Restaurant trends, challenges addressed at Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo

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Still, consumers have a pent up desire to eat out, particularly at fast-casual restaurants, which continue to show the highest rate of growth. Wilson said 77 fast-casual chains reported more than 20 percent sales growth last year, showing far more growth than other segments.

In an overview of food trends on restaurant menus, Wilson said beverages are a key area of innovation, including everything from health-friendly coconut water and fresh juices to energy drinks and specialty teas. On the show floor, which included about 500 exhibitors, emerging trends included all-natural or organic beverages.

Better-for-you items, such as Greek yogurt, also remain hot. Other increasingly popular ingredients include woodland-foraged foods, such as mushrooms, nettles and ramps, as well as heirloom grains and produce.

Chefs, execs and students compete in Culinary Clash

A number of top executives from the CRA’s board gathered at the show Sunday for the Culinary Clash: Battle Anaheim, a competition of teams from 10 chains in a benefit that raised about $45,000 to benefit the CRA Educational Foundation.

The challenge was to prepare a dish using scallops and lamb in less than 45 minutes using only two butane burners. The dishes were judged by a panel that included Ferdinand Metz of the Master Chefs Institute and former Top Chef contestant Betty Fraser.

The competition had top executives and chefs paired with high school students in the ProStart program to prepare the dishes, which were judged by varying aspects. The team from Maria’s Italian Kitchen, for example, included chief executive Madelyn Alfano, corporate chef J.J. Berardis, who is also her nephew, and Imelda Morales of Santee High School in Los Angeles.

The winner for overall taste and presentation was the team from Daily Grill — though Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse was the Ecolab Champ for having winning food safety and sanitation practices.

The team from Yard House, which included Herrmann and founding chef Carlito Jocson, along with Ramiro Rodriguez from Newport Harbor High, raised the most money with a Facebook campaign that garnered $1,240.

Also during the show, Mariann Costello, vice president of the 47-year-old Scoma’s Restaurant in San Francisco, was named CRA chair, replacing outgoing chairman Harald Herrmann, chief executive of Yard House Restaurants. On deck for the chairman’s job next year is vice chair Kevin McCarney, founder of the Poquito Mas chain, based in Los Angeles.

Next year, the Western Expo is scheduled for Aug. 18-20 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout