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updated: 8/28/2013 2:40 PM

Cook of the Week Challenge: Meet the 2013 contestants

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NCAA basketball has its Sweet 16; I have my Savory 16.

That's the term I affectionately use to describe the 16 suburban home cooks who have been selected to compete in the third annual Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge. And today, I proudly introduce them to you.

These 16 were chosen from among dozens of applicants to be part of the elimination-style cooking competition. The cooks hail from Lindenhurst to Glen Ellyn, Buffalo Grove to Batavia and range in age from 28 to 69. In the group you'll find a doctor, a legal assistant, educators and retirees and, of course, people who are passionate about cooking.

You'll also notice a contestant from our inaugural competition eager to have another go at it, plus a few people featured in past Cook of the Week columns.

Over the next two months, these folks will compete in one-on-one contests that challenge them to use the same "mystery ingredients" to create an entree and at least one side dish or a one-pot meal. (Turn to Page 4 to see the Savory 16 bracket.)

Their recipes will be judged by a panel that includes Buffalo Grove native and former "MasterChef" contestant Suzy Singh, chef John Junior from the Hyatt Regency Woodfield Schaumburg, and our 2011 and 2012 Cook of the Week Challenge winners Penny Kazmier and Michael Pennisi, respectively. The cook with the winning recipe will advance to the next round, where he or she will tackle another mystery basket challenge.

The four left standing will compete in a live cook-off Oct. 30 at the Hyatt Regency Woodfield Schaumburg, where the winner will be crowned Cook of the Year and receive a prize package valued at $3,000.

These 16 cooks aren't the only ones vying for prizes. Each week, we invite readers to vote for their favorite recipe at surveymonkey.com/s/COTW.

Each week, we'll randomly select a voter to win prizes like T-shirts for Hunger Action Month, gift cards for Whole Foods Market and products from our sponsors. The contestant whose recipes garner the most votes overall will be declared Cook of the Week Challenge Fan Favorite and receive a special prize at the finale.

You can follow the contest each Wednesday in the Food section and on our website, dailyherald.com/lifestyle/food/cookchallenge. Like us at Facebook.com/CookoftheWeek to learn more about the cooks, the sponsors and for updates on how you can be in the audience for the Oct. 30 cook-off extravaganza.

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