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In 1997, Ventura Foods’ long-term commitment to culinary and collaborative menu development was hallmarked by the creation of the MenuMasters Awards, an industry event that recognizes and rewards menu R&D achievement.

Working together, Ventura and Nation’s Restaurant News founded the MenuMasters Awards, with the inaugural event held in May, 1998.

Today, the MenuMasters Awards is a highly respected competition, honoring menu R&D leaders for their personal achievements and contributions to the foodservice industry.  Each year, talented foodservice marketing and menu development executives, past award winners, and the industry press gather for the MenuMasters Awards Ceremonies.  They come to honor the new winners, network with associates, renew acquaintances and see old friends. One of the benefits: A chance to enjoy the winning menu items--paired with fine wines—which are served by the award-winning teams before the ceremonies begin.

Each year the MenuMasters event also recognizes the industry’s future talents.   Culinary students are invited and a culinary education scholarship awarded, supported by Ventura Foods and Nation’s Restaurant News.

One of the most memorable parts of the MenuMasters brand is the original artwork created for each year’s awards by world-renowned culinary artist Guy Buffet. Each attending operator receives a personal print of Guy’s MenuMasters-themed creation as a commemorative gift.  Guy’s understanding of MenuMasters as expressed by his unique artistic style and creative talents have been invaluable in developing operator attendee appreciation of the event.
After the awards ceremony, the MenuMasters post-awards celebration begins, with themed live music in the Palm Court . This gives attendees a chance to have quality time with the award winners as well as Guy Buffet as he signs each original MenuMasters print.

The MenuMasters event evolves constantly to keep the quality and content of the “MenuMasters experience” at a high level. Ventura Foods and Nation’s Restaurant News work closely to keep the MenuMasters program a “must-attend” operators event, through marketing communications, invitations, event flow, awards, quality of presentation, entertainment and food.

A Brief History of MenuMasters

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MenuMasters was launched during the 1998 National Restaurant Show at The Museum of Modern Art in Chicago. From the beginning, MenuMasters recognized menu development achievement, its visionaries, their creative teams, commitment and hard work. As a new event, it addressed an unmet need among chain foodservice operators. 

Each award-winning innovation presented at MenuMasters enhances consumer value in the food-away- from-home experience, supports company growth, and helps to energize the dynamic foodservice industry in new and exciting ways.


2015 proved to be an inspired year of incredible winners and amazing food. These winners included Smashburger, Chick-fil-A, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Which Wich Superior Sandwiches and Aramark's sports and entertainment division as they were recognized for new or improved dishes added to their menus in the last year.

The items range from healthful sandwiches with vegan protein to a decadent fried bologna sandwich fit for hungry sports fans. Bonefish Grill is being honored for Best Menu Revamp, which highlights its expanded offerings including ceviche and street food-inspired tacos. And Mendocino Farms will receive the Trendsetter award for its line of high quality, creative sandwiches. Jimmy Bannos Jr. of The Purple Pig in Chicago has been named Innovator of the Year for his creative interpretation of Mediterranean food. In addition, Louisiana native John Besh will be inducted into the MenuMasters Hall of Fame, joining such culinary luminaries as Jacques Pépin and the late Paul Prudhomme.


Creating one of the year's biggest pop-up restaurants, teams from Chili's Grill & Bar, McDonald's, Wendy's, First Watch, Joe's Crab Shack and True Food Kitchen and more served their award-winning menu items at the 17th Annual MenuMasters Awards gala on Saturday 5/17/14 during the NRA Show at the Drake Hotel in Chicago.

Presented by Nation's Restaurant News and sponsored by Ventura Foods, the annual awards honor outstanding foodservice research and development. Winners created menu items that NRN's editorial board judged to have had a significant impact on the industry.

Also honored were Hall of Fame inductees Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Fenniger from Border Grill. Chef/Innovator was Chef Michael Smith from Michael Smith Restaurant.

Chris Keating, publisher of the Penton Restaurant Group, told the hundreds of attendees that the awards are "all about making great food so people come back to your restaurant."


A record-breaking taco, glazed salmon for kids and a seafood restaurant's pork chop all are being honored with 2013 MenuMasters Awards.

Presented by Nation's Restaurant News and sponsored by Ventura Foods, the MenuMasters Awards honor outstanding foodservice research and development.

Winners have created menu items that NRN's editorial board has judged to have had significant impact on the industry.


May 5, 2012 marked the 15th anniversary of the MenuMasters Award Celebration, held at the classic Drake hotel in downtown Chicago. This year, a festive crowd of over 350 guests, gathered and ate the winning foods from the exceptional companies that were honored that night. Featured were favorites like hamburgers and doughnuts, as well as more gourmet dishes like Manchego espuma topped with carrot escabeche and chicken sausage with truffled white beans.

Quoting Jim Goggin, Senior Vice President Foodservice Groups, Ventura Foods, "MenuMasters is a celebration of food, which is the lifeblood of the industry." The MenuMasters Awards Ceremony recognizes and honors those hard working individuals and companies in our industry that have set the standard of excellence and creativity. Their efforts have significantly benefitted the foodservice industry and delighted the customers that we all serve.

