Among the hottest culinary trends in 2009 are philosophy-driven menu choices, locally grown produce, mini desserts, healthy kids' meals and organic wine, according to the third annual National Restaurant Association ( NRA) survey of professional chefs. Restaurant operators will be able to explore these and other trends at the 90th annual NRA Restaurant Hotel-Motel Show, which takes place from May 16 to 19, at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Education sessions will be offered, and panelists will discuss topics such as franchising, catering food and style trends, gluten-free menus, menu strategies in tough economic times from top CEOs, sustainability and the evolution of hotel dining. Like last year, the NRA show floor will be teeming with celebrity chefs and industry trendsetters, signing books and hosting cooking demonstrations. Kitchen and front-of-house design experts will be available throughout the event for complimentary consultations. More than 2,100 companies are expected to exhibit at the show this year. Admission is $40 if registered before or on April 10 and $80 after April 10. The event is free to NRA members.
Blodgett chef Tim Klauder talks with attendees on the 2008 NRA show floor

The colocated International Wine, Spirits & Beer (IWSB) event will take place May 17 and 18 at the Grand Ballroom in the South Building on the first level of McCormick Place during the NRA show. Education sessions will be offered, where panelists will discuss trends such as collaborations between chefs and wine directors, leveraging relationships with distributors, alcohol trends and signature drinks. Attendees will be able to sample products and see the latest beverage trends at the various vintner, distiller and brewer tastings and demonstrations. Admission i $95 to attend for those who register before or on April 10, and $135 after April 10. The event costs $55 for NRA members. A IWSB badge will provide entrance to the NRA show.

For more information about both events, visit the NRA's Web site or the IWSB's Web site. Attendees can also keep track of NRA show and IWSB updates by checking out Floored!, the official blog of the NRA show and IWSB event. During the show, floored! will provide live coverage from the event floor.
by Maggie Shea, Chef Magazine

When a holiday like Valentine's Day falls on a Saturday, fine-dining restaurant owners typically lament the overlap with weekend business. But this year, as the industry faces its worst downturn in decades, restaurant owners welcomed the much-needed boost from sold-out dinner slots, regardless of the day. Here, Chef's Stirrings takes a look at Valentine's Day promotions at a few restaurants nationwide to see how they fared amid the recession.

Singer Island, Fla.: Solu Restaurant at the Resort at Singer Island sold out its Valentine's Day "Kissable Cuisine" dinner a week and a half in advance, according to the resort's sales and marketing director Matt Vesley. "Since we were sold out Saturday night, we were able to push some lovers to Friday, Feb. 13, dinner slots, at which time Solu also served the special Valentine's Day menu and kissable quotes," he says.

For each course of the Asian-infused Caribbean restaurant's four-course Valentine's Day menu, Solu executive chef Carlos Jorge created dishes inspired by unique yet complementary themes: "Infatuation, Lust, Romance & Uninhibited."

Each course came with lines from love poems and sonnets. Entrées, including Lacquered Sea Scallops with Ginger Green Pea Risotto and American Sturgeon Caviar, were designed to be shared, which provided a more intimate and affordable dining experience, according to Vesley.

For those diners who missed the event? Don't worry, he says, "Solu will recreate the Kissable Cuisine concept for Valentine's Day 2010--copy and paste!"

Chicago: Café des Architectes at the Sofitel Hotel this Valentine's Day saw a "resurgence and additional liveliness" in the city of Chicago, which public relations and marketing manager Lisa Adelman called a welcome surprise. "People were out and about on the evening of Saturday, Feb. 14, in downtown Chicago, and traffic was plentiful," she says.

Café des Architectes was sold out several weeks in advance of Valentine's Day. Head chef Martial Noguier designed a "sensual," five-course prix fixe menu for $75 that included Maine Lobster Salad, Kumamoto Oysters, Rack of Lamb with a White Bean Purée with Sweet Garlic and Almonds, and a Chocolate Pistachio Dome. Roses were provided for all the ladies upon their arrival.

Reno, Nev.: Unlike years past, guests booked early and held their reservations this Valentine's Day at Charlie Palmer Steak at the Grand Sierra Resort, prompting the restaurant to add 20 tables to accommodate extra guests.

Head chef Charlie Palmer created a Valentine's Day menu meant to be shared by two with a $60 shellfish tasting of Rock Shrimp Ceviche with Avocado and Preserved Lemon, Seared Sea Scallops and Blood Oranges, and a $95 main course that included a 35 oz. New York Steak paired with Steamed Lobster and Roasted Wild Mushrooms and Red Wine Jus.
According to Joel Giandalia, general manager for Charlie Palmer Steak, the specials were all sold out, and the restaurant was booked solid from 5:30 to 10:45 p.m. "We are considering opening earlier next year," he says, adding that the restaurant has tentative plans to offer similar specials for future Valentine's Day holidays due to this year's success.