International Restaurant & Food Service Show of New York 2014

By Wun Kuen Ng

The restaurant industry gathered on Sunday, March 2, 2014 for the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show. More than 16,000 restaurant and foodservice industry professionals participated and sampled new products, services, and equipment from 500 leading vendors. In addition, there were 40 plus educational programs and several special events. The New York State Restaurant Association sponsored the event. Urban Expositions produced and managed the event.

One of the highlights was the Japan Pavilion. The JRO (The Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad) has come to promote Japanese cuisine worldwide and support Japanese restaurants overseas. Before Japanese restaurants mainly served sushi, but now there is a fusion of other options.

JRO hosted the Umami Pavilion with vendors that introduce products from eight new sections: Japanese Rice, Sake, Wagyu, Umami, Ramen, Soba, Japanese Green Tea, and sweets. It also sponsored a contest for chefs to innovate a new recipe with umami, a savory flavor consisting of benito, dried mushrooms, and kelp but can have many variations. It has been in Japan for hundreds of years, but a new concept in the United States. Three chefs were chosen out of the 125 that participated.

The winners received a special tour of the culinary world in Japan, which includes a round-trip ticket. By studying the distributors, supply system, and cooking techniques, the chef can bring back that knowledge and incorporate it in the United States. The contest has been successful in promoting Japanese cuisine and gaining fresh perspectives of umami.

One of the three winners, Chef Arnie Marcella of Elm restaurant, felt the contest truly drew him out of his comfort zone. He is an Italian and French trained chef, but learning the slow technique in cooking umami, paying respect to the integrity of the ingredients, and trying to balance the dish without overwhelming the flavor profile was nerve wrecking in the beginning, but it was all worth it.

The Center Federation of Societies of Commerce and Industry in Japan hosted the Takumi Pavilion. The mission of the organization is to help promote small companies by giving them a forum in the convention. There were 850,000 members. Given the popularity of ramen in the United States, the vendors that make ramen and the soup base were given priority to attend the convention. The challenge for these vendors was to teach the westerners how to tweak their products like vinegar, rice wine, and miso to suit the western palate.

Next year, CFSCI would like to get more wholesale businesses to speak with their members before and after the trade show to create fruitful business relationships.

As Americans try to become healthier, many look toward the Japanese cuisine as a healthier alternative. In the Japanese pavilion, some got to sample new products such as Ougaku, a hot spring water garnered from a volcano. It is soft and pure bringing out more of the flavor from tea.

Kameya Food Company introduced Konnyaku, a yam in packaged forms. There was black garlic from fermentation, an ancient condiment in Asia, but new to the West. Matcha is having a new twist, besides being used in tea ceremonies, it’s now used in latte, baking, and other hot drinks. Shio koji, a new seasoning, which includes rice inoculated with mold Aspergillus oryzae, sea salt and water, has been the rage in Japanese markets in the United States.

Another highlight was the U.S. Pastry Competition sponsored by Paris Gourmet, a specialty food importer and distributor. Nine pastry chefs were selected out of 45 entrants to display their showpiece, which centers around the theme of “Film Animation.” The first place winner, Yoshikzau Kizu of The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Orlando, Florida took home the honors, with his cake focusing on the movie “Beauty and the Beast.” He will receive awards amounting to more than $10,000. Board members of the Societe Culinaire Philanthropique, one of the oldest and most prestigious chef associations in the world, will judge the procedures. Paris Gourmet sees the contest as a way to give back to the community, and support its chefs.

There were some old food companies that have been in business for more than 40 years. Karl Ehmer, which has been hand making their sausages for 80 years. The company is looking into the Korean and China market, which has customers using the sausages to add new flavor profile to their dishes. Bob’s Red Mill was also another established company expanding into Asia. Its steel cut oats is very popular in China. Bob’s Red Mills sells organic whole grains and partners with sustainable farms. A brand trusted among expatriates and locals, they know there is no GMO and there are government regulations to enforce health standards.

Whether one is a foodie, in the hotel or restaurant business, there was something for everyone, with ranges of educational lectures to knives, menu software, tablecloths, gelato machines, prosciutto, or online solutions for one’s restaurant needs. Two students from Stony Brook, one a chef came to look opportunities, another who studied hospital diets came looking for ideas to make the hospital kitchen safe, delicious, and nutrition.

Given that the themes are different every year, one spice buyer thought there were more booths with organic products, Asian products, and industrial equipment this year. One steak and seafood restaurant owner thought there were more yogurt options and innovation last year. He did not notice any pavilions for Chinese or South East Asian foods. Maybe next year. There is always room for new ideas.

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