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National Restaurant Association - New and cool at the NRA Show

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New and cool at the NRA Show

As the NRA Show gets underway in Chicago, we explore cool, new innovations that help restaurants operate more efficiently, satisfy customer cravings and stand out from the competition. Here are some of our discoveries:

Edible 3D printing.

3D printing moves beyond toys, tools and prosthetic limbs. 3DSystems, which invented 3D printing in 1983, introduced its technology to the culinary world at the NRA Show. Its professional-grade, stainless steel culinary printer creates candy, cake toppings and other sweet treats. Restaurants, bakeries and bars can create their own designs or download them from archived sources. For the orchid cupcake toppers, 3DS downloaded a 3D scan of a rare orchid from the Smithsonian Insitution, then altered the size and color, says culinary creative director Kyle von Hasseln. The sugar skulls were designed by a London jewelry maker.

How it works: The printer spreads fine layers of sugar and adds wet ingredients, such as water and flavoring, to harden the creations layer by layer. The candy, fondant or sugar "sculpture" comes out fully formed. Unlike typical 3D printers that print in metal, acrylic, glass or ceramic, the ChefJet Pro can only print food.

Robots are among us. Or they will be.

Meet Baxter. He came to the NRA Show to show the show the restaurant kitchen of the future, thanks to Pitco,a  fryer, rethermalizer and pasta cooker manufacturer. An automated cooking process by robots can improve product consistentcy and operational efficiency, says Pitco rep Bob Brown. "It's not in restaurants yet, but based on the amount of interest, it's coming."

This is milk? You must be nuts.

Milkadamia, a vegan, dairy-free product made from Australian macadamia nuts, is the first of its kind to be sold in the United States. An 8-ounce serving contains 130 calories and 4 grams of protein. The beverage uses less water in its growing and production processes than other nut milks. As its tagline claims, "Almond milk is soy yesterday."

Plant-made plates.

Platters, plates, pie pans and more made from root vegetables can help reduce food waste. Biosphere Technology makes serving and bakeware from vegetables raised in compost from one of its Chamness Technology sister companies. The plates break down in 20 to 40 days in nature and less than 30 days in the ocean, with no toxicity. "People can eat them, animals can eat them, and worms in the compost can eat them." While the ice cream serving cup, seen at bottom left, is flavored (chocolate, of course!), most are unflavored. The products can be customized to restaurant specifications and embossed with corporate logos. For example, the company created a special mold to make pie pans with air vents in the bottom for Whole Foods. The pans are embossed with the Whole Foods logo and can go from the freezer to an oven up to 429 degrees F to a display case.

Spaghetti that cooks in 90 seconds.

First-time NRA Show exhibitor 90" Rapida introduces a pasta innovation that eliminates the need for pre-cooking. A ridge along the length of the spaghetti allows it to cook more quickly, says Rolando Ruiz Beramendi of Manicaretti Italian Food Importers. As it cooks, the gluten expands, sealing the pasta so it resembles traditional spaghetti. "In Italy they say that gluten has memory," Beramendi says. The benefit for operators? Less waste. Pre-cooked pasta has to be used within a certain time or it has to be thrown out.

In-house microgreen "gardens."

What's better than farm-to-table food? Restaurant-to-table. Urban Cultivator allows operators to grow greens, herbs and sprouts in front or back of the house. "All you need to do is plant the seeds, and [the machine] does the rest," says business cultivator Blair Williams. The units automatically water the plants and adjust the lighting, so operators can harvest fresh ingredients about a week later. Food stays fresh and nutrient-rich when operators have it on the table within minutes of cutting, Williams says.

Lower-sodium salt substitutes.

Your restaurant offers various sweeters, such as sugar, stevia and aspartame. Or it might offer two kinds of soy sauce, regular and low-sodium. Why not salt alternatives? Klinge Foods Ltd. of Scottland offers LoSalt in single-serve packets, as well as canisters for back of the house. Made of 66 percent postassium chloride and 33 percent sodium chloride, it has all the flavor of regular salt, but one third of the sodium, says Mike Lloyd, business development manager. "Most people can't tell the difference." LoSalt has the same functionality and preservation as regular salt, so it works the same in bread mix, Lloyd says. In fact, all Marks & Spencer bread is made with LoSalt, he says. The company works with food manufaturers in the UK to tweak sodium levels in spice mixes, pastries, snacks and other food. It's been working with large retailers in the United States, such as Whole Foods and Kroger, since 2009. Now it wants to work with American restaurants. "That's why we're at the NRA Show — to showcase it and tell more people about it."


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