Clinton keynotes National Restaurant Show

May 6, 2012 5:37:58 PM PDT
Bill Clinton gave the keynote speech Sunday at the National Restaurant Show at McCormick Place.

Tens of thousands of industry professionals are in Chicago for the show. The National Restaurant Show showcases the newest innovations and trends for culinary professionals. It had to be rescheduled for this weekend because of the upcoming NATO summit.

This year's show had the usual celebrity chefs and cooking demonstrations, but there was also a special appearance by former president Bill Clinton who, through his foundation, has a vested interest in the food industry.

The National Restaurant Association's food show is back to serve up innovations in the industry.

"A lot of potential clients we want to talk to are here, so we're having a good time," said attendee Jeremy Richardson.

The show, which is the food service industry's largest event, opened Saturday. With an improving economy, organizers say it is expected to be bigger and better than ever.

"Consumers are out by demand into the restaurant industry and having fun, and operators are excited to lead with new things, and Chicago's a great city," said Pam Heftman, National Restaurant Association executive vice president. "They love to come to Chicago and we love to be here."

Celebrity chefs like Fabio Viviani and Richard Blais of the show Top Chef not only mentored aspiring chefs but also helped to boost interest even after a change in dates to accommodate the NATO summit later this month.

"We knew well in advance so we just plan ahead and were able to get around it," said attendee Jordan Davis.

Attendance at the high profile show could surpass more than 58,000 attendees and visitors from all 50 states and 100 countries.

"We would like to learn a little bit more about the scales here as well as the management, and we hope we can learn a lot," said Li Wong, a restaurant manager from China who was visiting the show for the first time.

For the first time since 2008, exhibit space at the show was completely sold out. Local business Turano is one of the 1,900 operators offering their products and services.

"We come to the show every year because we are Chicago-based, local," said Giancarlo Turano II of Turano Bread. "We want to support the city and, obviously, the industry.

A highlight of this year's show was a keynote address by former president Bill Clinton, whose foundation is working with the food industry to combat childhood obesity.

"This was a 30-year problem that had no single cause," said Clinton. Storms forced the plane carrying former president Clinton to land at the airport in Gary, Indiana, instead of at O'Hare Airport.

For most here, the show is all about the food.

"I just think it's really interesting that there's things that you probably never even thought of, because I don't work in the restaurant industry or the food service industry, but just interesting different types of food or preparation methods, and you never know, something might pick up and you'll see it next week," said attendee Claire Tibbel.

The public will see a lot of the innovations being showcased at this year's show at restaurants, and at the grocery store within a year.

This show was expected to generate close to $100 million for the city.

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