City Professional Culinarians.


From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @BuedelFineMeats Facebook BuedelFanPage

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