As chef of the venue hosting the final cook-off Hagop Hagopian will sit on the judging panel for each around of the competition. Each week's judging panel will also include representatives from local companies who contributed products for the recipe challenges as well as local chefs and Food Editor Deborah Pankey. Recipes are rated on creativity, use of product, appearance and perceived taste by four judges. Votes counted online at dailyherald.com/contest/cook will be used to break a tie when necessary.
Hagop Hagopian grew up in a strict family that believed in the American dream but also held their heritage close to their hearts.
Trained in French cuisine, Hagopian spent time in three- and four-star kitchens where he had developed his passion for food and a unique artistic flair for creating showpieces from ice, sugar and chocolate.
At Fresh 1800 restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Woodfield Schaumburg Hagopian showcases the latest in culinary trends, including locavore dining, where diners are served foods from the local area wherever possible. An herb and vegetable garden is maintained on property where seasonal herbs and vegetable are infused in his daily preparation of food.
Keith Willis took over the kitchen at the acclaimed SugarToad, a celebrated restaurant in the Hotel Arista in Naperville, earlier this year and has continued the restaurant's commitment to fresh and sustainable foods, working in concert with local growers to provide the freshest dining experience for its customers.
A graduate of Kendall College's culinary arts program in 1987, Willis has worked in kitchens from France and England to Naperville and St. Charles.
Says Willis, "(Cooking) is about bringing joy and excitement to our guests through constant creativity. It's about exploring both modern and traditional methods and techniques, and fusing both through new explorations and experiences."
Gale Gand is a nationally acclaimed pastry chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, television personality, root beer maker and mom. She's the executive pastry chef and partner of the renowned restaurant Tru and in 2001 was Outstanding Pastry Chef by The James Beard Foundation and Pastry Chef of the Year by Bon Appetite magazine.
Gand was the host of the long-running "Sweet Dreams," the first all-dessert show produced by the Food Network. She has seven cookbooks to her credit, including her most recent, "Gale Gand's Brunch." Her root beer company, Gale's Root Beer, produces artisanal cinnamon-, ginger- and vanilla-infused root beer made with real cane sugar.
Ying Stoller is an Asian cooking instructor, cookbook author and food entrepreneur. She has been teaching Asian cooking for the last decade at local community colleges and festivals and at cooking schools and library programs throughout the Midwest.
Born and raised in northeastern mainland China, she learned a lot about cooking from her father. After graduating from teachers college and teaching for a few years, she began a career as a travel agent for international tourists. Traveling around the country afforded her the opportunity to experience the unique tastes the different regions of China offer and she gained an appreciation for the rich flavors and traditions of each cuisine and for the art of Chinese cooking.
Her own brand Asian sauces, bottled under the Ying's Kitchen label, are low in sodium and contain no high fructose corn syrup or monosodium glutamate. Look for them at independent grocery stores throughout the suburbs and online at yingskitchen.com.