Todd Kelly often refers to a cookbook—more of a daily journal, really—from a chef whose jotted-down notes trace back to 1909. There are menus and recipes from the bygone kitchen, a space that’s since transformed into the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. Chef Kelly is no stranger to this kind of nostalgic pull.

Back in January, he crafted a “Netherland Birthday Party” for the Orchids at Palm Court’s 85th anniversary. The AAA Five-Diamond restaurant, located in the historic Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, offered dishes inspired by the hotel’s 1931 grand opening. In one example, Chef Kelly avoided soaking veal sweetbreads in milk since the ingredient was likely scarce during the Great Depression.

Reading the book, he continued to come across the concept of “soured butter.” Seeing as bread and butter service is one of the recurring details that arrive at each table, regardless of what a guest ends up ordering, Chef Kelly’s interest was piqued. “We really concentrate on the specifics that every single guest gets because we want everybody’s mind to be blown with it,” he says.

On May 22 during this year’s National Restaurant Association show, Chef Kelly will present Butter Me Up as part of the Foodamental Studio lineup. The 11:15 a.m. to noon course will teach attendees how to make in-house butter and how to dress up the often-overlooked ingredient with a signature touch.

This is something Chef Kelly has spent a great deal of time perfecting. At his restaurant, they craft a cultured butter that’s fermented for roughly four days to a specific pH of 3.75. Then the buttermilk is taken and used as a sauce for the butter. For instance, taking a green garlic-infused buttermilk and pouring it over tempered butter tableside. Chef Kelly says the experience hits an immediate and lasting note with diners.

“There are so many restaurants popping up all over the place where they don’t give you bread anymore, which is fine,” Chef Kelly says. “They’re charging everyone for bread and butter service. I have no problem with this, but when I pay $6 for bread and butter, and it’s butter or olive oil or something that just came out of a package, and bread that a local baker baked, I think it’s just a let down. If I can do it at home, I don’t want that.”

Chef Kelly sources the cream from a vendor located around 30 miles from the restaurant. The cookbook provided him with inspiration to take the next step and try culturing. He says the kitchen needed about three or four months to determine the ideal pH. “We didn’t want the butter to just be fat to go on the bread,” he explains. “We wanted the butter to really be the highlight, so that’s why we took the pH down as low as we did. It’s not necessarily sour, but when you’re eating that you know that you’re eating something a little bit different and a little bit special.”

The result has opened up boundless possibilities, both from a flavor and profit standpoint. Catering events have requested the service, including a wedding where Chef Kelly says they ended up serving 250 people the elevated staple. “When we started this we didn’t think it would be a revenue stream in our catering department, but it’s turned into one,” he says. “It’s kind of exciting to see how it grows. People want things that are interesting and different. The days of just normal butter and olive oil are kind of done, in a way.”

In the fall, Chef Kelly will sweeten the butter a bit and keep the pH a tad higher. He’ll create a spiced squash puree by juicing the vegetable and adding some vegetable stock, then cooking it, and letting the natural starches cook. After straining, servers pour the seasonal mix over curried-style bread to offer a comforting, savory feeling that consumer’s seek out in the wake of warmer months.

Compound butters are also a major draw. Chef Kelly preserves all of the restaurant’s truffle scraps in salt. “The truffle butters you typically see are loaded, often times, with soy and then truffle extracts. We save all of our Alba truffle white trimmings and all of our burgundy black truffles for two or three months and make these truffle butters, and they’re really, really just unbelievable.”

This will be the first time Chef Kelly has presented at the NRA show, which will take place at Chicago’s McCormick Place from May 21—24. When he was approached about taking part in Foodamental’s lineup, he figured butter would be a unique, interesting angle to try.

“We looked at things that we did and things that we felt would be interesting, and things that people can really relate to,” he says. “We could do something like present a pig, but I just think that it’s done and people have been doing a lot of those things. I just think the butter angle is pretty interesting. You can do it at home, you can do it at restaurants, and I think it’s something that not everybody is thinking of.” 

The official 2016 lineup of Foodamental Studio sessions includes:

Latitude Adjustment

CEO, CMO of Kor Food Innovation John Csukor 

Saturday, May 21 at 10—10:45 a.m.

Learn the art of latitudinal cuisine with John Csukor, CEO, CMO of KOR Food Innovation. This is the harmonious melding of two cuisines through general latitude, growing practices, indigenous ingredients, and cooking styles. Attendees will explore how to create new fusions and get practice creating some themselves.

Barreled Over By Balsamic 

Iron Chef America Judge and Italian Culinary Expert Mario Rizzotti

Saturday, May 21 at 11:15 a.m.—noon.

Bold, smooth, sweet, complex: not all balsamics were created equal. Learn how to taste balsamic vinegar the professional way with Iron Chef America judge and Italian culinary expert Mario Rizzotti. Mario will turn attendees into a balsamic vinegar connoisseur and show them a few tricks of the trade on tasting. 

Loco for Cocoa 

Vitamix Manager and Recipe Development Chef Bev Shaffer 

Saturday, May 21 at 1:45—2:30 p.m.

Chocolate is a perennial favorite, but now is the time to learn some new tricks for this top treat. Chef Bev Shaffer of Vitamix leads this fun, interactive session that immerses attendees in the flavors of chocolate. Attendees will taste different types and then make chocolate bark and chocolate espresso fondue.

Rules of the Rolls 

Roka Akor Corporate Executive Chef Ce Bian and Chef de Cuisine Justin Reding

Saturday, May 21 at 3—3:45 p.m.

