This year marked my first visit to the National Restaurant Association show, and it was such a tremendous experience! Thousands of booths filled two halls at McCormick Place in Chicago, with new products and old favorites dotting the rows and rows of booths. Whether it was a fashion show from Chef Works, a giant semi truck with a 12,000-pound potato on it or a Chinese riff on a classic Chicago-style hot dog, there was plenty of pizazz to be had on the show floor, and tons of new products for caterers to check out.
I saw tons of great presentations, silverware and settings, and it was hard to pick a favorite of the show, but the painter’s palette from Turgla would be ideal for more intimate settings, allowing you to pair your food with different flavors in an literally artistic and vibrant presentation.
These melamine faux-Mason jars from G.E.T. give a little color to the rustic, old-fashioned trend and definitely spiced up the show floor with a bright, trend-setting palette.
Also making their debut at the show were WNA‘s Signature Series, which allows for custom logo printing on elegant disposables, giving caterers a higher level of branding contact with their customers.
Front of the House launched their eco-friendly new servewise series, but in all honesty, the highlight of their NRA show was their 10-year celebration that featured some spectacular juggling of barware from two Las Vegas bartenders (who have also attended the Catersource Tradeshow with FOH), seen here performing some feats of pourage in a very shaky photo taken by yours truly – apologies! I was busy cheering!
In the Cool and Functional Stuff for Your Kitchen arena, I was super impressed by the Spin Zester, and wasn’t surprised at all to hear it had won a Kitchen Innovations Award from the NRA. It was fast, functional and sleek. Another innovations award-winner was the Springboard Biodiesel BioPro EX, which can help turn your cooking oil into fuel for your vehicles. Attendees at the Catersource booth were also quite excited by the SilverSaver System, which saves your flatware from the trash without inefficient digging.
In flavors and foods for caterers – the best part of the show! – the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board showcased its Picks & Bites brochure and poster, which proves some clever ideas for tastings – including watermelon and feta (which I tried and loved the sweet and salty combinations of textures) and tapas pick, which looks delicious.
Speaking of tapas, the Spanish jamón ibérico – illegal in the U.S. until 2007 – made a huge splash at the NRA show, with its killer backstory about acorn-frenzied pigs. The company that produces the ibérico, Fermin, had an impressive setup of the thinly sliced Spanish delight.
Mediterranean flavors were featured throughout the show, from hummus snack chips to Greek yogurt and everything in between. And the flavor “umami,” along with the words “pickled” and “aged” are moving out of foodie circles and into the mainstream, according to a roundup by Olson Communications.
And finally, I learned that there is such a thing as Colorado tequila from the Colorado Distillers Guild – and it was lovely. As a spirits nerd, I was also super impressed by the Pear Brandy from the Peach Street Distillers and was blown backwards by the Ole Smoky Moonshine Cherries, which were delicious, but not for the faint of heart.
Not for the faint of heart is a phenomenal way to characterize the whole of the NRA experience: the weekend was filled with meeting caterers at our booth, getting a taste of every booth possible and getting to know our fellow attendees at receptions and parties – and it was exhausting! But I’m looking forward to next year, when Catersource will be back at the National Restaurant Association show – and I hope to see you there.