Menu creativity takes center stage on May 21 during the 14th annual Nation’s Restaurant News MenuMasters Awards Ceremony in Chicago. Famed chef Tom Colicchio will be inducted into the MenuMasters Hall of Fame, while Panera Bread’s Scott Davis will receive the Innovator Award. Also accepting awards will be five forward-thinking restaurant chains.
MenuMasters Awards are produced by Nation’s Restaurant News and sponsored by Ventura Foods. They honor outstanding menu development plus excellence in foodservice research and development. Awards will be presented at the Drake Hotel.
Companies to be honored are Old Chicago, Panda Express, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Shari’s Restaurants, Subway Restaurants, and the University of Massachusetts dining program (UMass Dining).
Randall Friedman, vice president of the Penton Restaurant Group, which includes NRN, Restaurant Hospitality and Food Management, said, “The MenuMasters Awards are the industry’s most recognized and inspiring culinary awards program. It is a privilege for Nation’s Restaurant News to honor these outstanding culinarians. This year’s winners have had a significant impact on their restaurant segments and their creativity and innovative approach to menu development is admirable.”
The following awards and honors will be made at the May 21st celebration:
Hall of Fame Inductee – Tom Colicchio, chef/owner Craft Restaurants, Colicchio & Sons and ‘wichcraft.’ Tom Colicchio spent his childhood immersed in food, cooking with his mother and grandmother. He taught himself to cook with the help of Jacques Pépin’s legendary manuals on French cooking. He later cooked at prominent New York restaurants, including The Quilted Giraffe, Gotham Bar & Grill, Rakel, and Mondrian.
In 1994, Colicchio and his business partner, Danny Meyer, opened Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park neighborhood. Colicchio’s cooking won consistent recognition, garnering three stars from Ruth Reichl of The New York Times and earning him The James Beard Foundation’s 2000 Best Chef-New York Award. In 2001, he opened Craft, earning three stars from The New York Times, and The James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant in 2002. Along with Crafts’ casual sibling, Craftbar, established in New York, he set out to expand his simple, elegant brand of cooking. He has since opened Craftsteak at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (2002), Craft Dallas (2006), Craft and Craftbar in Los Angeles (2007, 2009), Craftsteak at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods (2008), and Colicchio & Sons and Riverpark in New York (2010).
The first ‘wichcraft sandwich shop opened in New York in 2003 and now has 14 New York City locations, as well as stores in Las Vegas and San Francisco.
In May 2010, Colicchio was awarded The James Beard Foundation’s coveted Outstanding Chef award, the culmination of his 30 years of hard work in the restaurant industry.
Innovator - Scott Davis, Executive Vice President & Chief Concept Officer, Panera Bread, St. Louis, Missouri. Davis is working on the next generation bakery-cafe for Panera, which operates 1,453 company-owned and franchise-operated bakery-cafes in 40 states and Ontario Canada. For this project, he is drawing on earlier experiences at Panera and also his time with St. Louis Bread Co. where, in 1996, he spearheaded the creation of their new prototype bakery-café. He joined Au Bon Pain Co. as a Store Manager in 1987. In 1993 he became New Concept Manager and led the development of the company’s Choices concept. In 1995, he was tapped to create an R & D team for Saint Louis Bread Co. He was named Director that same year and has since led the Panera Concept Team.
New Menu Item -Honey Walnut Shrimp from Panda Express, Rosemead, CA Introduced in March 2010, this menu item quickly became the most successful new entrée launch in the history of the 1,300-unit chain. Made with crisp tempura shrimp, wok-tossed in a gourmet honey sauce and topped with glazed walnuts, Honey Walnut Shrimp is Panda’s first ever tempura battered shrimp entrée.
Limited Time Offer - Wicked Chicken from Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Atlanta, GA. Launched in June 2010, Wicked Chicken features thin stripes of all-white meat chicken, marinated with authentic Louisiana seasonings, and cooked in a crispy coating until twisty, curly and wicked. Popeyes sold 900,000 pounds of Wicked Chicken in one month, making it the most successful product launch in two decades for the 1,900-unit company.
Menu/Line Extension – Fresh Blackberry Season, Shari’s Restaurants, Beaverton, OR. This promotion coincided with Oregon’s highly anticipated fresh blackberry season in July and August 2010. Innovative menu additions included fresh whole blackberry cobbler pie, fresh blackberry cream cheese pie, fresh blackberry lemonade and a fresh blackberry pie milkshake. The 104-unit family concept saw sales increase in all categories that featured a Blackberry product.
Menu Revamp - Old Chicago pizza-pub, Louisville, CO. With 100 restaurants in 23 states, this chain launched its largest menu overhaul since 2004, adding or tweaking roughly 30 menu items. Rolled out in June 2010, the overhaul streamlined the menu, making it easier to execute. While the chain removed 22 items, revised 13 and added 17 new ones, customers will find that pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, calzones, pasta and salads still reign. Left undisturbed was the signature line-up of over 110 beers.
Healthful Innovations – Build Your Better Breakfast, Subway Restaurants, Milford, CT. In the QSR breakfast competition, Subway raised the bar in its U.S. and Canada locations with an egg white version of its successful omelet egg and a new egg muffin melt sandwich line. These innovations had an impact with breakfast now accounting for 9 percent of overall sales, up from 7 percent in April 2010.
Menu Trendsetter - Be Smart. Eat Smart. Live Smart fromUMass Dining at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Designed to deliver delicious food with healthy options, this broad-based initiative features 11 steps to help customers embrace a healthy lifestyle. These included eliminating trans fats, limiting sodium and sugar, offering protein from plant and fish sources, and providing more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Positive results include 98 percent meal plan retention and 8.65 out of 10 customer satisfaction ratings.