7 cooks advance to round 2 of Cook of the Week Challenge 2018

 
 
Updated 10/10/2018 7:21 AM
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The eight home cooks in this year's Cook of the Week Challenge faced their first mystery ingredients with courage and a whole lot of creativity. Contestants were asked to create a dish using Vanilla Bean Paste from Neilsen- Massey; Caminito Ham Off The Bone from Greenridge Farm; butternut squash from AMITA Health Systems; Anjou pears; and Erythritol from NOW Foods. The range of dishes is remarkable, and the judges were impressed and had good things to say about each item. That said, it's the numbers that count in the end, and Lola Kamuda will not be going on to round 2.

Based on scores for creativity; use of ingredients; ease of preparation; perceived taste; and presentation, the tally was close right up until the end.

Read about the highs and lows each cook faced in the first round and get a look at their dishes. Recipes, as entered to judges, appear on dailyherald.com/lifestyle/food/cook-of-the-week-challenge/

This week's judges are Chef Ahmed Azizy, Executive Chef Westin Chicago Northwest; Chef Rachael Kunst-Curotto, Chef Manager, AMITA Health System Corporate Office, Lisle; Beth Nielsen, VP of Culinary -- Nielsen-Massey Vanillas; Stacy Williams, Marketing Manager for Greenridge Farm; and Chef Suzy Singh, R&D Corporate Chef at NOW Foods.

Here's what the judges had to say about each cook's efforts:

Spicy butternut squash soup with sweet ham and pear crostini with goat cheese is Oscar Chapa's round 1 creation.
  Spicy butternut squash soup with sweet ham and pear crostini with goat cheese is Oscar Chapa's round 1 creation. - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Oscar Chapa

Singh: This is the recipe I have been waiting for! The concept of a Thai butternut squash soup with goat cheese and caramelized ham toast is the perfect combination of flavor. Excellent use of the star ingredients especially using the Erythritol to caramelize the ham. Fantastic job and I hope to see you in the finale.

Nielsen: Call out brand ingredient sponsors. Gorgeous photo and albeit complicated recipe for the average home cook, likely delicious -- possibly too many ingredients.

Azizy: Nice simple presentation, good menu selection and ingredients mix, the combination of butternut squash, goat cheese, pears, and ham is a good mix for a nice dish.

Kunst: The soup sounds wonderful, the crostini is a simple use of the ingredients but looks nice

Mark Clemens of Elgin used his week one basket ingredients to make Caminito ham with vanilla bean paste glaze served with pureed butternut squash topped with candied pears.
  Mark Clemens of Elgin used his week one basket ingredients to make Caminito ham with vanilla bean paste glaze served with pureed butternut squash topped with candied pears. - Rick West | Staff Photographer

Mark Clemmens

Singh: Love the use of Erythritol in both the vanilla bean glaze as well as the candied pear recipe! Erythritol is the perfect sugar substitute with 70 percent of the sweetness from conventional sugar. You have used this ingredient to complement the ham perfectly! I wished you also used this ingredient to bring out the sweetness in the butternut squash puree. Adding cinnamon, vanilla or clove would have elevated this dish to the next level. Amazing job Mark!

Nielsen: Very simple and seems delicious. Proper incorporation of ingredients but try using vanilla in squash. Proper brand recognition for sponsors, but make sure spelling is correct.

Azizy: Nice presentation, the dish could use some sauce and more attention.

Kunst: Very basic use of the ingredients; wish there were a better use of the ham.

Roberta Fahey prepared a cheesy pear ham with fig tart accompanied by butternut squash, apple, and sweet potato hash. A caramelized pear is garnished with sprigs of rosemary.
  Roberta Fahey prepared a cheesy pear ham with fig tart accompanied by butternut squash, apple, and sweet potato hash. A caramelized pear is garnished with sprigs of rosemary. - Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Roberta Fahey

Singh: This recipe brings me back to Paris enjoying a croque monsieur tart on the street. I wish the contestant used erythritol primarily and not the brown sugar in the recipe as it is a sugar alternative so that this ingredient could be a star. I also wished this contestant could primarily use the star ingredients to create a cohesive dish instead of other delicious ingredients. Overall great job and keep these nostalgic recipes coming.

Nielsen: Great creativity, not sure about rosemary for flavor. Always call out brand sponsors with ingredients.

Azizy: Nice presentation, too much going on with the dish. The main ingredient got lost among the other ingredients.

Kunst: Separately both components sound great, and are easy uses of the ingredients, I would've like to see the squash incorporated into the tart, or combine the hash with the other ingredients and do a calzone.

