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updated: 6/13/2012 4:13 PM

From the food editor: Life a bowl of cherries for Arlington Heights pie champ

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  • Matt Zagorski's "Life is a Pie Full of Cherries"

      Matt Zagorski's "Life is a Pie Full of Cherries"
    Courtesy of the American Pie Council

  • Roy Lichtenstein's "Ohhh  Alright ", 1964.

      Roy Lichtenstein's "Ohhh Alright ", 1964.
    Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

  • Bill Zars/bzars@dailyherald.com  Deb Pankey new column mug for food front.

      Bill Zars/bzars@dailyherald.com Deb Pankey new column mug for food front.

 
 

A hearty congratulations goes out to Arlington Heights baker Matt Zagorski who took top prize in the professional cherry pie division at the American Pie Council/Crisco National Pie Championship.

Matt's oatmeal streusel-topped Life is a Pie Full of Cherries beat out the other entries in the competitive cherry pie category while his Salted Caramel Pie earned an honorable mention in the nut division. While Matt, a father of two who works as a sales rep in the culinary industry, considers himself a pie hobbyist, his culinary degree from Kendall College in Chicago puts him in the professional category competing against full-time bakers and pie shop owners.

"I've been working on this pie for three years," Matt said of his award winner. "There are a lot of different varieties of cherries and I had to find the right cherry to make the kind of pie I wanted."

His cherry of choice is Montmorency, which he orders from an orchard in Michigan.

Matt entered eight pies in the 2012 competition held at the end of April in Orlando, Fla. He said it took three days to prepare all the pies and he's thankful for use of a friend's nearby vacation home where he toiled away while his family frolicked in the Florida sun.

"I'm a cherry person, this is one of my personal favorites, but that's not the pie I thought would win," he said.

This was not Matt's first time to the pie championship (some of his pies have won either first place or honorable mention in 2009 and 2010) and this won't be his last.

"I already have my 2013 pie plan," he says. He's hoping one of those will win him $5,000 and the Best of Show honors, an award that has eluded him thus far. (Recipes for all the 2012 first place and honorable mention pies in the amateur and professional divisions are available at piecouncil.org.)

"The only prize now is the satisfaction, ribbons on the wall and a couple hundred bucks that pays for groceries for more pies."

Beyond burritos: Learn about regional Mexican cuisine at the Chicago Botanic Garden's Taste of Mexico this weekend.

On Saturday, June 16, and Sunday, June 17, guests can enjoy tastings of tequila, specialty cocktails and Mexican beers and sample food from Oaxaca, Jalisco, Veracruz and Guanajuato in Mexico. Cooking and beverage demonstrations, live bands and entertaining round out the days.

Taste of Mexico, sponsored by the Mexico Tourism Board, runs noon to 6 p.m. both days. Advance tickets (available to those 21 and older) cost $30; $25 for Garden members. Day-of tickets cost $35; $30 for members. Admission to the Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake-Cook Road, Glencoe, is free; parking costs $20 a car.

For details and to purchase tickets visit chicagobotanic.org/calendar/mexico or call (847) 835-5440.

Artful dining: Learn about the art and influence of Roy Lichtenstein while noshing on an artfully prepared 1960s-influenced meal June 20 at Niche restaurant in Geneva.

A curator from The Art Institute in Chicago will share some of Lichtenstein's work and lead a discussion on one of the leaders of the new art movement. Cocktails begin at 6 p.m. followed by the lecture at 6:30. Chef Serena Perdue's three-course menu will be served at 7:30 p.m. Niche is at 14 S. Main St. Make a reservation at (630) 262-1000.

Caribbean beat: Learn how to make recipes with a tropical twist from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, June 23, at Waterleaf Restaurant in Glen Ellyn.

Chef Jean-Louis Clerc will lead students in preparing Caribbean delights like cod fritters, chicken and coconut Colombo and ti punch. After the class, guests will enjoy their creations at a communal table in the restaurant. The four-course meal will be paired with wine for guests 21 and older. The hands-on class costs $85. Reserve a spot at (630) 942-6881.

Waterleaf Restaurant is at 425 Fawell Blvd. in the College of DuPage's Culinary and Hospitality Center.

• Contact Deborah Pankey at dpankey@dailyherald.com or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend on Facebook.com/debpankey.dailyherald or follow her on Twitter @PankeysPlate.

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