Chris Keating, associate publisher of the Penton Restaurant Group and NRN, credits menu development teams for helping the industry survive the difficult economic times of recent years. The MenuMasters Awards Ceremony mirrors that sentiment and encourages those working hard "in the trenches" to continue to innovate.


Culinary innovation remained as important as ever, at the 2011 MenuMasters gala at the Drake Hotel, honoring the year's most successful new products. The award winners represent a wide variety of current culinary trends in action, from bold flavors and authenticity to healthfulness and local sourcing. These forward thinkers have turned innovation to profit, effectively implementing ideas the keep customers engaged in the face of an economic climate that has been challenging at best.

The 2011 winners are Shari's, Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen, Subway Restaurants, UMASS Dining, Old Chicago and Panda Express. Scott Davis from Panera Bread Company has been selected as the Chef Innovator and Tom Coliccho as the 2011 Hall of Fame Inductee.

"It is our 14th year at MenuMasters now and every year it seems to get bigger and better," says Jim Goggin, Senior Vice President Foodservice Groups from Ventura Foods. "It's about teamwork. It's about innovation," said Chris Keating, Nation's Restaurant News's associate publisher, who served as emcee at the celebration. "It's all about the food."


The 2010 winners are Au bon Pain, Burgerville, KFC, Outback Steakhouse, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Tropical Smoothie Café. Brad Blum from Romano’s Macaroni Grill has been selected as this year’s Innovator and Jon Luther from Dunkin’ Brands has been named the 2010 Hall of Fame inductee.

Jim Goggin, Vice President of Foodservice groups for Ventura Foods, said the company is pleased to sponsor this tribute to menu creativity and foodservice excellence.

"We are also thrilled to celebrate the career accomplishments of Jon Luther on his Hall of Fame selection," Goggin said. "Congratulations to all our award winners for going the extra mile to exceed expectations of consumers from coast to coast."

"Each year the restaurant industry outdoes itself by serving an ever growing crop of outstanding MenuMaster candidates,” said Nation’s Restaurant News’ executive food editor, Pamela Parseghian. “The winners were selected for their success with guests by offering affordable, out-of-the-ordinary foods that are often healthful and delicious."


The 2009 winners are Big Bowl, Chick-fil-A Inc., Culver Franchising System Inc., Denny's Corp., Qdoba Mexican Grill and Pizza Hut. David Burke, chef/owner of davidburke & donnatella, has been selected as the Chef/Innovator.

"Everyone welcomes news of achievement and success in these challenging times and that's what we are celebrating with our MenuMasters honorees," said NRN publisher Tom Larranaga. "Congratulations to these award winners for developing unique menu items and promotions that have enhanced the dining experience of consumers from coast to coast."

B. Kelly Brintle, senior vice president, industry and trade relations for Ventura Foods, said: "Ventura Foods is pleased to once again join with Nation's Restaurant News in recognizing the creativity and vision of our MenuMasters winners. We salute the accomplishments of these dedicated culinarians."


The 11th member of the MenuMasters Hall of Fame, Roger Berkowitz, is president and founder of Legal Seafoods. Roger has built a classically successful restaurant brand in New England with high-quality food, excellent service and attention to the health of his patrons with delicious, seafood-oriented menus.

Roger has been instrumental in furthering the cause of improving restaurant nutrition within the industry. As a pioneer in the area of food quality, food safety and nutrition, Roger sets the pace for foodservice operators to follow in developing restaurant quality to meet growing consumer expectations.

MenuMasters award winners included Burger King, Commander’s Palace, Maggiano’s Little Italy, O’Charley’s, Red Lobster, University of Connecticut Department of Dining Services.  Chef Innovator for 2008 was Paul Carr, senior director of Culinary, Aramark.


The celebration of the 10th MenuMasters and a decade of MenuMasters events featured the Academy Awards theme. The post-event party celebrated Hollywood, complete with, red carpet, personalities, and exciting music and visual effects.

The 10th MenuMasters Hall of Fame inductee took us to the kitchen of world-famous restaurant The Sardine Factory in Monterey, California, and its cofounder chef/owner, Bert Cutino.  Self-made and respected entrepreneur and industry leader, Bert has contributed greatly to restaurant concept development, quality food and memorable dining experiences for thousands who visit his and partner Ted Balestrari’s landmark restaurant each year. 

The MenuMasters award winners included Golden Corral, Dunkin’ Donuts, Captain D’s Seafood, Chartwell School Dining Services, Jack In The Box, and The Inn at Little Washington. The Chef Innovator award winner was Cliff Pleau, culinary director of Darden’s Seasons 52 restaurant chain.


MenuMasters hit the food entertainment high road in 2006, electing none other than Emeril Lagasse to the MenuMasters Hall of Fame. Needless to say, the ninth MenuMasters awards had a New Orleans theme. And Emeril perhaps the best-known celebrity chef in the world, always makes food fun and entertaining.

MenuMasters award winners were Boston Market, Jiko-The Cooking Place/Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Boston Market, Ruby Tuesday, Taco Bell, California Pizza Kitchen and Williamson Hospitality Services. The Chef Innovator award went to Dan Coudreaut, McDonald’s menu renaissance chef.


