TORONTO — Another year and another CRFA Show has come and gone, garnering mixed reviews as some exhibitors lamented the quantity of attendees, while others boasted about the quality of potential business partners.
The three-day show, which began Sunday and ended yesterday, March 8, at Toronto’s Direct Energy Centre, once again served as the stomping ground for suppliers, operators, purchasers and students who gathered to find out the latest product and industry trends. Of course, that wasn’t the only draw as a handful of business seminars about the customer experience, the state of the industry and leadership excellence, educated in concert with a series of live demos by celebrated chefs such as Anna Olson, Mark McEwan, Lynn Crawford and Vikram Vij.
The Garland stage also featured a show highlight, as a parade of young culinary students competed to build the best street food experience in 45 minutes. In the end, it was Laura Ramik of Niagara College who came out on top, earning the trip to the cultural and culinary hotspot, New Orleans.
Each student had to incorporate one pepper sauce from the Tabasco Family of Flavours, and Ramik put her Vietnamese dish of Bánh Chạo Tôm over the top by using the sweet and spicy pepper sauce to complement her vegetable slaw, spicy herb mayo and shrimp filling incased in a pancake and ideal for dining al fresco. “My first experience with Vietnamese was in [Toronto’s] Chinatown. It was a minced shrimp on sugar cane. It was from there that I took my inspiration, and I thought it would pair well with the Tabasco sweet and spicy sauce,” explained the glowing champion.
Speaking of culinary students, 30 industry insiders attended a special Mexican dinner at George Brown College’s, student-run Chefs’ House on the second day of the show. Diners were bused in from the CRFA Show where its Mexico Pavillion gave a taste of what to expect from the four-course dinner and tastings, which included Tierra Brava hot sauces, Los Remedios marmalades, Prinsa tomato sauce and Lluvia de Estellas tequilas.
In welcoming his guests, Gabriel Padilla Maya, general coordinator of Trade, Promotion and Exports for the ministry of Agriculture Mexico/ASERCA, encouraged foodservice operators in the crowd to consider using the vibrant Mexican ingredients featured in the meal. “We’re bringing the matchmaking business direct to your plate,” he said. “We invite you to taste the latest Mexican products that are available and talk and meet the producers.”
Back at the Direct Energy Centre for the final day of the show, Parsippany, N.J.–based French’s introduced their new French Fried Onions atop a lauded cheeseburger pizza while also showcasing their new-and-improved honey mustard dipping sauce in salad and on chicken wings. Later, the Toronto-based Reuven International, shared news of their halal chicken offerings, low-sodium chicken and use of production plants across the globe to boast product variety.
As the aisles cleared and the show wound to a close, it was clear that although the show seemed smaller than years past, there was still plenty of talk and taste.