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Review: National Restaurant Association Trade Show

By Chuck Sudo in Food on May 19, 2008 2:00PM


Even with less people dining out these days, the National Restaurant Association is projecting a 4.4 percent increase in sales for the restaurant industry this year, to an estimated $558 billion.

The NRA's annual trade show (running through Tuesday at McCormick Place) reflected that optimistic outlook. Vendors were jammed throughout the exhibition halls promoting the latest in appliances, cookware, foodstuffs, clothing, entertainment, storage and designs.

The show also focused on what the NRA calls its top 20 hot trends for 2008, which haven't changed that much in recent years. It's a bit daunting working one's way through a convention while representatives for countless companies try to press the flesh. Trade show hell is not a preferred way to spend a weekend. But there were some innovations that we found during our stay.

Niles-based Polyscience, auctioning off an anti-griddle autographed by Grant Achatz for cancer research today, was displaying their latest sous vide immersion systems for an audience adoring, curious, and skeptical of their majicks. Noting the popularity of their portable smoker with Richard Blais on Top Chef Chicago, founder and President Philip Preston said that a new version of the smoker should be available within a couple months. "This one will look more like a kitchen implement and less like drug paraphernalia," Preston said. Noting that torches tend to destroy the wooden bowl of the original, the new smoker will have a metallic bowl and chamber assembly, allowing for more smoke in a shorter time.

Solex Partners, LLC in North Center, who've been making a killing importing the rich, buttery Jamon Iberico, was hard at work promoting texturas. Created by progressive chef Ferran and Adrian AdriĆ , texturas are kits that allow chefs to experiment and make the types of food served at AdriĆ 's el bulli, Alinea, moto, and assumedly Graham Elliot (when it opens). Solex also offered tastings of Jamon Iberico that made the Canadian bison we sampled soon after akin to pooping in someone's mouth and calling it a sundae.

Two of the more curious inventions we found at the show were the Bev Wizard wine and spirits smoothers. Bev Wizard Executive Vice President Tom Thompson and Operations Vice President Mac Lindsey claim the smoothers use a two-stage process of forced aeration, followed by the fluid passing between two magnets, to soften the tannins and oak in wines, and oak in dark spirits, although they ultimately conceded that they "don't really know how it works." We couldn't tell a discernible difference in the wine we sampled, but Jack Daniels poured through a smoother was nearly undrinkable. It set our mouth on fire and made us curious enough to request samples of each for more testing.

Our favorite booth at the show was the Bacon Salt booth. Who doesn't want everything to taste like bacon? Then we read that the bacon flavoring was artificial, which took some of the shine off the product. Still, this is going to find a home with barbecue aficionados.

Energy drinks aren't going away anytime soon. But the makers of the Alcohol Killer line of energy drinks are on the right path to making one we would actually consider consuming. These drinks are loaded with B vitamins and claim to sober one up as they're consumed. Alcohol Killer drinks also contain no artificial sweeteners or caffeine, which is what provides the boost in energy in Red Bull.

Gelatos and sorbets were on major display at the show. One of the more intriguing booths was Wine Cellar Sorbets. Founder and "sorbet sommelier" David Zablocki painstakingly sources the wines for his sorbets, crafting recipes that bring out the characteristics of the wines. Zablocki was introducing his latest sorbets made from port wine and sake. He also told us that Wine Cellar Sorbets should be available nationally within the next month.