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NRN selects 2008 MenuMasters Award winners

Chicago- Nation's Restaurant News has named as the 2008 winners of its MenuMasters Awards four restaurant chains, a landmark New Orleans eatery, a university dining service and the culinary chief of a contract foodservice giant.

In addition, Roger Berkowitz, president and chief executive of the Boston-based Legal Sea Foods dinnerhouse chain, has been selected as the 2008 inductee into the MenuMasters Hall of Fame, recognizing his dedication to quality, innovation and progressive corporate-responsibility initiatives.

Sponsored by Ventura Foods, MenuMasters honors excellence in research and development with awards that will be presented during ceremonies at the Drake Hotel here May 17.

"Each year MenuMasters showcases some of the most innovative menu items and promotions that are resonating with customers," said NRN publisher Tom Larranaga. "This is a unique awards program, and we salute the companies and individuals being honored."

B. Kelly Brintle, Ventura Foods' senior vice president of corporate strategy and new business development, said the company is "pleased to join Nation's Restaurant News in honoring the menu creativity and excellence that is at the heart of the MenuMasters Awards program."

"We are also thrilled to celebrate the career accomplishments of Roger Berkowitz on his Hall of Fame selection," Brintle said. "Congratulations to all our award winners for consistently going the extra mile to exceed the expectations of consumers from coast to coast. You do our industry proud."

The 2008 MenuMasters Awards are presented to:

Best Menu/Line Extension: Red Lobster, the 678-unit flagship chain of Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants Inc., in the category of Best Menu/Line Extension, for its expanded fresh-fish offerings of varieties flown in from select sources
Best Menu Revamp: O'Charley's, the 240-unit casual-dining chain based in Nashville, Tenn., which took Best Menu Revamp honors for its seven Flavor Road items. Among the creations are a cedar-planked-salmon chopped salad, New York Pizza Pie Pasta and a dessert bag of cinnamon-sugar doughnuts
Best Single Product Rollout: Maggiano's Little Italy, a 42-unit division of Dallas-based Brinker International Inc., whose braised-beef cannelloni is being recognized as Best Single Product Rollout. Flavored with Asiago and Parmesan cheeses and finished under the broiler, the dish was devised by the team of chefs under senior director of culinary, Keith Brunell.
Best Limited-Time-Offer: Burger King won for Best Limited-Time Offer for its Homestyle Melt sandwiches. Introduced last October, the two sourdough bread-based items - a double burger with bacon, and a breakfast version with sausage, egg, cheese and honey butter - exceeded BK's forecasts for the six-week LTO period..
Best Independent Operator Menu: Commander's Palace in New Orleans won for Best Independent Operator Menu. A New Orleans landmark since 1880, the bastion of Creole cuisine has been operated since 1974 by Ella, Dottie, Dick and John Brennan. Its kitchen has been run by such stars as Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse and current executive chef Tory McPhail.
Healthful Innovations: The University of Connecticut's Department of Dining Services will be honored in the Healthful Innovations category for the school's spa foods menu, featuring select meat, fish, whole-grain and legume ingredients.
Chef/Innovator: Paul Carr, senior director of culinary for Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp., is MenuMasters' Chef/Innovator of the year. He leads a team of 10 R&D chefs and serves as culinary liaison to Aramark's International Guest Chef Exchange program. The 20-year-plus foodservice veteran is a 1985 graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Hall of Fame: As the Hall of Fame inductee, Berkowitz joins such luminaries as Lagasse, Richard Melman, Jacques Pepin, Prudhomme and the late Col. Harland Sanders. He began working at age 10 in his family's fish market and restaurant, learning every aspect of the business. Berkowitz has led Legal Sea Foods through three decades of growth to more than 30 upscale East Coast branches.

The MenuMasters Awards winners are selected by the editorial board of Nation's Restaurant News.

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