From edible 3D creations to alcohol-infused whipped cream to sustainable salmon, the 2015 National Restaurant Association show in Chicago is giving restaurateurs a proverbial taste of what could be the next big hit for their customers.
The May 16-19 show at McCormick Place is among the city's largest conventions, bringing in more than 60,000 people from more than 100 countries around the globe for a preview of the latest in restaurant technology and foods.
Among the most eye-catching pieces is the ChefJet Pro, a 3D printer that, for about $20,000, creates intricate, edible sculptures.
"We work with powdered sugar. ... We print in really fine layers to build up really complex, beautiful objects like this which is used to decorate a cake," said 3D Systems' Kyle Von Hasseln.
Several items of the show and its companion exhibit -- BAR -- focus on the most profitable item in any restaurant: alcohol.
There's a computerized bartender than creates a cocktail in just seconds, a blast chiller to frost your glass, and 28-proof alcohol-infused whipped cream.
"Every flavor is an award-winning flavor, so you can take anything you would put whip cream on and make that product an adult product," said Ken Ball with Temperature Distilling.
Other big food trends at the 2015 show are gluten-free foods and sustainable products, like salmon from the Pacific Seafood company. There are also products that expand into other areas of a restaurant operation, like an umbrella that does double-duty as a solar-powered charging station.
"You have eight solar panels on the top. Solar energy feeds down our smart tube into our smart charging hub, so guests can charge whatever mobile device they have as long as it has a USB port," explained Zon's Emily Paffhausen.
The show helps fill more than 70 Chicago-area hotels and pumps $115 million into the local economy.