With the onset of my new show, The Dinner Party, I have been taking a keen look at everything that surrounds food, as much as food itself. So this year, I attended The National Restaurant Association Show, which thrived at McCormick Place from May 5th to 8th. A gargantuan show aimed at providing the food service industry with anything it might need from table settings and pans, to processors and fryers, to food and beverage options, it is slightly overwhelming to say the least. From the highly organic to the wildly processed, from around the world, anything even remotely associated with food was available for one's viewing, trying and tasting pleasure. The show took in 61,000 people from 100 countries, a five percent increase over 2011, who attended to scope out over 1,900 exhibiting companies. The National Restaurant Association show is a force to be reckoned with, representing a significant inflow of tourism dollars for the city of Chicago.
However, the most ingenious offering in this aisle was brought forward by three Scots who make up the burgeoning company, Qikserve. Qikserve allows the customer to scan a QR code, which can be as simply or elegantly designed as the restaurant chooses, on the dining table on to their phone. This immediately brings up the menu (no more printing and wasting of menus) and allows you to order anything, including hold the mayo, on the phone. It also alerts the wait staff and kitchen that your order has been placed. You can re-order as you go and pay when you want, saving time and headaches. While there are other companies out there that offer paperless menus, they require installing an electronic pad to the restaurant table, which seems bulky, complicated and expensive, when you might as well just use your phone. How we order in restaurants is changing for the better and this was certainly a thrill for me.
After walking miles at McCormick Place, the day ended in true Chicago hospitality as Chef Homaro Cantu of Moto and Ing fame, and the inaugural The Dinner Party chef, opened his doors to NRA show attendees who wanted to experience the other-worldly in food. Members of his team, including Top Chef contestants Chris Jones and Richie Farina and Future Food co-host Ben Roche, created delicious curiosities such a 'Corn Reconfigured' (corn is all forms possible, including freeze dried), 'Forest Foraging' (like piglets we sought out little mushrooms in a sculptural forest on our plate) and 'Tongue in Cheek' (you've got that one, right?) and, of course, our menus were printed on edible chips. Seeing is believing, so hopefully you were able to take advantage of the Travelzoo deal that offered up a 10 course tasting at Ing for only $99, making it hard to know who to thank more: Travelzoo or Homaro.
You don't need to see the throngs of people at the NRA Show to know that the food service industry is a thriving business and that keeping the ever-growing number of foodies happy and satiated is a growing concern. I was certainly one of those by the end of last Monday and remain excited about some of the new and environmental developments on our restaurant horizon.
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