In 2005, David Overton, founder and CEO of The Cheesecake Factory, was inducted into the MenuMasters Hall of Fame. David is from a family of entrepreneurs and has made his mark growing one of America’s most successful casual dining chains.

MenuMasters award winners for 2005 included Jack In The Box, Aramark School Support Services, Logan’s Roadhouse, Uno Chicago Grill, TGI Friday’s, and independent restaurant The French Laundry.  Chef Innovator was Applebee’s Kurt Hankins.


Energetic entrepreneur Martin Yan became the seventh member of the MenuMasters Hall of Fame in 2004. Martin’s charismatic personality has made his celebrity chef brand popular worldwide. An accomplished author and host of the cooking series “Yan Can Cook,” Martin’s entertainment value is high.

MenuMasters award winners included Famous Dave’s, IHOP, Olive Garden, Ruby Tuesday, 99Restaurants and Pubs, HDS Services, and independent restaurant Nacional 27.  Chef Innovator was Oona Settembre, the first female recipient of the award.  

Another of the great chefs and innovators of our time, Paul Prudhomme, was elected to the MenuMasters Hall of Fame in 2003. Paul’s passion for creating pleasurable new eating experiences is matched only by his humility and gracious nature.

Paul’s accomplishments are diverse, as a master of menu R&D, an award- winning restauranteur, author, and businessman with great success in the spice business, notably his Magic Seasoning brand.

MenuMasters award winners included Applebee’s, Cracker Barrel, P.F. Chang’s, Ponzu, Round Table Pizza, Schlotzsky’s and Sodexho. Chef Innovator was Robert Okura, Cheesecake Factory 


In 2002, MenuMasters moved to the larger Gold Coast Room at the Drake Hotel, to accommodate the growth and event activity MenuMasters was experiencing.  There were 450 operators in attendance--a MenuMasters record.

2002 was also the year of the mega-operator, and the addition of two new MenuMasters award categories, On Site Innovation and Independent Restaurant Menu Innovation. First-time winners included Aramark (On Site Innovation) and Union Square Café (Independent Restaurant Menu Innovation). 

Other MenuMasters award winners were McDonald’s, Cheesecake Factory, Panera Bread, Claim Jumper, and Ground Round.  Chef Innovator was Steven Anderson.

The fifth year MenuMasters Hall of Fame inductee was award-winning celebrity chef Jasper White. Jasper’s success as a restaurant entrepreneur with his “Summer Shack” concept and consulting business is well known in the industry.


Lettuce Entertain You founder Richard Melman joined the MenuMasters Hall of Fame in 2001. Richard is an established entrepreneur, having built many successful restaurant concepts by matching new ideas to trends in food R&D.

MenuMasters award winners included TGI Friday’s, Champps Americana Grill,
Subway, Bennigan’s, Chartwell’s and Tribeca Grill.  The first MenuMasters Chef Innovator award went to Johnny Law, then corporate chef for KFC.


The new millennium Hall of Fame inductee was Jacques Pépin, famous for his success as an author, educator, lecturer, restauranteur and television chef-personality. Jacques is internationally known for his mastery of cooking techniques.

MenuMasters award winners included Chili’s, Bob Evans, Domino’s Pizza, Denny’s, Country Kitchen International, and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.


Seeking a venue more specific to the hospitality industry, the MenuMasters Awards Ceremonies moved to Chicago’s famous Drake Hotel.  With its rich 1920’s heritage, the Drake is known for it impeccable service and formal yet relaxed style.  Importantly, the Drake provides a high quality of culinary support for the MenuMasters teams who come to showcase their award-winning menu items.

Our 1999 Hall of Famer, inducted posthumously, was Colonel Harlan Sanders, a global foodservice industry icon.  One of the great food entrepreneurs, Colonel Sanders discovered and branded a new cooking method and ingredient blend that gave birth to his world famous Kentucky Fried Chicken and worldwide fast food chain, KFC. He was also a restaurant franchising pioneer, working tirelessly until the age of 90 to build the KFC brand

The 1999 MenuMasters event marked the first year Guy Buffet was commissioned to create MenuMasters original art work.

1999 award winners included Red Lobster, Einstein/Noah Bagels, Taco Bell, Wolfgang Puck Food Co., Popeye’s Fried Chicken and Jamba Juice, who received the first MenuMasters Healthful Choice award.


The inaugural edition of MenuMasters recognized Warren Le Ruth as MenuMasters’ first Hall of Fame winner.  A bright, creative mind in menu R&D, Warren developed restaurant quality consumer brands, cookbooks and restaurant concepts.

Warren cooked for President Richard Nixon as well as leaders of countries from around the globe. He was an outstanding entrepreneur in food consulting and the restaurant business.

Award winners included California Pizza Kitchen, Legal Seafoods, Marriott Hotels, Cracker Barrel and Wendy’s.

The Future of MenuMasters

As the MenuMasters brand moves into its second decade, the foodservice industry faces new and exciting challenges.  Continued commitment to innovation and quality in execution will enable MenuMasters to retain its leadership position among industry events in the years to come.

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