Pulled ham tacos topped with roasted butternut squash with pear and red onion salsa was made by Dylan James of Hawthorn Woods.
  Pulled ham tacos topped with roasted butternut squash with pear and red onion salsa was made by Dylan James of Hawthorn Woods. - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Dylan James

Singh: I am in love with a creative taco recipe! This is a super simple recipe which showcases each ingredient as a star. I would have sprinkled erythritol on the butternut squash before roasting to create a delicious caramel-like taste. Overall great job and can't wait to see what you come up with in the next round!

Nielsen: Great creativity and presentation. Vanilla may be incorporated in salsa to cut the acidity.

Azizy: Nice clean presentation, a simple light dish, a different tortilla would elevate this dish to the next level, homemade tortilla for example.

Kunst: Love the pear salsa, and adding the butternut squash to the taco is a great way to make them filling while keeping them light, so you don't feel stuffed, I might have added some cumin or another seasoning to the pork to spice it up to offset the sweetness of the salsa.

Lola Kamuda made ham with Gouda and pear panini and butternut squash chips.
  Lola Kamuda made ham with Gouda and pear panini and butternut squash chips. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Lola Kamuda

Singh: Wow! Interesting use of ingredients. I am a huge fan of delicious sandwiches! My suggestion is to keep it simple for the home cook. A lot of these steps can be simplified including the seasoning of the butternut squash. I wish the butternut squash had been sliced thinner to resemble butternut squash chips. Great use of the ingredient!

Nielsen: An easy recipe that could be simplified as a panini. Call out brand sponsored ingredients. Likely tasty but similar to dishes I've eaten at restaurants for 10-20 years.

Azizy: the sandwich idea is a safe choice for a recipe, but it does not show a lot of creativity.

Kunst: I like the butternut squash spread, flavorful substitute for mayo and the sandwich looks tasty. Instead of medallions, fries might be a better presentation.

Butternut squash and ham lasagna with pear and fennel salad were created by Leslie Vennero Little of Roselle.
  Butternut squash and ham lasagna with pear and fennel salad were created by Leslie Vennero Little of Roselle. - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Leslie Vennero Little

Suzy Singh: Genius use of the butternut squash in the lasagna which is perfect for the fall season. There was a disconnect with the two dishes- my suggestion in the next round is the keep it simple, create only one cohesive dish, and truly make the mystery box ingredients the star! Great work Leslie!!!

Nielsen: Too much sauce in the picture on lasagna (albeit probably delicious). Lots of prep for the average home cook, but great to leave in the oven or reheat for guests. The slaw is well balanced and likely delicious!

Azizy: good choice of a plate for presentation, nice use of the ingredients and menu choice. The fennel, pear salsa is a good complement to the squash ham lasagna.

Kunst: The lasagna is a great idea, the flavors go well together. I would have tried to incorporate the pears into the lasagna instead of making a slaw, while I'm sure it's delicious it looks messy on the plate if you layered the ingredients into the lasagna it would've given it more depth and complexity.

Darla Pitts made Ham, Pear, and Swiss, Stuffed Croissant Pocket with Sweet Cream Squash Soup in round 1 of the Cook of the Week Challenge 2018.
  Darla Pitts made Ham, Pear, and Swiss, Stuffed Croissant Pocket with Sweet Cream Squash Soup in round 1 of the Cook of the Week Challenge 2018. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Darla Pitts

Singh: Wow -- this contestant is definitely flexing their culinary muscles! The use of erythritol in the butternut squash soup was perfect! I wish this contestant used the erythritol both in the making of the dough. Erythritol would help with the enumeration of the yeast and cause a more flavorful dough. Overall great job contestant.

Nielsen: Very simple, the soup seems delicious. Neet to call out sponsor ingredients.

Azizy: The stuffed croissant is a good complement to the squash soup. The soup could use some garnish. Overall this has potential.

Kunst: Love that you made your own dough, the filling sounds great and would compliment the squash soup. Would like to have seen a little more creativity/flavoring with the soup and finish it with a garnish, maybe fry up some ham bits and a dollop of cream.

Ann Wayne of Barrington made stuffed butternut squash with ham, pears and quinoa.
  Ann Wayne of Barrington made stuffed butternut squash with ham, pears and quinoa. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Ann Wayne

Singh: I could swim in this Balsamic reduction! Delicious! I think there is a culinary tug of war in this recipe with the Mediterranean feel of balsamic, mixed with the Asian flair of ginger, miso, and tamari sauce. I would stick with one region and truly showcase the ingredients. Overall great job contestant!

Nielsen: Call out brand ingredient sponsors. Beautiful presentation and a healthy dish.

Azizy: one plate dish presentation would elevate this dish and a little work on the details. Such as peeling the squash after cooking.

Kunst: Love the use of quinoa and combining Asian ingredients, while the idea of serving it in the squash is cute, if the squash isn't cooked through can be hard to eat and cause a mess, I might've diced the squash and roasted which would give nice texture to the rest of the dish. The salad is a classic, but for the challenge, I would have left it off.

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