For Fabio Viviani, a celebrity chef, former Top Chef contestant, cook book author, and restaurateur, the annual NRA Show in Chicago is all about networking. “This is a business based on people, and in order to connect with people you have to be where they are,” Viviani says. “The NRA Show is a great source of connection. You can meet vendors, employees, business partners, and competitors.”
As an established chef, Viviani—who has attended NRA Show for over a decade—says that he has built many relationships there and that the Show provides him with opportunities to catch up with his peers and gain a competitive advantage by seeing what they are doing. When he was just getting started in the business, however, the Show provided him with a valuable platform on which to build his business. “When I had one restaurant, I used the Show to make connections to get better pricing and discounts,” he says.
Vendors are a big attraction at the Show for both established chefs and those just starting their careers. Viviani says he likes to browse booths to find new products. “NRA Show is like Candy Land for a kid,” he says. “I can walk around for hours. Last year I found a better system to manage my inventory that I love, and I wouldn’t be aware of it if I wasn’t at NRA Show.”
For first-time attendees, though, Viviani suggests planning specific booths to visit based on whatever challenges they have in their businesses. “Go through the directory and see what interests you,” he says. “Do you need help with inventory or beverage and alcohol? Do you need new menus? What are your problems in the restaurant today? If you can figure out what you need, there will be vendors who can help you with that at NRA Show. Just go hunt them down.”
Viviani is a self-proclaimed people person and he says that giving cooking demonstrations is one of his favorite parts of the Show. “Demonstrations let folks break away from business for a second and sit down to watch somebody on stage making food,” he says. “The interactions can get very personal, too.”
Another big reason Viviani says restaurant professionals should attend NRA Show is to learn new techniques and enhance existing skills. “It doesn’t matter how good you are or how big you are, there is always someone out there doing something better than you,” Viviani says. “It’s a very good way to learn, stay current, and be humble. Though Viviani is well-established in the industry, he says NRA Show provides numerous opportunities for both experienced and new chefs. “NRA Show is a great opportunity for people who are starting their journeys in the culinary business to get lots of insight and become knowledgeable,” he says. “It’s a great organization, and I’m very happy to be part of it.”