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.
Restaurants being honored this year are Taco Bell, Noodles & Company, Papa John’s International, Silver Diner, Red Lobster and Cooper’s Hawk Winery.
Also being honored are Cleveland-basedJonathon Sawyer, who has been named Innovator of the year, and José Andrés of Think Food Group in Washington, D.C., who is being inducted into the MenuMasters Hall of Fame.
“The 2013 MenuMasters honorees are prime examples of the kind of menu innovation that makes this industry so exciting,” said Jim Goggin, senior vice president of Ventura Foods. “They have not only inspired their peers, but have also managed to surprise and delight their customers with delicious dining experiences. We look forward to congratulating this year’s winners and celebrating the 16th annual MenuMasters celebration.”
Winners will be fêted at a gala ceremony at the Drake Hotel in Chicago on May 18, where guests will receive a limited-edition print by artist Mark Andrew Bailey, who will be at the party to sign it.
“When selecting MenuMasters awardees, we don’t only take into consideration culinary ingenuity, but also the likely impact of the candidates on foodservice as a whole,” NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn said. “This year’s winners are a great mix of terrific new proteins, creative flavor combinations and adjustments to menus that are likely to pave the way for further innovation.”
Learn more about this year's honorees on the following pages.
Best New Menu Item: Doritos Locos Tacos from Taco Bell, Irvine, Calif.
These taco-shaped nacho cheese Doritos stuffed with Taco Bell filling were introduced across this Yum! Brands subsidiary’s 5,670 units on March 8, 2012. One hundred million Doritos Locos Tacos were sold in the first 10 weeks of the release, resulting in a same-store sales increase of 13 percent — making it the most successful product launch in the chain’s 50-year history. The tacos were introduced at a suggested price of $1.29 for a regular Doritos Locos Taco and $1.69 for a Doritos Locos Taco Supreme.
Best Menu/Line Extension: Slow braised naturally raised pork from Noodles & Company, Broomfield, Colo.
This 314-unit fast-casual chain augmented its existing line of , steak, shrimp and tofu with this new protein, which can be added to any dish for $2.69. Marinated, seared, slow-roasted and then hand-pulled, this item has about 160 calories per serving and was promoted with two limited-time offerings: a pulled pork sandwich on ciabatta, and pork-topped macaroni and cheese drizzled with barbecue sauce and topped with crispy onion.
Best Menu Revamp: Red Lobster, Orlando, Fla.
On October 15, 2012, this 705-unit Darden Restaurants subsidiary launched the most comprehensive menu transformation in the brand’s 40-year history, addressing concerns about high prices and limited variety.
The chain now features more entrées priced under $15; vegetarian options; expanded beverage options including handcrafted lemonades, flavored teas and skinny cocktails; and it’s first-ever pork chop — wood grilled and topped with apple compote and peach bourbon barbecue sauce.
Best Healthful Innovations: The kids’ menu at Silver Diner, Rockville, Md.
This 14-unit chain brought in 31 young guests, aged 5-12, and presented them with a five-course tasting of better-for-you items. Based on their feedback, Silver Diner reconfigured its kids menu so that all entrees come with fruit or vegetable and milk or juice, and expanded it to include teriyaki grilled salmon, a chicken pizza quesadilla and other items fitting the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell criteria. The chain also removed French fries, home fries and soda from the printed menu.
Best Limited-Time Offer: Buffalo Chicken Pizza at Papa John’s International, Louisville, Ky.
Inspired by the popularity of Buffalo wings, Papa John’s introduced this pizza as an LTO at more than 3,000 restaurants in April 2012. It was so successful that it was introduced again in September to kick off football season, and many franchisees chose to keep it on the menu through November. Buffalo Chicken Pizza is now on the permanent menus of more than 250 restaurants, and Papa John’s management said it plans to make it one of the chain’s first international LTOs.
Menu Trendsetter: Asian BBQ Pork Belly Nachos from Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants, Countryside, Ill.
Chinese-style red braised pork on top of Latin-inspired nachos combine the exotic with the familiar in a forward-looking post-fusion style that points the way to a more adventuresome dining public. This $8.99 item of crisp tortillas, braised pork belly, scallions, sesame seeds, cilantro, radish and sweet chile barbecue sauce is a top-selling appetizer at this 11-unit concept.
Innovator: Jonathon Sawyer, Cleveland, Ohio.
From ramen mash-ups at his Noodlecat to heirloom Ohio bean farrotto or roasted pig head at The Greenhouse Tavern, to roasted local-garlic pretzels at SeeSaw Pretzel Shoppe, Jonathon Sawyer has helped put his hometown on the global culinary map while delighting customers and promoting local producers.
Sawyer began his career at The Biltmore Hotel in Miami, and then moved to New York, working under chefs Charlie Palmer and fellow Clevelander Michael Symon.
He then returned to Cleveland in 2007 and started turning heads with his work at Bar Cento before opening his own restaurant, French-inspired farm-to-table Greenhouse Tavern, which became the first certified green restaurant in Ohio and the flagship of a growing restaurant empire.
Hall of Fame Inductee: José Andrés, Think Food Group, Washington, D.C.
Spanish-born Andrés’ influence on the American culinary scene began with the 1993 opening of Jaleo in Washington, D.C., which has been credited with helping to spark the popularity of tapas in the United States.
Since then he has helped popularize Eastern Mediterranean cuisine with Zaytinya and avant-garde cooking with Minibar while helping to address hunger problems both at home and abroad as founder of World Central Kitchen and as chairman emeritus of DC Central Kitchen.
He also opened Oyamel and Café Atlantico in Washington, D. C., and The Bazaar, with locations in Beverly Hills, Calif., and Miami Beach, Fla.
Last year he opened another avant-garde restaurant, é by José Andrés, at The Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas. At the end of 2012 he opened Mi Casa at Dorado Beach in Dorado, Puerto Rico.
In 2011 Andrés also opened a pop-up restaurant, America Eats Tavern, in conjunction with a National Archive exhibit that chronicled the government’s influence on the American diet.
He won the 2003 James Beard Foundation award for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic, and he was inducted into the foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America in 2007. In addition, he was named one of GQ magazine’s men of the year in 2009 and won the James Beard Foundation Award for outstanding chef in 2011.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 28, 2013 This story updates Red Lobster's correct unit count.