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Thursday, May 25

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Event Mon May 20 2013

The 2013 National Restaurant Show -- and Tell

Having attended numerous NRA shows (as in restaurants, not rifles) at McCormick Place over the last three decades, for me it's not about seeing the 99% of things you expect to see but more about the 1% you don't expect. My routine is to walk the entire show row by row, booth by booth over the course of two days, looking over the 1,800 exhibitors for ingenious products, new designs or clever ideas that my clients or I may need. This year, however, I did it in one day -- a personal best. Maybe there wasn't as much to grab me or maybe I'm just jaded, but here's what spoke to me this year:

Winner of the Tackiest Exhibitor Award was Honey Smoked Fish Co. with their show-your-assets, surgically-enhanced-décolletage, take-a-left-turn-at-strippers offering to enrobe you in their shitty t-shirts by helping you put them on, all the while jiggling and pressing themselves very much against you with a big hug just short of a lap dance. It's an honorable old custom to have attractive personnel man or in this case woman your booth, but even for this old horndog, it was a bit much at 10am. The only thing missing was dollar bills.

wagyubeef.jpgThe single best thing I put in my mouth was the "brought from Japan yesterday" wagyu ribeye beef from Satsuma (near Kobe), swirled for about 20 secs in a umami-rich sukiyaki broth, which cooked it lightly. More white with marbling then red with beef, the mouthfeel and flavor were stunning -- so in my politest yet piggish American way I had three more memorable tastes at the Umami Japan booth.

Other interesting food products included small liquid pearls flavored with grapefruit and violet among many others. Using the latest gastro-technology techniques, they're encapsulated in an alginate gelling agent thickened with agar-agar and burst in your mouth and onto your palate. Think caviar, but fruity and floral instead of fishy and salty. On a similar note were coarse sugar crystals flavored and in turn colored with rose, fennel, basil or mint. All sure to be coming soon to a plate garnish or cocktail rim near you.

The coolest toy award goes to Poly Science's Smoking Gun, a hand held cold smoking device that imparts natural smoke into just about anything without cooking it. Amaze your friends by smoking their potatoes, scallops or cocktails just by pulling the trigger.

My "wish I thought of it award" goes to the "Staybowlizer," a rubber collar or nest-like device that acts as a third hand in the kitchen. Its suction design allows you to place it on top of a table or double boiler and in turn place a mixing bowl upon it, allowing you to drizzle and whisk away without unwanted movement while making hollandaise or vinaigrette for 50 or 200. Yes a damp towel works, as does an assistant -- but this works much better and at $20 retail it's a steal. My bet is they sell a shitload of'em.

There's one that always gets away though. Because this is the largest show of its kind in the country most industry players try to at least put in an appearance. A who's who of the culinary world descends upon Chicago sometime over the four days the show runs. Whether they come to participate or schmooze, this has helped increase Chicago's stature in the culinary world considerably. They've got to do something during their off time and exploring Chicago's best food is a given.

Coming face to face with an out-of-town celeb chef whose steakhouse has pissed me off on more than one occasion and shall remain nameless (but if you can't guess who he is you're just not trying) -- anyway I bump into the unknowing bastard and nod politely. Moments later I feel the need to at least make him aware of crimes committed by his staff against me and my lovely fiancé a couple years back. Old wound open, I set out to right that wrong and fight the good fight so he may at the very least be aware of and possibly even atone for their sins. Too late. He's swallowed by the crowd never to be seen again.

I suppose when you attempt to take the high road, it's easy to lose sight of everyone else as it's not nearly as crowded as the showroom floor.

About the Author:

Alan Lake
has been a professional chef for nearly three decades and has won numerous awards, professional competitions and distinctions. He's mainly consulting now, setting up projects like kitchen design, menu development, hiring and training staff, research, etc. He's also been a professional musician most of his life and coined the term "Jazzfood" to describe his "solid technique based upon tasteful improvisational abilities" and views his food as he does his music.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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