A modern take on the classic sloppy joe took top honors at the fourth annual Prime Burger House and Elgin Community College burger competition at the Grand Victoria Casino Friday.
Katie Wichert's Kelly Joe Burger topped an all-beef patty with cheddar and pepperjack cheeses, bacon marinated in beer and drunken caramelized onions on ciabatta bread.
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"I pretty much opened the cabinets to see what I could do," said Wichert, 21, from West Chicago. "I wanted to keep it simple and hearty."
Wichert said she would like to work in a restaurant and eventually open her own diner featuring comfort food and homemade meals made from scratch.
The burger, named after Wichert's older sister, beat five other finalists for a $2,000 scholarship to Elgin Community College.
"It is in memory of my sister who passed away from a brain aneurysm in 2009," Wichert said. "She got me into cooking because I had to go out to Long Island, New York, to baby-sit her kids when she had a foot operation."
The final round of judging at the Grand Victoria Casino featured familiar dishes with a twist.
Glenn Keenan, executive chef at Prime Burger House, said it was like the contestants read the minds of the chefs at the burger house who had been toying with some of the same ideas.
Burgers on Friday included the Cuban with a ground pork and chorizo patty; a Reuben with a ground beef patty topped with corned beef, sauerkraut, kimchee and other spiced vegetables; and a po boy served with fried shrimp, havarti cheese and Burger House patty.
"They have taken classic dishes and have turned them into gourmet burgers," Keenan said. "These are ideas we have had in the restaurant. They pretty much read our minds. They either haven't made the menu yet, or it was not the right time of year for it."
Wichert's burger will be featured on the Prime Burger House menu for the next year. Other burgers might appear on the menu for a week or so.