By Hannah Dressen
I had never even heard of commercialized celery soda, but then again there’s just about everything out there now including kale powder. You can imagine that it didn’t exactly entice me to buy a whole liter when I tried it on its own, but with a powdered peanut butter rim and raisin jellies floating inside, I was brought back to my elementary school lunches of ants on a log.
I have been lucky enough to attend the NRA show for a few years through a school club function. The National Restaurant Association show is the largest food show gathering for the restaurant, food service, and the hospitality industries. With over 2,000 exhibitors, the McCormick Place event center in Chicago houses the large conference in May every year. Industry members can attend educational sessions, connect with vendors, purchase equipment or ingredients, watch celebrity chefs at the World Culinary Showcase stage, hone their culinary skills at the Foodamental Studio, or just walk the floor eating their weight in samples for four days (seriously, its great).
One of my favorite parts of the show is the Foodamental Studio where you can participate in making your own culinary masterpiece. RCA member John Csukor of KOR Food Innovation expertly hosts a culinary inspired session every year at the show, with good reason! The Studio partners with student volunteers from Kendall College, and this year we attended the “Crafting Flavor” session hosted by one of their executive chefs Elaine Sikorski.
The childhood favorite of ants on a log was the choice of inspiration for our culinary session. If you’ve never had it, take a piece of celery, slather on some peanut butter, and top with raisins for a variety of textures. The flavor combination of these ingredients are tasty, however, our goal in this industry is to be constantly forging new culinary paths. Chef Sikorski and her students took these three simple ingredients and made several different forms of each; celery foam, celery cream, celery soda, powdered peanut butter, liquid peanut butter, raisin dust, raisin puree, and raisin jellies. Raisin dust was made by dehydrating and drying raisins down even further, then grinding them to a powder in a food processor. Celery cream was made by juicing a celery, adding heavy cream, and whipping it until it becomes light and fluffy. The challenge, and main goal of the session, was to see how many ways you can achieve the typical “ants on a log” flavor with different components and textures. Not only that, but how can you increase the raisin or celery flavor, without entirely overpowering the other two ingredients? Personally, I think that this is one of the most fun parts of our future careers in the R&D industry, because who doesn’t want to play and experiment with food! Flavor inspiration can come from just about anything. Maybe the next project will come from my birthday favorite of hot dogs and mac and cheese?