There was no octopus, butterscotch candies or squid ink in the kitchen when three students in the Technology Center of DuPage's culinary program started cooking for "Chopped" judge Maneet Chauhan.
Instead the high school students -- seniors Michael Bode of Woodridge, Zachary Molokie of Carol Stream and junior Bryce Mooney of Naperville -- each had $30 and 60 minutes to prepare a dish they deemed representative of America and present the plated dish to Chauhan and her fellow judges Doug Singer, co-author of Chauhan's book "Flavors of My World," and Gary Salvestrini, president of Sysco food service company.
The contest was part of the ProStart (the education arm of the National Restaurant Association) Cutting Edge Tour.
The students' plates were quite varied, and not a burger in the bunch. Bode presented risotto with crispy sweet breads because he said "every chef should know how to cook risotto." Molokie dished up bowls of coconut- and chile-infused carrot soup topped with Maine lobster, a marriage of organic and regional ingredients. And Mooney gave the judges meaty lamb chops dressed with a sweet date sauce and served alongside purple potatoes.
After the tasting and deliberation, judges awarded Molokie top prize for his carrot soup. The Wheaton North High School student who plans to attend the Culinary Institute of Michigan in the fall will be considered with the other regional winners for an opportunity to cook with a chef as part of the White House Chef Tour.
"I love the consistency," said Chauhan, who made her mark in Chicago at the much-lauded Vermillion restaurant. "It's a bisque, but not a bisque. And I love the little bit of coconut milk that makes it creamy without cream. ... It shows a tremendous amount of skill to get those layers of flavor in such a short amount of time."
Still, she cautioned Molokie about balance, adding that the sweetness of the carrots and lobster needed to be tempered by using a heavier hand with the chiles, or possibly adding a smoky spice.
Molokie, who has competed nationally with TCD's culinary team, says he went into the competition confident with his ability and open to criticism.
"I'd rather hear criticism than compliments," he said. "The advice (the judges) can give me is what I can take and improve."
Toque about town: "Top Chef" season five fan favorite Fabio Viviani will stop in the suburbs this weekend to meet fans and sign copies of his new book "Fabio's Italian Kitchen."
In his book (2013 Hyperion Trade), Viviani shares stories of his upbringing in Florence, his obsession with Nutella and more than 100 mouthwatering recipes. Strangely there's no Nutella-spiked cannoli, but there are recipes for his grandmother's polenta and other family favorites as well as his Ricotta Gnocchi with Squash Blossoms and Clams, Spinach Stewed Calamari and Eggplant Caponata.
His recipes are tightly written and easy to follow, emphasizing Viviani's mission to empower readers to create the home-cooked fare of his childhood in their own homes.
Meet Viviani from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 25, at Valli Produce, 155 E. North Ave., Glendale Heights.
Just desserts: If you've ever wondered why red velvet cake is red, where Girl Scout cookies originated or who baked the first baked Alaska, head to the Aspen Drive Library in Vernon Hills on Thursday, May 23.
At 7 p.m., popular CakeSpy blogger Jessie Oleson Moore will talk about America's most beloved treats and how they came to be. A self-proclaimed dessert detective, Oleson Moore, documents bakery finds around the country, conducts baking experiments, posts recipes, picks the brains of bakers and food artists, and generally explores the lure and lore of baked goods. Her latest book, "The Secret Lives of Baked Goods," will be available for purchase and signing at the event.
The evening is free, but registration is appreciated. Register at webres.cooklib.org, (847) 362-2330 or at the library, 701 Aspen Drive, Vernon Hills.
• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at email@example.com or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend on Facebook.com/DebPankey.Daily Herald or follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest @PankeysPlate