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Nation's Restaurant News is changing the format of its annual MenuMasters celebration.

MenuMasters celebration to change its format

Never-before-seen menu items will be served at the gala

Nation’s Restaurant News is changing the format of its annual MenuMasters celebration, presenting attendees of the May 20 event with a menu that has never been seen before.

Now in its 26th year, MenuMasters, sponsored by Ventura Foods, honors culinary innovators who have pushed the boundaries of what can be done in restaurants.

In the past, guests got to try the award-winning menu items, which meant that the honorees spent much of the celebration dishing up food. This year, those chefs got together at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., and collaborated to develop dishes that will be served at the event, which once again will be held at the Drake Hotel in Chicago.

Chefs from Arby’s, Friendly’s, Twin Peaks, the Habit Burger Grill, Hopdoddy, and Virtual Dining Concepts were split into teams and presented with a protein category and a theme, and given five hours to develop menu items

Jason Truelove, the manager of product development and culinary innovation at Arby’s, was bemused that his team was instructed to prepare an item with the theme “global vegetarian,” considering his brand’s slogan is “We have the meats,” but he and his teammates did come up with something that MenuMasters attendees are bound to enjoy.

Truelove was joined at Johnson & Wales by his colleagues, corporate executive chef Michael Israel and senior culinary innovation manager Joshua McNally.

Arby’s is being awarded for its wagyu burger, which won in the category of best new menu item.

Also participating were Roberto De Angelis and Scott Brenneman, chief experience officer and field training manager, respectively, of Friendly’s Restaurants, which won for best menu revamp; Matthew Schweitzer, senior director of Hopdoddy Burger Bar, which won for best limited-time offer with its Lambda Lambda Burger; Adam Baird, who at the time was corporate chef of The Habit Burger Grill, which won for healthful innovation with its roasted garlic cauliflower; corporate executive chef Alex Sadowsky of Twin Peaks Restaurants, which won the best line extension award for its flatbreads; and J. Michael Grimes, operations services manager for Virtual Dining Concepts, which won in the new category of digital innovation.

The chefs actually developed the menu in around three hours under the watchful eye of Mark Lagges, the chef of the Drake Hotel, who will be in charge of preparing the food with his team on May 20, allowing the winners to enjoy the party.

Although the menu has yet to be revealed, the process of the ideation and creation of the dishes has been documented in a video series that is being released in the coming weeks.

View the first episode here.

In addition to the items that were developed at the Johnson & Wales collaboration event, guests at the awards celebration will also get to enjoy food prepared by Erick Williams of Virtue restaurant in Chicago, who is this the 2023 innovator of the year, and Lidia Bastianich, who is being inducted into the MenuMasters Hall of fame.

For more information about the celebration on May 20, visit

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