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  • The Chopping Blog

A Chef's Tour of the National Restaurant Show in Chicago

Posted by Hans on May 22, 2015

For the past 96 years, Chicago has hosted the National Restaurant Show, or NRA. Unfortunately, the four-day show is not open to the public, but it’s considered a sort of Disneyland for chefs and people in the hospitality industry. This year's was the biggest show I can remember, and I've attended many years. The NRA is held at the McCormick Center, and about 65.000 people attend daily! There’s plenty to see, and a good pair of walking shoes is highly recommended.


Navigating all of the exhibits, among the sea of attendees, is a wonderful affair. A smart way to experience the show is to decide what to see based on your own interests: suppliers, distributors, ingredients, celebrity chef demos, and the culinary world showcase, including culinary school student competitions. The best part of the show, of course, is to sample all the amazing food and products at this international marketplace.


This year, the show’s focus was on flavor and taste, umami to be specific. Umami is one of the five appetitive tastes, it can be described as savory or meaty, present in mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, beans, soy sauce, etc.


I started my day by having coffee, the best Italian espressos and the local coffee suppliers were well represented. I saw many suppliers, vendors, and amazing cooking technologies, including cooking centers, state of the art ovens, etc. I was drooling at the many cooking utensils on display, specially the chef knives. I can’t stress enough how important a good knife is in the kitchen.


Since there are plenty of food samples, it's a good idea to take small portions so you can sample throughout the day.


A highlight for me was the culinary showcase, which consisted of celebrity chefs demonstrating their favorite dishes. Been a chef instructor myself, I was able to pick up good insights to use in my classes. Among the lineup were Chefs Geoffrey Zacharian, Robert Irvine and Jenashir Mehta. Each session lasted for half-hour to an hour, after which there is a book signing and photo opportunities with the chefs.

I was happy to be able to attend and to experience this wonderful event. The show is a great marketplace and serves as the backbone for the hospitality businesses, domestic and abroad. I ended the show exhausted but happy. After having amazing food samples through the whole day, I ended the show with an East coast favorite: a Nathan’s hot dog from Connie Island, and by the way ketchup is allowed. I’m eagerly looking forward to next year's show.

If you want to learn more about the feature of this year's show umami and other tastes, check out The Chopping Block’s Cooking Lab series Flavor Dynamics to learn how to balance flavors. I promise you, this is a super fun cooking class!


Topics: Local Spots, Food News

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