The Genius and the Goofy: Glimpsing the Future at the National Restaurant Show

The National Restaurant Association Show, one of the largest trade events in the food industry, kicked off in Chicago on Saturday and runs through Tuesday. Attracting almost 2,000 suppliers and tens of thousands of buyers, it’s a magnet for every kitchen tinkerer and weird food scientist out there. Some of what they proudly display is just good for laughs; some of it is just crazy enough to be adopted by some genius chef and made the hallmark of his or her cuisine. And some of it does such unnatural things to food that it will be immediately embraced by the fast food industry and turn up soon at a drive-through near you. So although some of the products in the following slides may strike one as preposterous and doomed, just remember, they also laughed at Ron Popeil and his Pocket Fisherman, and he’s retired in Beverly Hills. Here’s the best— and strangest— of what we saw at the food revolution, 2013 edition.

A line of 50 people (we counted) waiting for a snack of one half hot dog. Overheard one of them say, I can’t say No to a hot dog. Guess not.
Man proud of pants. And who wouldn’t be.
Green screen silliness in support of Idaho potatoes. Not sure we understand, but people had fun with it.
Our suggestion is to give your product a name that can be pronounced. Just a thought.
It’s ice cream, it’s caffeine. It’s…Bang!! Jason Kritz says he’s not a big coffee drinker, though he must like ice cream.
The first sip is free.
Umami in a box, a blend of bonito and kelp.
It wouldn’t be a trade show without attractive female presenters. She was actually Ms. May, in this year’s Demo Dollies of the NRA Annual Calendar. Order yours now!
What AMB-Eco does is deliver to a restaurant a rack filled with microgreens planted in pulverized cocoanut shells. Throughout the week, the microgreens grow and are harvested at the restaurant, and every week an AMB-Eco service team comes back to put in whole new racks of seedlings (based on the restaurants usage records), and so the cycle begins again. Chicago’s Moto is using the system now, and this is one we see big potential for. Grub Street interviewed Andrew Fernitz of AMB-Eco at an earlier stage of his plans here
Funny or frightening. You decide.
It’s called an iFork because, um, not sure. But it’s supposed to be less likely to attract bacteria because it’s curved and has a little ball that keeps your tines from touching the table.
Seems like it might be a good idea, but not sure how much food actually sticks to slow cooker walls.
Romaine engineered to fit neatly into boxes, reducing waste and flavor.
We’re not crazy about products that market themselves in imitation of that which they are not (looking at you, Tofurky), but soybean-based Wowbutter is a very feasible peanut butter replacement, because it actually tastes as good as (even, actually, almost exactly like) peanut butter, though it contains no goobers. It’s also a good source of Omega-3 and complete protein. As an added bonus, you can peel back the label to access a bunch of stickers that go on your kid’s lunch bag to announce that the product is peanut-free.
For when you just don’t have time to dip every fry in ketchup.
Guess who won an Innovation Award for Menu Development. Go on, guess.
Waffles remain a key field for innovation. As with Wafflestix— it’s a waffle, it’s a… you get the idea.
You’ve heard, perhaps, of chicken n’ waffles. This is chicken IN waffles, at the Golden Waffles booth.
You can also put barbecued pork into waffles… because it’s fun!
This truck will hit the streets in Chicago next week.
Snack that pretty much reflects food at the show, not very tasty, but free.
Peru is the hottest new culinary capitol and easily the best food at the show was from chef Ricardo Zarate at the PromPeru booth (“Promoting Peru”), like this quinoa 2 ways with bell pepper.
Blood sausage, quail egg, and salsa criolla at PromPeru booth.
For the Benihana of the 21st century, a smokeless, non-sticking teppanyaki grill.
We could almost see wearing this. Almost.
Mass-signed guitars, tiny Ali gloves, and tiny MJ b-ball. Ways to class up a joint.
A whole bar, move-in condition, all you need is the real estate to place it in. And the hookups. And a liquor license.
Scary animatronic servers.
And then there was… this.
Aerate wine more quickly with modfied lab equipment called a Nanocanter. A magnetized stirrer creates tornadic swirl in wine, increasing surface area for better breathing.
The automated wine dispenser from Enomatic is one of maybe five similar products we saw at the NRA Show. We spotted these devices in Chicago only within the past year or so, and although we can’t say we’re keen on getting up to use a credit card every time we want another glass, this equipment makes a lot of sense behind the bar. Once open, a bottle of wine in these dispensers will hold for up to thirty days without refrigeration, and merchants can be certain that they’re not losing money due to over-generous pours. A robotic wine steward may seem less romantic than having a bottle uncorked just for you by a human, but it’s more economical and if using this machine wrecks the mood for you, just don’t watch.
Robotic drink mixer. It’s reassuring to know that when the humans are dead, there will still be cocktails.
The Genius and the Goofy: Glimpsing the Future at the National Restaurant Show