The NRA Show Is Food, Vendors and Fun

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Jeff Johnson (Photos by Bonnie DeShong)

By Bonnie DeShong

I know what some of you are thinking, “Bonnie went to a NRA show? I didn’t know she was into fire power.” I’m not; the only fire power I’m into is in an oven or on a grill.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) show is one trade show I look forward to attending every year. It is not for the weak of heart or the finicky eater. There are over 2,300 exhibitors representing over 900 products to touch, taste, and learn about. It covers two-thirds of McCormick place and I log in at least 25,000 steps each day of the four day event.

I now have a system and take my time so I can enjoy the experience. Equipped with comfortable shoes, a rolling bag, and my fit bit I show up when the doors open and stay until they close.  First day I check out the new vendors, second day is old favorites, third day is spirits, and the fourth day is going back to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Its day one and I am looking for new vendors I have never seen or tasted before.  I turned down an aisle marked Tennessee and saw Winfrey Foods “Nashville Hot” Spicy Chow Chow relish.  I couldn’t believe my eyes and when I stopped a tasted this wonderful spicy relish it took me back to my grandmother’s kitchen where my mother and all my aunts would gather to make chow chow.  Now most of you reading this are asking, “What the heck is Chow Chow?”  I asked Karla Winfrey, Partner of Whitney Foods to describe it.

Well Chow Chow is a relish. Most southerners have experienced the sensation of Chow Chow.  It’s been an old time southern favorite. It’s a recipe of our mother’s and we have  used it to make Winfrey Foods relish since 1930, but we have taken an all time favorite, and created a multi-use product that you can use with chicken salad, deviled eggs, sushi, you can eat it with rice, the traditional way of beans, greens, and cabbage, but people have all types of multi uses for it. If you’re ever at the Tennessee Titans games, in one of the premium boxes you can experience the tantalizing taste of the relish. They love the spicy and the Nashville Hot on their pulled pork and prime rib sandwich.

I tried the Nashville Hot, and I was telling your brother that my parents are from McLemoresville Tennessee in Carroll County and I’ve been looking for good Chow Chow forever, and when I tasted this I went to heaven. So Karla, the question is, how can I get this all the time? 

You can go to Winfreyfoods.com, you will see the original, you will see spicy, and you will see the Nashville Hot. After you’ve tasted, and have used it in a dish we want you to send us an email with your dish so we can put it on our map so we can see worldwide how people are enjoying it.

On day two I was looking for some of my old favorites. Anyone who knows me will tell you that in my cupboard or fridge there is a bottle of Giardiniera peppers.  As you can see I love things spicy. As I was standing at Marconi Foods booth, tasting all the different types of Giardiniera, I was introduced to Jeff Johnson, General Manager of the company.

Jeff, I didn’t realize the Giardiniera I can’t live without is made here in the Chicago area?

Oh, yeah we started in 1898. My great grandfather came here from Italy. He bought a building on Grand Avenue, and he started by importing Olive Oil and it just turned into produce and oil blends, and started making Giardiniera because that was an Italian way of preserving food. So, he had the oil already and he was importing produce too so he just started canning together the produce and the oil. And from that, Giardiniera as we know it in Chicago was born.  We are celebrating 120 years in business.

What is the purpose or the reason for being here at the NRA show when you are already everywhere, including my kitchen?

Well we’re always trying to grow, and we sell into grocery stores and to restaurants alike. So, there are lots of restaurants all over this great country of ours. So, we want Giardiniera to be in all of them. So, we come here. We love meeting new people and seeing old customers just the same. So, it’s a lot of fun for us, and we are always looking for new business, and that’s what we do at the shows here. It’s great.

Thank you so much Jeff for speaking with me and congratulations on your anniversary

Thank you very much. I really appreciate you guys stopping by.

Although it looks as if I only stopped at spicy relish vendors that truly is not the case. I ate and drank my way into oblivion. Steak, sushi, fish, gelato, hot dogs, wine, cookies, and things I can’t pronounce. I even got to see my favorite Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto.

At the National Restaurant Show you see new and inventive ways of cooking and experience foods and techniques you won’t see elsewhere.

Next year I may have to promise not to eat so much, but then again I said the same thing last year.

Until next time keep your EYE to the sky!

 

 

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