It's Show Time!

It's Show Time!

SMORGASBORD: Tons of exhibits, wares and food are hallmarks of the Show.

CLASSIFIED: Pavilions help showgoers manage the potential information overload.

FOODIE TOWN: Chicago is a primo place to check out trendsetting operators.


It's a huge understatement to observe that the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show offers something for everyone. Its massive size (2,000 exhibitors, 73,000 attendees, six miles of exhibit space) and scope (cooking demos, technology classes, service seminars, affiliated galas and receptions, etc.) can be daunting to the first-timer. But the well-organized attendee can walk away with a boatload of information and inspiration as well as practical ideas that can be put to use back at home.

The newest addition to the Show is a program focusing on beer, wine and spirits. It will include a series of educational sessions devoted to trends in these three categories and to responsible alcohol service. In addition, at an Ask the Experts pavilion on the exhibit floor, beverage authorities will dispense free advice on building drink menus and increasing sales. A highlight of the program is a seminar in which Gourmet Magazine wine and spirits consultant Michael Green will discuss ways to make the spirits category more exciting and profitable.

Winners of the popular Kitchen Innovations competition are back for the second year in a specially designated Show pavilion. Visitors can take part in hands-on demonstrations provided by the award recipients, which have been singled out for their trend-setting equipment.

To help make this massive Show a bit more manageable, once again a number of special-interest pavilions have been set up. In addition to the Kitchen Innovations Pavilion, they include the International Cuisine Pavilion, which features a mix of foreign and U.S. exhibitors showcasing international and traditional ethnic food and beverage products; the Franchise Pavilion, bringing together top restaurant chains and financial companies; the Technology Pavilion, which highlights the latest in cutting-edge offline and online technology and hosts several hospitality technology seminars; the Frozen Food Pavilion, focusing on the quality advances in frozen foods; the Natural and Organics Pavilion, centralizing exhibitors offering certified organic food and beverage products and alternatives to traditional products; the EDGE Pavilion, offering design and décor-related products and services and educational sessions; the Minority Business Exchange Pavilion, designed to forge business relationships between minority suppliers and corporate buyers and provide a forum for exploring new products and services from certified minority companies; and the American Food Fair, where companies will display specialty foods and innovative products representing the flavors of their home state or region.

Operators seeking sound design advice can tap into the knowledge of both front-and back-of-the-house experts through Ask the Design Experts consultation appointments. Appointments can be made at www.restaurant.org/ show, and walk-up visits are also available throughout the Show.

On Sunday, May 21, attendees will have a chance to hear legendary broadcast newsman Ted Koppel, who will deliver the keynote address. Koppel, whose image from ABC's "Nightline" is etched in many Americans' minds, is now the managing editor for The Discovery Channel, a columnist for the New York Times and a regular commentator on National Public Radio.

A number of special industry events running concurrently with the Show offer attendees the chance to network and celebrate excellence:

  • The day-long Salute to Excellence , which stresses the importance of restaurants as providers of career and employment opportunities. Education-related activities are followed by an awards banquet honoring participating students, educators and industry leaders (312-715-6770 or www. nraef.org for tickets).
  • The Hennessy Awards Breakfast , celebrating its 50th anniversary honoring the special achievements of service men and women at Air Force food facilities worldwide (202-331-5967).
  • The Restaurant Executive Breakfast is an invitation-only breakfast and show preview open to executive-level personnel from multiunit operations attending the Show; preregistration is required (312- 853-2525).
  • For international attendees, the annual International Reception offers an opportunity to network with their counterparts from other corners of the world. International attendees can also join a half-day back-of-the-house tour of Chicago restaurants.

Finally, the free educational programs that run through the four days of the Show will touch on the hottest topics in the industry, including nutrition trends, the latest technological developments, beverage consumption patterns, serving a multicultural audience and more.

Demos and Contests

If you're looking for a little friendly competition or some entertaining demonstrations of culinary feats and chainsaw technique, the NRA Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show is the place to be. The four-day show is packed with competitions designed to showcase the best in skills and style.

Start with the Bocuse d'Or USA American National Selection, which will take place on Saturday, May 20. This competition will determine which chef will represent the U.S. at the prestigious Bocuse d'Or World Cuisine Contest in Lyon, France, in 2007. The Bocuse d'Or showcases the extraordinary techniques, magnificent creations and culinary achievements of the world's leading chefs. Vying for this spot are Keith Armstrong, executive chef at the Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, NY; Rick Gresh, executive chef at Caliterra in the Wyndham Chicago Hotel; and Gavin Kaysen, chef de cuisine at El Bizcocho in the Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego (see "Rising Star," p. 18).

From Sunday, May 21 through Tuesday, May 23, the American Culinary Federation's Culinary Team USA 2008 competition will feature chefs vying for spots on the team that is the official representative of the U.S. in international culinary competitions. Candidates must display outstanding levels of craftsmanship based on classical cooking principles and a variety of culinary disciplines incorporating presentation, technique and taste.

Throughout the show, members of the Research Chefs Association—some of America's most innovative culinary artists—will showcase a wide variety of ingredients, techniques, tools and ideas in a series of culinary demonstrations.

A longstanding favorite, the annual Ice Carving Classic provides inspiration as well as entertainment. Attendees can get ringside seats to the contest, with runs through the entire show. The winning sculpture earns the carver a $2,500 grand prize.

Finally, anyone can compete in one of the Show's most popular events: The Main Course 10K Run/Walk, Chicago's oldest and largest 10K, is expected to attract some 3,000 participants. The race winds through a scenic downtown route on Sunday, May 12. Runners and walkers receive commemorative shirts, a collection of race souvenirs and the chance to sample sponsors' products.


Just the Facts

What: National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show
Where: McCormick Place, Chicago
When: Saturday, May 20-Tuesday, May 23
9:00 a.m.-5:00 (Exhibit Hall Level 1)
9:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (Exhibit Hall Level 3)
Who: More than 2,000 exhibitors in nearly 900 product categories; some 73,000 attendees. To attend, you must be directly involved with the foodservice or lodging industries. Onsite registration is $60 per person, free for members of the Association.
For more information: www.restaurant.org/show [4]; 312-853-2525