The annual National Restaurant Association Show is more than an industry event. It’s a surreal convergence of exquisite food tastings, celebrity chefs, and futuristic gear. From May 19 to 22 in Chicago, 73,000 food-service professionals tasted Japanese Wagyu beef and Canadian bison washed down by espresso and Icees, while Thomas Keller joined Grant Achatz at the PolyScience booth to freeze starch-modified strawberry purée on the Anti-Griddle, producing something that tasted and felt like a more natural version of Starburst candies.

Show-goers heard the NRA’s 20 hot and cold (passé) restaurant trends for 2007 (hot: minidesserts; cold: okra). And watched artisans carving ice and sculpting sugar.

Here are a few of the most alluring new products marketed to professionals at NRA 2007.

I5 Commercial Oven
By TurboChef, price TBA

TurboChef has been getting a lot of press lately for its new, colorful, high-tech, high-speed, and high-priced home oven, with Charlie Trotter as the company’s spokesman, occasionally joined by celebrities like Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Rowley. Who knew they ate, much less cooked?

But what’s got pros truly hot and bothered is the company’s new I5 commercial oven, introduced at the NRA Show. This model incorporates TurboChef’s most advanced cooking technology to date, which means it can roast a whole chicken in about 10 minutes.

The I5 is compact (24 inches tall, 27.2 inches wide, 28.3 inches deep), but with a roomy two-cubic-foot cooking cavity. It combines air and microwave technologies for fast, even cooking, but the microwave system can be used with standard metal pans. The built-in i-Menu program stores up to 500 recipes, plus the unit is smart card and USB capable. You’ll simply upload your family’s favorite recipe for lasagne directly into your oven from your computer via a USB cable or a swipe of a magnetically striped card.

This commercial oven will only be available in stainless steel, with black touchpad controls and a black insulated handle, unlike the cute, candy-colored residential models. It will hit stores in January 2008.

By Angott Products, $399

You might think an automatic stirrer sounds like another useless kitchen gadget, but laboratories use them all the time.

This one is motorized, stainless steel, and adjusts to fit pots from 12 to 22 inches in diameter and 6 to 24 inches deep. The guy who invented it, Paul Angott, is an entrepreneur who holds patents on products ranging from wireless doorbells to self-guided lawn mowers.

Angott estimates that if you made 20 pounds of chili 300 times per year, you’d save $4,025 in labor and burnt food with his stirrer.

The AutoStir is cordless, can run for 30 hours on rechargeable batteries, and has a nine-hour recharge time. You can program the time between turns from 30 seconds to 4 minutes. All parts are industrial dishwasher safe, except the motor and the battery. The unit weighs about six pounds.

Currently the AutoStir is only available directly from Angott via email ( and comes with a two-year warranty.

Radius by CleanTech
By Meritech, $1,200–$1,700 (available mid-August)

After an exhausting day at the NRA Show, one of the most surprisingly refreshing products was this automatic hand washing machine. It was like a miniature spa treatment on the convention floor.

The new Radius by CleanTech is the smallest automatic hand washing and sanitizing machine made by Meritech. You simply stick your hands into the two holes on the front until the water starts, and leave them in until it stops. The company’s machines, which include boot washers, are primarily for industrial food processing, but this compact model can easily fit into tighter spaces like restaurant kitchens. It’s available as an in-counter, wall-mount, or portable table-mount unit.

Paul Barnhill, Meritech cofounder and vice president of engineering, said that a monitor is in the works that will track a user’s hand washing compliance. The employee will wear an RFID tag that will be detected by a reader on the machine, which will record the information. This retrofittable option will be available this fall.

Barnhill mentioned that Meritech also holds the patent for an automatic full-body washer, but he said, “Humans aren’t ready for it yet.” Oh yes, I think we are.

Hurricone Floor Drying System
By Hurricone, $325

The Hurricone is a “why didn’t someone think of this before” product. Specifically, it’s a floor-drying fan built into a wheeled, portable base as a substitute for those wet-floor warning cones. It was created to prevent slip-and-fall accidents and lawsuits. It dries mopped floors in less than five minutes, decreasing drying time by 90 percent.

The unit blows air out 15 feet in all directions. It’s cordless, and can run 12 hours after an 8- to 10-hour charge on a removable battery pack, designed so you can replace it with a fully charged battery without taking the machine out of commission. The manufacturer claims the battery will last up to 11 years if run 12 hours a day.

The Hurricone weighs about 20 pounds but is easily maneuverable on lockable casters, unlike lightweight signs or cones alone, which always seem to get knocked over.

The base is also sold separately and can be used with most standard cones as well as the Hurricone. An optional blinking light to top the cone is available.

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