Exploring the NRA Show

The National Restaurant Show was held a few weeks ago in Chicago, IL.  While it seemed to be smaller than in past years, I still found a few interesting items and ideas.  Let’s start with the “Best of Show”, for me it was the Cholive. 

Cholives are olive shaped dark chocolate truffles filled with creamy ganache.  They are marketed as the perfect pairing for cocktails, and fit the bill.  They are fun, delicious and fill a unique niche.  The booth had a couple fun promotions also; the first was handing out fuchsia elastic bracelets for show goers to wear around the show promoting Cholives.   If a “secret shopper” spotted you wearing the bracelet, you might win a year of free chocolate.  The second is a contest to take the most original and fun photo of you and your Cholive getting noticed at your favorite bar or restaurant – the winner receives a 7-day cruise!  Great marketing to get the word out about a new product in the markets they are trying to reach.  They also offered “Chruffles”- chocolate truffles to pair with wine.  Nice job to Joshua Gentine, the President of Cholive, who has inspired a truly unique, yet easily approachable new product with great flavors.  You can check out the Cholive at www.thecholive.com

There were plenty of savory dishes at the show worth the calories too!  Carla’s Pasta  had some interesting items, including a Cheeseburger Ravioli, filled with all the flavors of a cheeseburger (including the pickles!), then breaded.  The flavor combination and balance was perfect, and would be a great bar snack paired with a cold craft beer.  Carla’s Pasta was also showcasing their Steam & Serve pastas: pre-cooked pastas paired with sauce in a prepackaged steam bag that heats quickly in the microwave.  These items can be customized and are a great idea for simple preparation with minimal labor skill or equipment requirements.  Best of all, they tasted great.  I also found a few ideas that could potentially be great, even if the execution at the show wasn’t perfect.  Funnel cake “fries” were shaped and served like French fries and offer a fun, hand held snack or side dish, especially with a great dipping sauce, how about paired with White Chocolate Raspberry icing?? 

I also ran into caramel filled churros.  I loved the idea of a stuffed churro stick, and even think savory stuffed churros would be an easy, unique snack to eat on the go.  Similar to an item I saw at the Anuga show last fall in Germany, Chipstix was one a couple booths showcasing a fried, twisted potato on a stick.

This item is popping up all over the USA, but not sure how long it will really stick around!  I also saw a few very unique items that were completely new to me, including coquitos, which are baby coconuts the size of a nickel in diameter.  I’m still mulling how I would use them, but they intrigued me.  Maybe hollowed out and filled with mini flavor shots?  I also found small edible cones for hors d’oeuvres that were made of charcoal and were pitch black in color.  The charcoal cones made for a striking display, but aren’t available in the USA yet (they are used mostly in Japan).  Food truck booths seemed to have popped up; selling any type of portable vehicle you could possibly deliver food in, from bicycle delivery to monster sized trucks.  Street food is certainly here to stay, and being a huge fan of street food, this trend is one I want to stick around!

There were plenty of equipment options also, including the PacoJet, which mixes and purees frozen foods to produce a frozen and intensely flavored puree of extremely fine consistency.  It has been around for awhile, and I am curious when it will be in more chain restaurants as the resulting products are so unique and interesting.  It can create perfect sorbets and ice creams, but also makes the smoothes sauces, flavored pastes, soups, etc with bright, fresh flavors.  I have also run into the Sous Vide Supreme booth a few times now. They are offering a sous vide machine for home use.  Sous vide cooking has gained popularity in the last few years in fine dining and involves vacuum sealing food in airtight pouches, then submerging the bags into a temperature controlled water bath, typically cooking at much lower temperatures than those used in traditional cooking methods, but for a much longer time.  Sous vide cooking can produce extremely tender products, foods that are evenly cooked throughout, unique textures, higher yields and offers the opportunity to control cooking.  For example, a steak could be cooked and held in the pouch in the water bath for hours without overcooking, as the internal temperature remains consistent to the temperature setting.  There has been much controversy over sous vide cooking in fine dining, igniting a slew of legislation, so it will be interesting to see if consumers and home cooks pick up on this technology for home use. Green technology was prominent also, moving from green and recycled disposables to more interesting items such as non toxic ethanol gel, GreenPan™ Cookware,  eco-friendly non-stick pots and pans with PTFE/PFOA-free coating and Thermolon™, which emit 60% less CO2 in production and claims no toxic fumes are emitted. The surface will not peel when heated to high temperatures, unlike traditional non stick coatings.  GreenPan™ also uses a term called “constainability” (convenience and sustainability) for their products; maybe this one will make it into the dictionary or at least common usage.

The NRA proved to supply some unique items of interest this year, something it has not always done for me in the past, so along with the networking and incredible restaurants of Chicago, it was a good  trip full of inspiration!

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