National Restaurant Show dazzles Chicago at McCormick Place

National Restaurant Show dazzles Chicago at McCormick Place
Artisan knives. (Peter V. Bella)

The National Restaurant Association put on a dazzling display of the restaurant industry in Chicago. They took advantage of every square foot of McCormick Place to pack in exhibitors, vendors, and service providers to the restaurant trade.

McCormick Place staff demonstrated why the venue is a premier destination for conventions and trade shows. Chicago hospitality was on display for the international community to experience.

Several trends were evident at the National Restaurant Show. Companies are tapping in to various consumer issues and providing products, solutions, and services to address them. The show is too massive to do justice to all the various products, services, and equipment on display.

Packaging display. (Peter V. Bella)

Packaging display. (Peter V. Bella)

Several companies displayed disposables that were not only recyclable but compostable. Paper products made from wheat straw, disposable serving pieces made from various natural products, and single use or sample products made from paper instead of plastic. Even plastics were more friendly to the environment.

Gluten free and products for vegans were prominent, as more consumers embrace those eating habits. Quality, taste, texture, and visual appeal were the main proponents displayed.

Technology, especially digital technology, played an important role in the show. Numerous vendors spanning the array of restaurant operations had a major presence.

Food truck manufacturer. (Peter V. Bella)

Food truck manufacturer. (Peter V. Bella)

Food trucks are very popular. The popularity is fueled by creative cooks offering better fast food and consumers demanding more on the go choices.

There were rolling kitchens on display from various firms. The interior kitchens were no different than small brick and mortar establishments, some even better.

Schmacon, a product made of beef that is like bacon. (Peter V. Bella)

Schmacon, a product made of beef that is like bacon. (Peter V. Bella)

New quirky products were featured. Schmacon, a bacon like product made from beef created a stir at the show. Schmacon was also featured in several marketing emails about the show. Another product, the South Korean Ice Stick, is a crunchy tube made of corn product filled with soft serve ice cream.

Gaming exhibit. (Peter V. Bella)

Gaming exhibit. (Peter V. Bella)

There were gaming exhibitors, taking advantage of the many locales legalizing gaming. Restaurants can increase their bottom lines by including gaming machines in their establishments. Gaming is more popular than ever and companies are taking advantage of it.

House brewery equipment. (Peter V. Bella)

House brewery equipment. (Peter V. Bella)

Beer is another trend in the restaurant industry. Restaurants have the ability to brew their own custom suds. Equipment manufacturers displayed their shiny wares and products. Several Chicago restaurants brew their own beer. Independent brewers are growing in Chicago a fast clip. Distllers, like Koval, also are making a footprint in Chicago.

Aeroponic gardening. (Peter V. Bella)

Aeroponic gardening. (Peter V. Bella)

Restaurant farming is possible due to space saving aeroponic growing methods. Restaurants can grow their own herbs and greens on site. Some of the exhibits offered creative displays for businesses to show off their crops. Videos of celebrity chefs promoted the benefits of restaurant farming.

Produce was also prominent. Major food distributors like SYSCO had large exhibits of fresh produce. There were also small family farms displaying their products. Other exhibitors offered various wares to keep produce fresh longer, reducing costs to businesses.

Great names. (Peter V. Bella)

Great names. (Peter V. Bella)

Part of the NRA show is the International Wine and Spirits Event. This year held an exceptional variety of distillers, wineries, and brewers.

From the large distributors to small producers. Craft whiskey, tequila, vodka, gin, and other spirits are becoming very popular.

Many tastings were paired with food or dessert treats. One of the most popular were the red velvet cake balls.

Exotic meat display. (Peter V. Bella)

Exotic meat display. (Peter V. Bella)

Exotic products are also becoming popular. Game meats, spices, combinations or fusions are enticing the public's taste buds. Even vegan producers had wares such as vegan tuna salad.

The exhibitor at left offered kangaroo, camel, emu, and crocodile meat. Local grocery stores like Mariano's offer game meats, including python. This shows consumers are becoming more adventurous eaters and cooks.

:My name is Ugly". (Peter V. Bella)

:My name is Ugly". (Peter V. Bella)

Sanitation is a major factor in the restaurant industry. The NRA's ServSafe training program had a major exhibit at the show. Various vendors in the sanitation industry were also a major presence. Food safety and safe food handling is being stressed more and more to ensure healthy environments for customers and workers alike.

Stove parts from a Chinese manufacturer. (Peter V. Bella)

Stove parts from a Chinese manufacturer. (Peter V. Bella)

Along with the trendy and exotic were the mundane bread and butter exhibits. The equipment that produces the food, chefwear, and parts like casters or stove parts. Mops, cleaning supplies, oil saving equipment, knives, footwear, and a host of the day to day products all restaurants need and use on a daily basis.

The National Restaurant show has been a Chicago institution for 65 consecutive years. The association estimated fifty thousand people would attend this year's show. From the crowds Saturday and Sunday, they may exceed the estimate. Interviews with several exhibitors revealed they loved visiting Chicago. First time exhibitors were surprised Chicago is such a "vibrant" city.

Chicago's reputation as a food centric town is being enhanced with the announcement the 25th Anniversary James Beard Awards will be held here in 2015. The awards, the Oscars of the food business, will be held at the Civic Opera House. It will be the first time the Beard Award ceremony will be held outside New York City.

Here are more photos from the National Restaurant Show.

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