We’ve walked, tasted and talked during this year’s National Restaurant Association. Along the way we’ve met some great people and seen some pretty interesting things. We took a look back to find this year’s Top Ten Things Seen at the Show.
Honey as a flavor ingredient. We saw it in cheesecake, ice cream, cookies, marinades, drinks (hot and cold), candy and more. It was mixed with truffle oil (shown here, from Gourmet Attitude) and added to gelato. It seems to be having a resurgence at the table and in platescaping—after all, some could call it the original drizzle. When it comes to flavor, expect to see honey appearing more and more.
The World Culinary Showcase. NRA really stepped it up this year, and delivered some really nice demonstrations. The chefs they scheduled did a great job of engaging with the audience, and showed new ideas and some fascinating skills, not the least of which was the gift of gab. It takes a lot to cook and entertain an audience for almost an hour, plus the flexibility of recovering from those ‘live’ mistakes. (Kristina won’t forget the cinnamon and cardamon next time!)
*The street trucks*—not just the center display, but the Streetza Pizza presentation and the filled-to-the-brim presentation moderated by Ray Villaman of Mobi Munch. These Twitter-talking trucks are fun to watch, particularly when you see their acceptance by mainstream restaurants. So, who’s out there starting the next big idea?
One of the coolest food items we saw was the Twist Potatoes, a Korean invention that uses a simple and inexpensive machine to turn potatoes, zucchini, and carrots into an eye-catching side dish. As we walked down the hall carrying our much-coveted sticks, we were literally stopped and quizzed about the product. The potato is twisted, fried, then dipped in a choice of dried options, including bulgogi powder.
You need a little Coke with your French fries, right? So, the crowd’s love Coke’s new dispensing machines. OK, so they had the machines in test for the past year so don’t know how ‘new’ we can call them, but the lines were among the longest at the event, so people are still catching on. They are all about personal choice and DIY. And, everywhere we went, someone said, ‘Have you seen those cool Coke machines?’
Speaking of long lines, Chef Rick Bayless had the longest line waiting at the cookbook signings, at least that we saw. It wrapped around for awhile, and the crowd happily waited while Chef Ludo Lefebvre jumped in for his own autographed copy. Even Charlie Rose took advantae of the Bayless fame, bringing him out on stage during the keynote session for a mini-interview. Bayless was a great partner at this event, which is how he made it our top ten.
Then there was the pure joy of the dance. We had just heard the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi talk about encouraging emotions—including joy—in the workplace, when the first NRA Show 2010 Foodie Flash Mob gathered on the Grand Concourse at McCormick Place. A surprising number of people got out and danced in what was billed as the first-ever restaurant flash mob dance Lady Gaga’s song ‘Just Dance’ ran through our heads all day, and we couldn’t help but smile at what we tagged on Twitter the ‘Pure Joy Dance.’ If you’d like to see the foodservice mob flashing their dance moves, click here.
Not to take you right back to reality, but the reality is, the economy was still in evidence at the show. Only this year it was about how people have managed the change. One interesting thing kept popping up—the movement toward ‘whole animal’ butchering and use of all pieces and parts in the restaurant. We watched as a whole hog was butchered in front of a crowd and learned how Chef Rob Levitt of Mado, for one, sees pork sirloin as the next big cut of meat.
Funnel Fries. Need we say more? A long time ago The Food Channel identified the trend toward Fair food and street food, and now we’re seeing it from the manufacturers. But these funnel fries, from J & J Snack Foodservice, were really good and fun to eat.
And then there was candy. We saw some of this at the NRA, but we saw it in abundance at the Sweet and Snack Expo: Licorice. You remember licorice, right? Those black and red strings that taste like . . . well, you know the taste, and either you love it or hate it. Well, that’s nostalgia, but the new licorice is very today with flavors such as black cherry, watermelon, and blueberry. Whether the renewed interest is due to the economy and our memories of penny candy, or the fun new flavors, the fact is, licorice is back and there are a bunch of companies ready to capitalize on it as you chew.
And, the winner for the best-tasting sample on the Show floor goes to the Fontanini sausage pizza. It was pure Italian flavor, and their brat gave it a run for the money. Nathan’s hot dogs are still a favorite, and their new sliders are pretty cool, so this was a hard one!