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Chicagoist at NRA Show 2010

By Chuck Sudo in Food on May 25, 2010 2:20PM


Every year, the National Restaurant Association releases its top 20 trends in the restaurant industry on the eve of its annual trade show (closing its run today at McCormick Place). And yet we've stopped being surprised at the disconnect between the report — with its focus on local, sustainable and nutritious foodstuffs — and the realities on the show floor with its emphasis on pre-packaged, processed food, factory farms and heavy duty refrigeration. Two of the larger exhibitors in the Illinois Department of Agriculture section were Marconi and Caputo Foods, respectively. Let's not even bring up the seeming race between Nathan's and Vienna Beef to see who could serve the most hot dogs. That said, there was an increased emphasis on local foods within the regional exhibits this year. The Departments of Agriculture for Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota were expansive and promoted a wide array of produce and foodstuffs from their respective states.

Look around long enough and there were vendors promoting the latest in gluten-free products, sustainable seafood and artisan spirits at the companion International Wine Spirits and Beer event. Imagine the shock at seeing a vendor exhibit near the Vienna Beef line promoting Lithuanian vodkas, including flavor infused options. And not crappy flavored vodkas like Stoli. These were vodkas with added cranberries and raspberries that had the tint to prove it. They were also promoting Starka and "Three Times." Both are vodka-based liqueurs infused with herbs and spices, the latter could give Malort a run for its money in bitterness and gag factor.

The other big noticeable trend, if only that you couldn't miss it, was food trucks. A small pavilion was set up at the show to promote the latest in food truck technology for chefs and budding entrepreneurs who can't afford the start-up capital for an actual restaurant. The snowball that is fast becoming Chicago's street food movement is rapidly gaining momentum. Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller broke the news yesterday that 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waugespack will submit legislation June 9 to City Council hoping to amend existing regulations regarding food truck vendors, making it easier for them to be licensed and rolling the streets. Pictured above is the "Ludobites" fried chicken truck from "Top Chef Masters" villain Ludo Lefebrve.