Cook of the Week Challenge: Live cook-off finale a trip anyone can take

 
 
Updated 11/7/2018 1:05 PM
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  • Executive Chef Ahmed Azizy of the Westin Chicago Northwest cooks for the audience and answers questions during last year's Cook of the Week Challenge finale. He'll be back this year as a contest judge and giving a demonstration.

      Executive Chef Ahmed Azizy of the Westin Chicago Northwest cooks for the audience and answers questions during last year's Cook of the Week Challenge finale. He'll be back this year as a contest judge and giving a demonstration. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer, 2017

  • Elizabeth Schuttler of Inverness won the 2017 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge. She'll be on hand to judge the final recipes at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca Monday night. Elizabeth parades through well wishers with her wooden spoon trophy.

      Elizabeth Schuttler of Inverness won the 2017 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge. She'll be on hand to judge the final recipes at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca Monday night. Elizabeth parades through well wishers with her wooden spoon trophy. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer, 2017

  • Toasty Cheese was among the vendors offering product samples at last year's event.

      Toasty Cheese was among the vendors offering product samples at last year's event. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer, 2017

Eight home cooks started a culinary journey in August when they entered this year's Cook of the Week Challenge. Now, after four weekly challenges, the four finalists face off at the live cook-off Monday, Nov. 12.

It's been quite a ride.

Vying for the 2018 Cook of the Year title and a prize package worth more than $1,500 are: Oscar Chapa of Volo, Mark Clemens of Elgin, Darla Pitts of Chicago and Roberta Fahey of Arlington Heights. They will battle it out from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12, at the Westin Chicago Northwest, 400 Park Blvd., Itasca.

Family and friends fill the main ballroom to support their favorite cooks, who will have access to a pantry and the final mystery basket of ingredients to produce a dish in one hour for judging. When the clock stops, it's tongs down. The public, of course, is invited to watch the action unfold while enjoying an appetizer buffet, product samples, a raffle and more.

While the cooks are sweating it out over their cooking stations, the audience will watch live cooking demonstrations by professional chefs including Suzy Singh of NOW Foods and the Westin's Executive Chef Ahmed Azizy as well as Katsuji Tanabe, executive chef/owner of Barrio Restaurant and a former "Top Chef" competitor. He also appeared on an episode of "Chopped." There will be samples and recipes to take home.

Paul Guerrero, culinary director of Cooking Skills Academy in Itasca, will serve as the emcee.

This year, our winning Cook of the Year will take home a grand prize including a chance to dine at Season 52's chef's table, a Thermador Emerald Series Integrated dishwasher from Novak & Parker/Thermador valued at $1,250, gift cards from Jewel and Binny's Beverage and cooking classes for two at Cooking Skills Academy in Itasca. And of course, the winner takes home the giant wooden spoon trophy and bragging rights for the year.

Our other three cooks receive classes for two at Cooking Skills Academy, and Binny's and Jewel gift cards.

Kicking off the event, we'll introduce the original eight cooks, who will receive gifts of a King Oscar apron, Jewel gift card and a chocolate spoon and spatula from Morkes Chocolates.

This year, the contest had the cooks facing the same secret ingredients in each round. One cook was eliminated by guest judges each week.

Food challenges got more difficult as the weeks progressed.

With each new tricky food or odd flavor combination, our local home cooks have risen to the test. Indeed the creative use of ingredients is astounding -- and matched only by the recipes' growing complexity.

For the past four weeks, guest judges rated recipes on creativity, use of the secret ingredients, ease of use, appearance and perceived taste. In the home challenge portion of this contest, recipe writing and organizing are paramount. That's because the judges rate the recipes, not the actual taste of each dish.

Our celebrity judges for the finale will get the chance to taste what our finalists prepare. They will rate each cook's dish on presentation, taste, use of ingredients and creativity. Judges include Jimmy Nicolau, from Grecian Delight; Elizabeth Schuttler, 2017 Cook of the Year; Dave Gonnella, vice president of sales at Gonnella Baking Co.; Tanabe, Singh and Azizy.

Tickets for this live cook-off are $20, with $5 going to the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Tickets include appetizers, food samples, one drink ticket and a goody bag. They're available at <URL destination="https://www.eventbrite.com/e/cook-of-the-week-challenge-finale-2018-tickets-48812619860?aff=erelexpmlt. ">https://www.eventbrite.com/e/cook-of-the-week-challenge-finale-2018-tickets-48812619860?aff=erelexpmlt. For additional contest coverage, visit dailyherald.com/lifestyle/food/cook-of-the-week-challenge/

</URL>See you there.

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