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National Restaurant Association - 6 innovations from the NRA Show

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6 innovations from the NRA Show

More than 70,000 operators are at the NRA Show in Chicago to find innovations in food and beverage, technology, kitchen equipment and front-of-the-house solutions. Here's a look at Day 1.

Foodie fundamentals

Restaurant operators tried their hands at food photography, pickling, bread making, cheese pairings and more Saturday at the Foodamental Studio. The hands-on workshop offers crash courses in food trends throughout the four days of the NRA Show.  One trend: more interesting beverage pairings with cheese. “Getting away from wine and cheese and getting into craft beers and cheese or getting into hard cider and cheese and all the incredible styles of cider we’re starting to see now is, to me, huge," said Lisa Futterman, who led the cheese course. "When I talk about cider, I mean artisanal cider to go with artisanal cheese; or whiskey and cheese and even coffee and cheese or tea and cheese. My favorite pairing I’ve had  that blew my mind  is house-made, fresh ginger beer with cheese. Total mouth explosion. It was fantastic," said the cheesemonger from Pastoral Artisan Cheese in Chicago.

Mobile engagement

Looking for ways to help your guests use cell phones to order and pay for food? Mobile ordering, payment and engagement solutions are available in the Technology Pavilion and throughout the Show floor. Examples: New software to help customers order from restaurants for pickup and delivery, pay for orders, participate in loyalty programs, monitor wait times, share information on social media, and more. Other systems help operators analyze customer behavior to better serve them in the future. "Restaurateurs have always competed over physical real estate for restaurants," says exhibitor John Valentine, vice president of sales, LevelUp. "Now the hottest real estate is in customers' pockets on their cell phones."

Edible flowers

More chefs are adding flavor, color and interest to the plate through edible flowers, says David Sasuga, president, Fresh Origins. Pansies are among the more commonly used edible flowers, while oyster flowers (which taste like fresh oysters) and garlic fennel are among the more unusual varieties. The garlic fennel is so pungent that Sasuga could smell it on the other side of his booth after a few chefs stopped by to try to it. Chefs also like the sweet anise flowers, which pair well with seafood, Sasuga says. In addition to flavoring dishes with tasty blooms, chefs add flavor, color and crunch to desserts, salads and savory dishes with cane sugar flavored with cilantro, rose, fennel and other herbs and flowers.

Space-saving equipment

From street stalls and food trucks to high-end hotels, the New York governor’s mansion and the White House, chefs are saving space, labor and energy with vertical combi-ovens from Kitchen Innovations recipient Rational. The ovens cook with steam and dry heat and eliminate the need for open flames, says regional sales manager Jose Gonzalez. The product’s sensors automatically regulate and adjust cooking time, heat and consistency. It allows chefs to do mixed loads, such as steaming broccoli and salmon, at the same time, without cross transferring flavors, he says. Chefs like it because they also have consistent results, no matter who’s cooking. “I call it ‘chef in a box,’ ” he says. “You can run a restaurant without any other piece of cooking equipment.” 

Digital menu boards

As the technology improves and the price comes down, digital display menu boards continue to grow in popularity. Digital menu boards offer flexibility to change content by day part, alter prices and add nutrition information. Plus, more operators are looking into digital menu boards to comply with the federal menu-labeling law.

Innovative flavoring

Stumped for low-sodium alternatives to meat or vegetable stock? Chefs are adding flavor with savory, decaffeinated  green tea to poach fish, sauté vegetables or steam rice and quinoa, says Heather Dean of Numi Tea. The company doesn’t add sodium to its savory teas; the only sodium in the product comes naturally from the vegetables use to make the teas.



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