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posted: 8/15/2012 5:00 AM

Cooking challenge contestants warming up

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What a busy couple of weeks it's been, and I don't expect things to slow down soon. I have selected the eight former Cooks of the Week and the eight challengers for our Cook of the Week Challenge, and I will introduce the players in two more weeks. So if you didn't hear from me yet, thank you very much for applying.

I read so many fantastic recipes; I wish I could have given more of you a shot at the contest. My advice to those who didn't get in this year: Try again in 2013. Several of our 2012 contestants entered last year as well.

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Some more exciting contest news ... Suzy Singh, the 2001 Stevenson High School graduate who rose to fame on the second season of Fox's "Master Chef," has joined on as a judge for the initial recipe challenge rounds and the live cook-off on Nov. 1. Details on ticket availability will be forthcoming.

Once the contest gets rolling, we'll have a Web page dedicated to contest coverage and recipes. I also encourage you to "like" the contest page for additional updates at facebook.com/cookoftheweek.

Celebrating Julia: Had she not passed away in 2004, Julia Child would have turned 100 today. The fact that she's gone has not stopped chefs and culinarians around the globe from planning celebrations in her honor.

Between today and Aug. 25, a handful of restaurants in the suburbs and Chicago are planning menus featuring some of Child's trademark recipes. "Julia Child was so far ahead of her time when you think of all the food-based shows on television today," says chef Didier Durand, owner of Cyrano's Farm Kitchen and president of ChicagoOriginals, a restaurant cooperative. "She simply wanted to share her love of food with America, and that is why people go into the restaurant business!"

For a list of participating restaurants, visit chicagooriginals.com. On the site you'll also find half-off gift certificates.

On Friday, Aug. 17, you can prepare some of Child's recipes with the instructors at Now We're Cooking in Evanston. From 6:30 to 9 p.m., students will learn how to make, and then eat, Lyonnais salad, sole with lemon cream and ratatouille. The class costs $75. Reserve your spot at nwcookin.com or call (847) 570-4140.

On Sept. 7, Chicago's chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier presents "La Grande Fête: A French Salute to Julia and Joan."

The culinary society, of which Child was a member, has planned an evening of French food, cheeses, wines and desserts. Alpana Singh, of PBS' "Check, Please," will host, and Dame of Distinction Joan Reardon will sign copies of her new book "As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto."

Learn more about the group and the event at lesdameschicago.org.

King of Sandwiches: As my boys prepare to head back to school later this month, I can't stop thinking sandwiches. Seems others are thinking about sandwiches as well.

In its September issue that celebrates all things Italian, Every Day with Rachael Ray pays homage to Chicago-style Italian beef sandwiches, those seasoned roast beef behemoths simmered in brothy gravy and studded with spicy giardiniera. She gives props to Al's Beef and Carm's Beef in the Windy City proper, but my go-to beef spot is Buona Beef. What's yours? Share your thoughts at facebook.com/debpankey.dailyherald.

Ruminating on RumChata: Seems I showed up later to the RumChata party than I thought. In the Aug. 1 edition I told you that RumChata, a rum-spiked cream liqueur, has sold 1 million bottles since the beginning of the year. Yes, that's true, but that's on top of the 1 million bottles sold since its introduction in 2011. If you run out and grab a bottle maybe they'll hit 3 million by the year's end.

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

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