Tony Barone is as comfortable in front of a judge in a court of law as he is at a chili cook-off.
Law may be the Naperville resident's profession, but cooking is his avocation. A 3-foot tall trophy proudly displayed in Tony's Oak Brook offices is testimony to his first-place win at the International Chili Society's Wisconsin State Chili Cookoff in 2011. Judges evaluated the entries on flavor, texture, consistency, aroma, color and blend of spices.
"The International Chili Society has contests across the country," Tony said. "There were probably 40 participants in the Green Lake, Wis. contest."
For his full-flavored chili recipe, Tony prefers a combination of meats and fresh chilies. Competitors may use prepared tomatoes, pepper, broth and beverages. His prizewinning recipe calls for three kinds of peppers that he roasts or grills to amplify the flavors. When lightly charred on all sides, put the peppers into a sealed paper bag away from the heat for 20 minutes to loosen the skins and make an easy job of seeding.
Although Tony entered the chili contest for fun, he improves his skills and knowledge of food preparation by taking one culinary class at a time at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn for personal enrichment.
"I like the flexibility cooking gives me," he said. "I also like using the restaurant equipment in class."
Recently Tony bought a home-sized immersion blender after he tried out an industrial-sized one in class.
Growing up in an Italian family gave Tony a head start in the kitchen.
"Our family always hosted all the big holiday family parties because my mom and aunt thought nothing of cooking for 50 people," Tony said. "So I learned by watching them."
"At any point of time on a weekend, my sister and I could each invite a friend to our home for dinner, unannounced, and there would always be enough food and even leftovers," Tony said laughing at the memory.
Tony makes his braciola the way he remembers his relatives making it when he was growing up, though he's added a few personal touches. He wrote his recipe down for the first time to share with readers.
The braciola is a delicious alternative to meat balls that looks more complicated than it is. The amalgamation of beef, pancetta and spinach adds to the braciola's succulent full flavor. Cut the rolls into 1-inch pinwheel slices and arrange over pasta or spinach fettuccini for a lovely presentation that will leave you winning praises all your own.
• To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook's name, address and phone number to email@example.com.