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NRN selects 2005 MenuMasters Award winners

CHICAGO - Nation's Restaurant News named as the winners of its 2005 MenuMasters Awards a slate of industry innovators who have wowed customers with sizzling menu promotions and bold culinary initiatives.

NRN will present the awards, which acknowledge excellence in foodservice research and development, at the Drake Hotel here May 21. Now in its eighth year, the MenuMasters Awards program is sponsored by Ventura Foods LLC.

"Nation's Restaurant News is proud to join with Ventura Foods in honoring the dedicated individuals responsible for the R&D excellence of their respective companies," said NRN publisher Alan Gould.

B. Kelly Brintle, senior vice president, corporate strategy and business development, Ventura Foods, said: "As the MenuMasters program gets more exciting and innovative every year, Ventura Foods is pleased to be part of one of the most dynamic culinary award initiatives in the industry. Congratulations to these organizations and individuals for their outstanding contributions to culinary research and development."

The 2005 MenuMasters Awards are presented in seven categories as follows:

Best Healthy Choice Menu Selection:

The award goes to T.G.I. Friday's for its Chicken La Boca, a new addition to the chain's Atkins-approved menu. The dish features sauted chicken breasts with oregano chimichurri, artichoke and a mix of diced tomato and basil. It is served with creamed spinach blended with bacon and finished with homemade Parmesan crisp. Phil Costner, vice president, R&D, for Friday's, is expected to accept the award for the 739-unit chain, which is part of Carlson Restaurants Worldwide.

Best Menu/Line Extension:

Uno Chicago Grill wins for its Deep Dish Sundae, an oversized warm chocolate chip cookie that is baked in a deep dish pan, topped with ice cream and whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. Based in Boston, Uno Chicago Grill has more than 200 restaurants in 33 states, Puerto Rico, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates. Chris Gatto, Uno's vice president, food and beverage, is expected to accept the award.

Best Menu Revamp:

Logan's Roadhouse, a Nashville, Tenn.-based, 135-unit chain, takes the prize for its spring and fall menu changes. In 2004 the chain introduced or improved 24 menu items, or 36 percent of its entire menu. Seventy-five percent of the appetizer line was new or improved, and four new seafood items were unveiled. Stephen Anderson, vice president, menu and culinary innovation, is expected to accept the award.

Best Single-Product Rollout:

San Diego-based Jack in the Box takes the top honor in that category for Pannido, a trio of deli-style sandwiches served on a foot-long toasted ciabatta baguette. The sandwiches include Turkey Pannido, Ham and Turkey Pannido, and Deli Trio Pannido. Jim Broussalian, director, menu innovation, for the more-than-2,000-unit chain, is expected to accept the award.

Best Limited-Time Offer:

The winner in that category is Panera Bread for its Vegetarian Fiesta Con Queso Soup. The dish features roasted bell and Anaheim chile peppers, simmered with onion, carrot, corn and tomato in a rich cheese sauce spiked with cumin, garlic, cilantro and Cholula hot sauce. John Taylor, who oversees R&D for the customer experience, is expected to accept the award for the Richmond Heights, Mo.-based chain, which operates 741 bakery-cafes in 35 states.

Best Independent Operator Menu:

Chef Thomas Keller's fine-dining restaurant The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., is the winner in that category. A member of the NRN Fine Dining Hall of Fame since 1999, the elegant establishment features new American food with a classic French accent. Keller and his staff offer three menus, which change daily. The restaurant seeks to showcase seasonal products.

Best On-site Operator Menu:

Aramark School Support Services will be honored in that category for its in-school brands called 12 Spot and U.B.U. Lounge. The Philadephia-based contract management firm manages foodservice programs for more than 420 school districts nationwide. The company's 12 Spot and U.B.U. Lounge are proprietary brands designed to motivate middle- and high-school students to frequent these in-school dining services daily.

Chef/Innovator:

Kurt Hankins, senior vice president, menu development and innovation for Applebee's, also received a MenuMasters Award for his company in 2003 for the Best Healthy Choice Menu Selection. That item, a low-fat chicken quesadilla, was part of an overhaul of the chain's healthy-eating menu, which Hankins spearheaded. He is being honored for building on his career successes as he and his staff continue to enhance Applebee's menu. The Overland Park, Kan.-based chain has more than 1,700 units in 49 states and 12 countries.

Hall of Fame:

David Overton, founder of The Cheesecake Factory and architect of one of the industry's most revolutionary casual dining menus, has been selected as the 2005 inductee into the Nation's Restaurant News MenuMasters Hall of Fame. Overton, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of the 89-unit Cheesecake Factory chain and five Grand Lux Cafes, will be honored on May 21 during the MenuMasters Awards ceremony at the Drake Hotel here. MenuMasters winners in a range of other special categories will be also receive awards at the ceremony.


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