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NRN selects 2007 MenuMasters Award winners

CHICAGO - The restaurant industry never stands still as evidenced by the culinary creativity of the restaurants and individuals selected by Nation's Restaurant News as its 2007 MenuMasters Award winners

Now in its 10th year, the awards celebrate excellence in foodservice research and development and will be presented during ceremonies at the Drake Hotel here on Saturday, May 19. The MenuMasters Awards program is sponsored by Ventura Foods LLC.

Companies to be honored are Captain's D's Seafood, Chartwells School Dining Services, Dunkin' Donuts, Golden Corral, The Inn at Little Washington and Jack in the Box. Cliff Pleau, culinary director of Seasons 52 Restaurant, has been selected as the Chef/Innovator, and, as previously reported in NRN, Bert Cutino, co-founder of the Sardine Factory Restaurant, is the 2007 MenuMasters Hall of Fame inductee.

“MenuMasters is one of the most unique and special nights in foodservice as we recognize the achievements of outstanding culinary professionals and our Hall of Fame inductee,” said NRN publisher Alan Gould. “I congratulate our winners and thank them for helping make foodservice one of the most dynamic and exciting industries in the world.”

“Ventura Foods is proud to join with Nation’s Restaurant News in celebrating the 10th anniversary of MenuMasters, one of the most prestigious award programs in the foodservice industry,” said B. Kelly Brintle, senior vice president, corporate strategy and new business development for Ventura Foods. “The award winners listed here along with Bert Cutino, the 2007 Hall of Fame inductee, have made outstanding contributions to foodservice research and menu development – contributions that continually elevate our industry and bring immense pleasure to restaurant customers worldwide.”

The 2007 MenuMasters Awards are presented in seven categories as follows:

Best Menu/Line Extension: San Diego, California-based Jack in the Box, with more than 2,000-unit quick service operations, is the winner in this category for its chipotle chicken ciabatta sandwich, which was rolled out in April of 2006. This item features a choice of grilled or spicy crispy chicken with green leaf lettuce, sliced tomatoes, bacon and real cheddar cheese. It is topped with a smoky chipotle sauce and served on the chain's signature hearth-baked ciabatta bread.
Best Menu Revamp: Captain D's Seafood, the nearly 600-unit fast casual chain headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, captures this award with a menu revamp, which was launched last August. While retaining favorites like battered fish filets and seafood platters, the chain now offers Alaskan salmon, tilapia and farm-raised catfish and shrimp skewers. Also featured are pastas like shrimp scampi, shrimp alfredo and chicken parmesan. The number of side dishes has doubled to 14, including cheddar broccoli casserole and garlic mashed potatoes.
Best Single Product Rollout: Dunkin’ Donuts, a subsidiary of Canton, Massachusetts-based Dunkin’ Brands Inc., gets the nod in this category with its sausage supreme omelet. Best known for coffee and doughnuts, this chain with over 6,000 units worldwide, now offers several sandwich items, including this award-winning product featuring the chain’s original supreme omelet with melted American cheese. Rolled out last September, this sandwich is topped with a hearty sausage and served on a fresh-baked bagel.
Best Limited-Time-Offer: Golden Corral, the 480-unit buffet-style chain in Raleigh, North Carolina, earned this award with its “Everyone Deserves a Good Meal Every Day” promotion. The LTO ran from January through July 2006 and featured nightly theme menus. Sunday was carver’s table night, Monday featured shrimp, Tuesday focused on families, and Wednesday was Mexican. On Thursday it was barbecue, Friday was set aside for Fish and Saturday was steak.
Best Independent Operator Menu: This award goes to The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia, which opened in a converted garage in 1978 and has evolved from a simple country inn to an internationally known culinary destination. Chef Patrick O’Connell’s approach to cooking pays homage to classical French cuisine but reflects a belief in “the cuisine of today” – healthy, eclectic, imaginative and not restricted by ethnic boundaries. A few noteworthy items from Chef O’Connell’s innovative menu are Virginia country ham and frizzled ramps, carpaccio of baby lamb with rosemary mustard, and chilled Maine lobster with lemon caviar vinaigrette.
Healthful Innovations:The winner here is Chartwells School Dining Services, a division of Charlotte, NC-based Compass Group North America. Chartwells, which provides dining services for over 600 public school districts and private schools nationwide, wins for “Balanced Choices,” an innovative program to help schools meet and exceed their wellness goals. Introduced in January 2006, Balanced Choice menus are based on one standard menu but offer up to 20 variations. This gives Chartwells chefs the flexibility to create exciting dishes while assuring that each meal is complete, well balanced and nutritious.
Chef/Innovator: This award goes to Cliff Pleau, culinary director for Seasons 52, a seven-unit grill and wine bar that earned a Hot Concepts! Award in 2006 from Nation’s Restaurant News. At this Darden Restaurants concept, Pleau creates daily menus and also helps develop the restaurant’s young professionals. In a foodservice career spanning nearly 30 years, he has worked at high profiles establishments such as The Ritz-Carlton in Boston, Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, California, and Euro Disney in Paris. But looking back is not Pleau’s style: “Yesterday is not the focus,” he says. “What’s next is what matters. The best dish you’ve ever made just might be the next one.”

Hall of Fame: Bert Cutino, co-founder of the Sardine Factory restaurant in Monterey, California. Born in Carmel, California. Cutino grew up around Cannery Row when it was "The Sardine Capital of the World.”  He attended local schools and graduated from Monterey Union High School in 1957. After deciding he didn't want to follow his father into commercial fishing, he attended Monterey Peninsula College, graduating with a degree in business in 1964. He was later presented with the Distinguished Alumni Award by the California Association of Colleges. In 1988, he received the degree of Doctor of Culinary Arts, Honoris Causa, from Johnson & Wales College. Cutino started his career in the hospitality industry at the age of 13, and has worked in virtually all capacities, from dishwasher, chef, executive chef, manager and owner. He was in charge of a full-scale restaurant operation at the age of 19, and eventually became co-founder of four award-winning restaurants on the Monterey Peninsula. In 1968, Cutino and his partner, Ted Balestreri, opened the Sardine Factory in an old cannery worker's canteen in Monterey. The location and historical significance of Monterey, and more particularly Cannery Row (made famous by American literary giant John Steinbeck) provided the duo with the springboard for their menu and decor.  Due in large part to Cutino’s culinary efforts, the restaurant has gained national recognition and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including induction into the Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame in 1981.

MenuMasters Award winners are selected by the editors of NRN with input from a MenuMasters Advisory Board comprised of the 2006 MenuMasters winners. The board includes Gerard Lewis, senior vice president, research and development, Boston Market; Julie Reid, vice president, research and development, Ruby Tuesday; Brian Sullivan, senior vice president, culinary development, California Pizza Kitchen; Warren Widicus, chief food innovation officer, Taco Bell; Karen Haynes, Walt Disney World food and beverage marketing and media manager (Jiko – The Cooking Place); James J. Osborne, chief executive officer, Williamson Hospitality Services; Dan Coudreaut, director of culinary innovation, McDonald’s USA.


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