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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The Great Steak Takeaway

By Chef John Reed, CEC, CCA, ACE

When I want to go out and enjoy a great steak, my family is sometimes reluctant. They are spoiled living with a culinary professional – they know what they eat at home is equal to the fine dining experience.

In Chicago, we are spoiled by the number of high-quality steakhouses here; from gold standard favorites like Gibson’s to the latest hot spots such as David Burke’s Prime House. These types of restaurants have walk-in coolers full of thick-cut, prime, dry-aged steaks. Chefs cook them at high heat with minimal seasonings to create a veritable crust, and the steaks come to the table properly cooked, well presented and pricey.

My family says I cook a better steak. Certainly they are prejudiced on my behalf, but I want to take this opportunity to share my take on great steak.

HomePageMeatPicIt’s all About the Cut

It starts with the meat. For those of us who can’t afford prime beef all of the time, I actually prefer a good choice grade for the majority of steaks I cook.

The tenderloin and its various classical cuts such as the Filet, Mignon and Chateaubriand, though tender, need a lot more thought put into them to get a great flavor. Rubs and wraps with bacon, fine cream-based forcemeat and sausage meats go a long way in that category, but that is another lesson.

Then there are the macho steaks, which include “The Cowboy,” “The Original Delmonico” and any of the other beast-named bone-in rib steaks found on today’s menus. Leave the rib whole, and don’t cut steaks. Slow roast the meat and carve it on or off the bone. Chefs know the bone is there for a reason: it keeps the shape of the steak, prevents shrinkage and if cooked right, makes a hell of a tasty piece to chew on.

If you have the desire to break down a whole rib, pull off the spinalis muscle. That, my friends, is the piece that has the best flavor of the whole muscle structure, and is also known as the rib-eye cap. Some Beef Marketing Boards are selling this as a new type of “value-added” steak. I think it is also a very expensive option unless you can trim down whole ribs. Try braising the rib-eye cap or quickly grilling it and slicing it thin. 

What’s left?

Best Pick

There is plenty of cow left, and many other cuts and steaks produced both in the retail and food service markets. These types of steaks all need some form of help whether jaccarding, marinating or under cooking to some degree. Regardless of what some catering companies and/or restaurants may say, the mock-tender or the teres major muscle will never taste or eat like a tenderloin.

Strip Steaks2If you want a steak that is synonymous with what a true “steak” should be, it is always going to come down to the strip, and a true strip is either the Bone-in Kansas City Strip or the Boneless New York Strip.

Look for a steak that is at least 1″ thick; these will range in weight from about 12 oz., for the boneless, to about 16 oz., for the bone-in. You don’t have to eat the whole thing, and you can get two very nice-sized portions from one steak.

Look for some good marbling in the heart of the steak. Ask for about 1/4″ of trim on the top and about 3/4″ tail. Always let the steaks come to room temperature or near there about 30 minutes prior to cooking. 

Select the right ingredients – they are vital: salt, cracked black pepper (no containers here), oil (not olive oil) and whole butter (yes, you read that right, whole butter). If you want to be more adventurous, fresh thyme springs, sliced shallots and cloves of garlic are excellent additions. There are no magic rubs, flavored oils or injections needed, and don’t even think about pulling out the circulating cooker or vacuum machine.

Perfect the Cooked Steak

Season the steak liberally with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy carbon steel or cast iron pan without any oil. Rub the steak with the oil to lightly coat. Place in the pan only when the pan is hot. Now leave it alone, turning down the heat ever so slightly. When you see little dots of blood coming through, turn it over and then leave it alone again. By now there should be some smoke in the kitchen. Have an adult beverage and relax. Let the steak get some color on the second side, and then the fun starts.

cast iron panAdd a good amount of whole butter and the aromatics if you are using them. Grab a spoon, and when the butter is bubbling and melted, baste the steak with the hot butter. Keep basting it to give the steak some more color. Turn the meat over again and cook that side for a few more minutes while basting continuously. If you are comfortable with doing so, press to touch for doneness (123°F). The shallots, thyme, and garlic should have perfumed the room and the steak. Pull the meat from the pan and place it on a rack.

Pour the aromatics over the steak on the rack, and walk away for a while. Entertain some friends set the table or take a few pictures to post on Facebook. Do anything you have to in order to resist the urge to cut into that thing. This is, to me, the secret of great steak: rest and patience. You need to be engaged in the cooking of the item. Don’t just throw it in a pan and let it cook by itself. You need to be part of the process.

After 10 minutes, you are finally ready! Trim the cap and tail off of the steak. (I am extremely cost conscious. If it was prime cut, would you throw that away? No! You might just eat it out of guilt.) Now, either serve the steak whole or slice it. It will be tender and perfectly cooked. Sprinkle a little sea salt over it and enjoy!

Wrap Up

That was a lot of words for the cooking of one steak, but it serves to describe what makes the difference in your cooking and approach to food.

Food doesn’t have to be “cooked at the speed of light”. Many restaurants are slowing things down now and taking the time to cook food properly – this makes me very happy. I urge other professionals to encourage young cooks to do the same. On a slow night, teach them how to appreciate the skills and patience it takes to make something perfect.

Slow it down at work, and at home – spoil your family and your customers.

Chef Reed is the owner of Customized Culinary Solutions and the current president of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) Windy City Professional Culinarians in Chicago. “The Great Steak Takeaway”  was adapted from Chef Reed’s newsletter, The Rubber Band Doorknob.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare


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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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