The annual National Restaurant Association Show took place this past weekend in Chicago. Taking up three exhibit halls on multiple levels at McCormick Place, the nation’s largest convention center, the show included over 1,800 companies involved in every aspect of the food service industry. Vendors displayed everything from creative packaging and dishware to unique lighting and state-of-the-art kitchen appliances. Companies helping to give restaurants a presence on the internet were present as well, offering showgoers a wide range of products and services to consider.
The highlight of walking the show floor was, of course, the free samples. It was impossible to go hungry even after hiking the massive exhibition halls from one end to the other. Suppliers of all sorts offered tastings. PreGel America served up tiny crème brulees and scoops of decadent gelato. Nathan’s was on hand with mini hot dogs, while cheeses of all flavors and textures were available from Wisconsin’s best producers. Coca-a-Cola and Pepsi each had massive displays with samples of their wide range of products. There was a little bite of nearly every cuisine, a great incentive for the long days of walking.
The 2013 NRA Show had a number of new and interesting features. Gluten-free, organic, and vegan diets were given their time to shine in the Alternative Bitestyle section. A few winners of the Food And Beverage Innovation Awards were found here, including spinach and feta pockets from Chicago’s own Kiki’s Gluten-Free Foods.
Another innovation on display was a hydroponic garden, using artificial light and nutrient-rich water in place of soil. Championed by Chef Homaru Cantu of Moto, this free-standing gardening method would allow restaurants to grow herbs, micro-greens, and even larger vegetables directly in their kitchens. You can’t get a faster farm-to-fork than that!
The World Culinary Showcase was a huge draw. This stage held demonstrations by some of the country’s best chefs throughout the convention’s duration. Rick Bayless, Cat Cora, Mike Isabella, Marcus Samuelsson, and many others answered questions from the audience as they walked through the preparation of one of their favorite dishes. Book signings followed the sessions, offering a unique chance to get close to this world-renowned chefs.
The monstrous four-day show offered plenty to think about for the coming year of restaurant trends. Keep an eye out to see which new ideas move from the convention center to your plate!