The NRA Show 2014 Some Local, Sustainable Light Amid All The Main Stream Food

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May 22, 2014 at 6:00 am

When it comes to the huge, gigantic, NRA(National Restaurant Association) show, local and sustainable are not necessarily the first words that pop into your mind. However, after walking, which felt like miles of floor over the weekend, I came away feeling hopeful about some of the trends highlighted at the show and left at the very least amused by all the hoopla. This gigantic, behemoth of a show is if anything very entertaining. There were some interesting creatures roaming the floors:

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Chef One, a dumpling manufacturer under the Twin Marquis brand based in Brooklyn. NY were offering several new products, kale and edamame dumplings, that was a good sign of healthier, green things. I ran into this huge green, walking buddha promoting Lucky Buddha beer. (Okay, the beer is made in China so not a great thing but the green Buddha thing was entertaining.) These other creatures were more Adams Family than anything else but did grab my attention in a ghoulish kind of way as I walked by.

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One sign of food hopefulness for me was in the organic section where I saw products displaying the “nongmo verified seal“. I thought it was a good sign to see organic products included in such a huge, mainstream food show which indicates to me that organic products and particularly, “nongmo” products are inching their way to the main stream. Earnest Eats was one, they make whole grain fruit and nut cereals and snacks.

I learned something at the Numi Tea booth. Numi based out of Oakland, CA, eco-audits itself and has B Corporation status. According to the B Corp website, ” B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk. B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” The gal at Numi ,also, pointed out that they use hemp for their tea bags. Ever see those silky tea bag pouches touted by “organic” tea companies? They are made using GMO corn. So by using the hemp bags, Numi, is truly talking the talk and walking the walk when it comes to non-gmo status. I must say, the Chocolate Rooibos Indulgent tea they were serving in a tea cocktail called the “Spicy Aztec” was very tasty. I wish more bartenders in Chicago would create more cocktails using coffee and teas, they go really well together and help to keep you awake.

We have Bobby Chang’s, no sugar added, Season’s Soda at the farmers markets and in Chicago but at the show, no sugar sodas were present. It seems to be really coming to the forefront how bad, sugar sodas are for you. I was a bit nostalgic tasting a sugarless cream(vanilla) soda from Birdie and Bill’s, Funley’s snacks were a bit crazy, Reed’s Ginger Beer and candies were one of my favorites using real ginger of course. Milwaukee based Rishi tea has undergone new packaging and continues to expand their line of teas.

For once, I learned the difference between matcha (finley ground green tea, Japan) and mate (infused yerba matte tea drink, South America) at Aiya America organic matcha tea booth. “Local” Peruvian foods and beverages were out in force at the PromPeru pavilion.

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A new addition to the show this year were education sessions, as well as the “Foodamental Studio”, where throughout the show, seminars were held on a variety of topics. Zak Dolezal, Chef of Duke’s AleHouse in Crystal Lake talked about From Farm to Fork and Soil To Service.  Chef Paul Virant of Perennial/Virant gave a seminar Saturday on pickling.

Monday, I attended a seminar called “Oh Say Can We Seaweed” given by Barton Seaver who is a chef, author, speaker and National Geographic fellow focused on the sea and seafood along with fisherman Bren Smith the owner of Thimble Island Oysters.  They talked about “making kelp the new kale” and that part of a sustainable food system be it on land or sea were “thriving human communities”. This seminar was packed which was another good sign.

The NRA team really put together some great talks this year that were spot on, relavant topics in creating a healthy food system. There were tons of foodalebrities from all over the television and media spectrum every day, Robert Irvine, Captain Sig Hansen from Deadliest Catch, most of them had a book to sell.

Lousia Chu was stationed at the Polyscience making rhubarb, ginger and honey soda’s using a rapid infuser. Her drink was refreshing and seasonal.

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As you can tell from this long winded post, the show was incredibly overwhelming but I will say the International Wine and Spirits Expo was a terrific place to end the day, nothing like a glass of a vintage wine or a Star of the Bar cocktail to end the day. Wisconsin cheese had their own pavilion, the family from Natalie’s orange juice ,who only pasteurize their orange juice once at very low levels to keep enzyme activity going which helps the flavor, were all in attendance. Dartagnan had a beautiful mushroom display although this was the sad part, they were going to throw all these incredible mushrooms away at the end of the show.

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Palazzollo’s from Fennville, MI was at the show in force with their gelato truck. It was good to see that Alexander Valley vineyards was promoting their participation in a sustainable wine growing program and I tasted some really good honey from bees located in a pine forest in Crete. Honey expresses the terroir of a land almost like no other product since it really can’t be manipulated. After hearing about this particular honey, I wanted to pack my bags and go visit the Crete woods where the honey was made.

Below are a few more pictures of some crazier things, mostly in the beverage category. Pink designer cans of champagne from Coppola Vineyards, grapefruit rice brew which believe it or not was kind of refreshing, and someone lost their leg, don’t know if they found it?

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One Comment

  1. I have to say that I’m more than a little surprised that Dartagnan was just going to throw those mushrooms away after the NRA Show. There’s got to be so many other good things they could have done with them. Still I have to say that the International Wine and Spirits Expo sounds like the perfect way to end an almost indescribable day.

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