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Big City, Big Show!

NRA Show Preview 2007

BACKDROP: One of the country's great restaurant towns provides an apt setting for a foodie event.

SHOW AND TELL: Equipment demos are the focus at the Kitchen Innovations Pavilion.

INFORMATION OVERLOAD: With more than 2,000 exhibitors and numerous culinary demonstrations, operators can walk away with new management techniques and inspiration for new recipes.

McCormick Place

GATHERING PLACE: With more than 73,000 attendees, chances are good that you will bump into old friends—and make new ones—somehwere on the show floor.

If you've never been to the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, you have missed the Super Bowl of foodservice trade shows.

This sprawling convention, which dominates Chicago's McCormick Place for four days every spring, is a sensory overload of products, services and ideas, all of them focused on the $537billion foodservice business. More than 2,000 exhibitors in 900 product and service categories will be on hand during the May 19-22 event.

The association decided to pump up the star power of the show this year by introducing the Celebrity Bookstore. Food TV-caliber personalities and renowned restaurant operators are scheduled to appear throughout the show schedule to sign their latest books and share some of their secrets with attendees.

"Chefs and restaurateurs have more star power now than ever, as Americans discover the restaurant industry's finest through the Food Network, consumer foodie magazines, network and cable television shows and many other channels,"says William Anton, this year's convention chairman and chairman of Anton Airfood. "We are excited to feature some of the most well-known industry celebrirites and provide show attendees with the opportunity to meet them. Chef/authors dropping by will include Rick Bayless from Chicago's Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, who will sign his book, Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico; Seattle Chef Tom Douglas (Dahlia Lounge, Etta's, Lola), who will have on hand his latest, I Love Crab Cakes: 50 Recipes for an American Classic; and Thomas Keller, chef/owner of The French Laundry and Bouchon and penner of The French Laundry Cookbook.

Roadmap for the Show
The key ingredients of the show, as always, are the massive exhibit areas; the contests, ceremonies and networking functions; and the behind-the-scenes educational programs. There is so much going on that often only a coin flip can help in deciding between competing events on the schedule.

To help navigate the sprawling exhibit space, the show is once again dotted with specialty pavilions that spotlight specific product categories. Be sure to check these out:

  • The Technology Pavilion features the latest cutting-edge offline and online technology solutions. It's also home to the popular Cyber Cafe—a lounge with wired Internet access where attendees can relax, check e-mail or network with vendors.
  • The Green Restaurant Products Pavilion spotlights companies offering water and energy conservation, recycling and other products and services that can improve a restaurant's environmental efforts and sustainable operations.
  • The Kitchen Innovations Pavilion provides hands-on demonstrations of the latest in award-winning equipment.
  • The Organic & Natural Pavilion focuses on exhibitors offering certified organic food and beverage products.
  • EDGE—Experience Design Pavilion will feature the latest in graphics, design, textiles, lighting, flooring and fixtures. Created in cooperation with Foodservice Consultants Society International, the "Ask the Design Experts" area will provide attendees an opportunity to schedule private meetings with top front- and back-of-the house design pros. Advance appointments are required; visit to book one.
  • At the International Cuisine Pavilion, a mix of foreign and U.S. exhibitors will showcase international and traditional ethnic food and beverage products and provide ideas for ethnic menu items.

As always, a full complement of educational sessions will provide many opportunities to learn about cutting-edge trends and develop professional knowledge. Among the highlights of this year's educational program, which includes more than 60 sessions from Saturday through Tuesday:
• "Alcohol Profit Primer," a panel discussion of techniques to promote sales and responsible service of alcohol.

  • "Advantages of Going Green," a presentation on marketing to socially responsible consumers by the founder of the Green Restaurant Association.
  • "Winning in the Age of Online Marketing," featuring the results of research from Google on how restaurant patrons use the Internet.
  • "How to Capitalize on Growing Consumer Interest in Health and Nutrition," featuring a presentation by representatives from
  • A panel discussion covering Culinology, the blending of culinary arts and food science, and how it can apply in your operation.

Besides getting a glimpse of the latest products and learning about trends in the business, attendees have a number of chances to network and honor the best in the business. The 20th annual Salute to Excellence, hosted by the NRA Educational Foundation, celebrates the best and the brightest in foodservice by spotlighting esteemed leadership and extraordinary academic accomplishments. The daylong event includes a student forum bringing together more than 200 of the country's most promising restaurant, foodservice and hospitality management students and more than 100 educators as well as the Salute to Excellence Awards Gala and Banquet.

Each year during the show, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association presents nine outstanding industry professionals with the Silver Plate Award. One of the winners is further honored with a Gold Plate Award and the title of Foodservice Operator of the Year at a banquet.

It probably goes without saying, but perhaps the nicest bonus to attending the show is the chance to sample Chicago's world-class restaurants. Don't forget to book a table early—remember, your competition will be scouting out top operators, too.

It's Back: The American Culinary Classic
This year's NRA Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show will have just a bit more excitement in the air, since it will feature a once-every-four-year event: the American Culinary Classic competition. The Classic pits six-person teams of chefs from countries around the world against each other.

This year's competition will include teams from the Bahamas, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, the U.S. (winners in 2003) and Wales. They will be preparing both hot and cold foods and be evaluated on creativity, blending of flavor, presentation, timing and technique.

"Drawing inspiration from fellow culinary professionals is a great way to advance the culinary arts and promote innovation, and this year's show is sure to provide plenty of opportunities to see some of the most talented chefs in the U.S. and the rest of the world in action," says William Anton, convention chairman.

Team U.S.A. will be headed by Michael Matarazzo of the Greenbriar in White Sulphur Springs, WV and will include Scott Fetty of the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, Pittsburgh; Joseph Leonardi of Johnson & Wales in Providence, RI; Craig Peterson of Hallbrook Country Club, Leawood, KS; Timothy Prefontaine of River Oaks Country Club, Houston; and Mellisa Root, also of River Oaks Country Club. All team members also belong to the American Culinary Federation.

By The Numbers
National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, McCormick Place, Chicago
Dates: Saturday, May 19-Tuesday, May 22
Hours: 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (exhibit hall level 1)
9:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (exhibit hall level 3)
Exhibitors: 2,000-plus in 900-plus product categories
Educational sessions: more than 60, free to attendees
Attendees: 73,000; must be directly involved with foodservice or lodging
Fee: onsite, $60 per person; free for Association members
Contact: www.restaurantorg/show; 312-853-2525
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