The Latest & Greatest from the 2011 National Restaurant Show

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We had the chance to visit the National Restaurant Show this week in Chicago. This truly is a foodie's paradise - a chance to see the latest trends to hit the restaurant scene.  We were overwhelmed by the hundreds of vendors with incredible displays, from the giant kitchen supply vendors to the people who provide specialty foods to the industry.

Here are some of the most interesting things we saw at the show:

Kevin Zraly

Kevin was the opening speaker for the International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event 2011 at the NRA Show. Just coming off his win of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the  James Beard Foundation, Kevin was in fine spirits. He is an engaging speaker who is not only hilarious, but also makes the potentially stuffy world of wine interesting, accessible and fun. We thoroughly enjoyed the hour discussion with him on Sunday morning. We highly recommend his latest book the updated Windows on the World Complete Wine Course 25th Anniversary Edition. He breaks down the worlds most important varietals in  simple, easy to understand language.


Gluten-free is the new black

The gluten-free crowd has grown to 50 million Americans and this audience has now come to expect gluten-free (GF) products at their local restaurants.  There were several vendor featuring GF products and we had the chance to sample a few.  We were pleasantly surprised that many vendors now have much more palatable offerings. We sampled some cookies from Udi's and potato chips from Condor Snack Company that were very tasty. This is great news for all our GF friends.


Green products and sustainability are top of mind

There were many products featured that helped restaurants reduce their use of water and energy as well as a separate section for organic and natural products. One of the most clever products we saw was the edible spoon. These spoons are perfect for passed appetizers or desserts. No need to clean up, recycle or worry. The consumer eats the contents and the spoon!



These folks started their tea company back in 2000 in an effort to give back to the community.  Their tea garden provides a living wage within the first USDA-certified organic garden that is in Bangladesh. They not only create jobs but also provide education, health and cattle-lending programs for the people working in the garden and surrounding areas. We had a chance to chat with Co-Founder and CEO, Linda Appel Lipsius. We were very impressed with the Teatulia products that we tasted and, of course, we greatly admire their commitment to creating a business that produces not only an impressive product but also helps uplifts the lives of people and makes the world be a better place.



Coca-Cola Freestyle

We first saw this new Coke fountain machine on a recent visit to the Five Guys burger location in Oak Park, Illinois.  This was truly one of the most crowded booths at the event. Coke is celebrating their 125th anniversary and pulled out all the stops for the show. Here they demonstrated the new machine that features over 100 different types of soda flavors.  I was especially intrigued by this wonder as I avoid most caffeine products but love the taste of Coke.  I was able to "custom" blend caffeine-free diet Coke with cherry, vanilla, lime, lemon and raspberry flavors. All from a easy to use and read digital touch screen. It's fun, and you make the choices.



Mascots, Mascots, and more Mascots!!

I love mascots, and I love the folks that have the patience, energy and ability to get into the costumes and try to engage anyone they encounter. The NRA Show had plenty of these stalwarts wandering around and we were able to catch a few. The Heinz Ketchup bottle was the winner, as it was a robot that interacted with the crowd and taunted folks to take pictures with it. Very fun addition by the ketchup people, who were introducing their new dip and squeeze ketchup package for the consumer on the go. The Jiffy corn muffin mix mascot deserves honors as the most mischievous mascot - it was seen taking pleasure from tripping unsuspecting show goers to get them to stop and visit. Fortunately, I didn't fall for it!



This was a home town success story.  Three retired Chicago neighbors worked together to bring Crumble-Ons to the restaurant market.  These unique little creations are Crumble-Ons S'Mores Crunch, small pieces of chocolate-coated graham crackers and marshmallows make these an easy addition to any recipe. They were sampling pancakes with Crumble-Ons but they are easily blended in cookies, sundaes, yogurt...only your imagination limits their use.  Currently only available for restaurants, the inventors hope to someday make their product available at retail locations.


These were just a few of the hundreds of great products and ideas on display at this year's NRA Show. We had more than our share of hot dogs, broasted chicken, pizza, soda, tea, Bloody Mary Beef Straws, pretzels, cookies and ice cream. Two things to remember when you go to the NRA Show - wear your comfy shoes and bring some antacids.


One last thing another cool thing that happened at the NRA Show was the Foodie Flash Mob lead by Pastry Chef extraordinaire Gale Gand. Check out the video below.