Becoming a traditional itamae of sushi takes years of on-the-job training and apprenticeship. In this session, Corporate Executive Chef Ce Bian and Chef de Cuisine Justin Reding of Roka Akor Chicago will teach attendees the techniques and key components of a perfect roll. Attendees can touch and feel the roll while they practice the art of rolling sushi.

Under the Canapé 

Bottlefork and The Duck Inn Partner and Director of Food & Beverage Chef Kevin Hickey 

Sunday, May 22 at 10—10:45 a.m.

Chef Kevin Hickey of Bottlefork and The Duck Inn, known for his farm-to-table philosophy and big, bold flavors, will show attendees how to make his modern interpretation of a classic canapé, bruschetta. Chef Hickey will demonstrate and instruct attendees how to build the perfect spring bite using unique seasonal and non-traditional ingredients.

Butter Me Up

Orchids at Palm Court Executive Chef Todd Kelly 

Sunday, May 22 at 11:15 a.m.—noon. 

Butter is better when it's packed with complex flavors. Executive Chef Todd Kelly of Orchids at Palm Court will guide attendees through the process of making house made butter. Then, attendees will learn how to dress it up with unique, seasonal flavors and get inspired to try their own signature blends.

Twist and Salt 

Latinicity Culinary Director Daniel Moreno

Sunday, May 22 at 12:30 p.m.—1:15 p.m.

Go global with a new twist on serving seafood. Using lemon and salt to preserve and flavor seafood is a practice with deep historical roots that is experiencing a serious comeback on menus these days. Culinary Director Daniel Moreno will share the history of Peruvian ceviche and Spanish salty fish while teaching attendees these ancient techniques.

Crafting Flavor

Kendall College Chef Elaine Sikorski

Sunday, May 22 at 1:45—2:30 p.m.

Get familiar with bold flavors and how they influence plating presentation. Taking attendees beyond the recipe, Chef Elaine Sikorski of Kendall College will lead them through designing desired flavor perception of ingredients through the use of texture.

No Bones About It 

Director of Culinary and Business Manager of KOR Food Innovation Logan McCoy 

Sunday, May 22 at 3—3:45 p.m.

Make no bones about it—whole boned poultry is an art. Logan McCoy, Director of Culinary and Business Manager of KOR Food Innovation, will show attendees how to debone a whole chicken without piercing the skin. Once boned, they'll get to try out techniques for stuffing the bird so they can add fowl with flair to their menu.


Kendall College Instructor Chef Brendan McDermott

Monday, May 23 at 10—10:45 a.m. 

Kendall College's professionally certified Chef Brendan McDermott will teach attendees the proper way to handle and use the most important piece of equipment in the kitchen—the knife. Get a better grasp on proper hand placement to improve safety while practicing techniques with basic cuts.

What's the Dill With Pickles?

EL ideas Chef Phil Foss

Monday, May 23 at 11:15 a.m.—noon.

Historically, the preservation of food allowed people to build roots and live in one place, which helped form communities. Chef Phillip Foss of EL ideas will share his enthusiasm for and expertise on the art of food preservation with attendees. They can get their hands dirty while making a quick pickle to take home.

rePACKED: The Art of Dumpling Making

Packed Executive Chef Mike Sheerin

Monday, May 23 at 12:30—1:15 p.m.

According to Chef Mike Sheerin, anything can go in a dumpling and he's proven this at Packed, his fast-casual counter service dumpling and bao haus. Back by popular demand, he'll share his passion for the almighty dumpling by teaching attendees the basic mechanics of creating unique dumplings from scratch.

Get Down to Fizz-Ness

Hearty Boys and Author and Mixologist Steve McDonagh 

Monday, May 23 at 1:45—2:30 p.m.

Carbonated beverages are big business these days as customers look for better nutrition, natural taste, and fun food pairings. Author and mixologist Steve McDonagh of the critically acclaimed Hearty Boys will teach attendees the art of soda through tastings and a demo on how to make their own natural and tasty sodas from scratch.

Queen of Tarts 

Cookbook Author and Pastry Chef Gale Gand

Monday, May 23 at 3—3:45 p.m. 

When it comes to tarts, Chef Gale Gand knows how to build the best ones. Learn her tried-and-true tart techniques while attendees make their own pear tart. From puff pastry to a salted caramel sauce, they'll be preparing desserts that dazzle in no time. 

Taking Back Breakfast

The Eastman Egg Company Executive Chef Drew Davis

Tuesday, May 24 at 10—10:45 a.m. 

It is widely known that breakfast is the most important meal of the day for busy people.  So here’s the question: why do people limit themselves to the same old boring flavors and ingredients when they cook in the morning? Join this session as Executive Chef Drew of The Eastman Egg Company gives attendees the tools to create the perfect breakfast sandwich that brings new levels of flavor!

Brat Pack 

Snapchef Owner, Culinary Solutions International and Senior Business Advisor Karl Guggenmos

Tuesday, May 24 at 11:15 a.m.—noon.

Making an impeccable encased sausage is not an easy task—unless attendees know the principles behind working with forced meats. Karl Guggenmos, Owner of Culinary Solutions International and Senior Business Advisor at Snapchef, will teach them how to put together the perfect spice mix and create phenomenal filling, which they'll practice piping into casings to create their own signature brats.

Danny Klein

Chef Profiles, Industry News, Menu Innovations