Every year for the past five years or so, I've gone to the National Restaurant Association show at McCormick Place.
I enjoy it for a lot of reasons.
The NRA show is a solid, frequently intriguing, introduction to the what's coming down the line into the food world, both the wacky and the wonderful. Trends, ground-breaking technologies, off-the-wall ideas for increasing sales of a food or a piece of kitchen equipment, they're all on display at the NRA show.
The NRA show is a wonderful place to run into others in the industry – chefs, food producers and distributors, suppliers to restaurants – just walking around, looking at stuff, and talking. Aside from the products and services on display, it's very informative to hear others who know food talking casually about products and services that are shaping the evolution of eating worldwide.
The NRA show is, finally, one of the most marvelous expressions of the free market I can remember. Some of the craziest ideas, the zaniest or maybe most brilliant marketing campaigns for food and food-related products and services are on display. There were people at this year's show selling special shot glasses with a chamber in the bottom to would allow dry ice to be inserted, resulting in a cold smoke rising from the shot – brilliant? The wild scientists at Polyscience, who brought us the Anti-griddle (for cooking with extreme cold) and the Smoking Gun (for infusing smoke flavor into food), this year are selling the Sonicator (for cooking food with sound) and the Rotary Evaporator, a modified piece of standard lab equipment for rapidly creating edible distillates and extracts. The food folks at Corkcicle offered a wand of re-freezable gel that gets inserted into a wine bottle, enabling oenophiles to chill their beverage from the inside out, faster.
Vienna Hot Dogs has the most popular spot in the NRA show; they give away Chicago hot dogs, with everything, and they routinely have a line of dozens of people from all over the world waiting patiently to taste one of Chicagoland's most famous culinary creations.
So for a lot of reasons, I like going to the NRA show. Plus, free hot dogs.