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updated: 8/28/2013 4:13 PM

Meet our 16 Cook of the Week Challenge contestants

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  • Dr. Karen Grobman of Buffalo Grove hold some of her favorite cook books. Grobman is one of 16 contestants in the Cook of the Week Challenge.

       Dr. Karen Grobman of Buffalo Grove hold some of her favorite cook books. Grobman is one of 16 contestants in the Cook of the Week Challenge.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Judy Monaco of Glendale Heights is competing in her second Challenge. She was a contestant in 2011.

       Judy Monaco of Glendale Heights is competing in her second Challenge. She was a contestant in 2011.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Elliott Papineau of Glen Ellyn counts salt as one of his favorite ingredients. Papineau is part of the Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.

       Elliott Papineau of Glen Ellyn counts salt as one of his favorite ingredients. Papineau is part of the Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Olive oil is liquid gold to Nick Brenkus of West Dundee, one of the Cook of the Week Challenge contestants.

       Olive oil is liquid gold to Nick Brenkus of West Dundee, one of the Cook of the Week Challenge contestants.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Nancy Smearman of Palatine is one of 16 contestants in the Cook of the Week Challenge. She looks to "Semi-Homemade" chef Sandra Lee's cook books for recipes and tips.

       Nancy Smearman of Palatine is one of 16 contestants in the Cook of the Week Challenge. She looks to "Semi-Homemade" chef Sandra Lee's cook books for recipes and tips.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Carrie Shawala of Roselle is one of 16 contestants in the Cook of the Week Challenge. Panko bread crumbs are a favorite ingredient.

       Carrie Shawala of Roselle is one of 16 contestants in the Cook of the Week Challenge. Panko bread crumbs are a favorite ingredient.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Carrie McCulley says her favorite ingredient is brown sugar. She's one of 16 contestants in the Cook of the Week Challenge.

       Carrie McCulley says her favorite ingredient is brown sugar. She's one of 16 contestants in the Cook of the Week Challenge.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Lori Wiktorek of Aurora is one of 16 contestants who will compete in the Daily Herald's third annual Cook of the Week Challenge. Olive oil is her favorite ingredient.

       Lori Wiktorek of Aurora is one of 16 contestants who will compete in the Daily Herald's third annual Cook of the Week Challenge. Olive oil is her favorite ingredient.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Cook of the Week Challenge competitor Dan Rich, of Elgin, counts fresh vegetables from his garden as his favorite ingredient.

      Cook of the Week Challenge competitor Dan Rich, of Elgin, counts fresh vegetables from his garden as his favorite ingredient.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Cook of the Week Challenge competitor Mike Baron, of South Elgin, with basil he grows in his backyard.

      Cook of the Week Challenge competitor Mike Baron, of South Elgin, with basil he grows in his backyard.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Lynn Fors is one of 16 contestants in the Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge. The Batavia woman says her favorite ingredient is avocados.

       Lynn Fors is one of 16 contestants in the Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge. The Batavia woman says her favorite ingredient is avocados.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Lori Motyka of West Chicago loves quinoa for breakfast, lunch or dinner. She's one of 16 home cooks in the Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.

       Lori Motyka of West Chicago loves quinoa for breakfast, lunch or dinner. She's one of 16 home cooks in the Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Cook of the Week Challenge contestant Jeff Zilch of Fox River Grove loves meat.

       Cook of the Week Challenge contestant Jeff Zilch of Fox River Grove loves meat.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Jeff Zilch of Fox River Grove loves to cook with meat, any kind of meat.

       Jeff Zilch of Fox River Grove loves to cook with meat, any kind of meat.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Christine Murphy of Palatine with her favorite ingredient, ginger.

       Christine Murphy of Palatine with her favorite ingredient, ginger.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Kevin Kilgore of Prospect Heights is one of 16 contestants who will compete in the Daily Herald's third annual Cook of the Week Challenge. Kilgore says a favorite ingredient is tomatoes from garden.

       Kevin Kilgore of Prospect Heights is one of 16 contestants who will compete in the Daily Herald's third annual Cook of the Week Challenge. Kilgore says a favorite ingredient is tomatoes from garden.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Mark Welsh/mwelsh@dailyherald.comTina Garrett of DesPlaines in her kitchen with her daughter Lillian,7, chopping up mushrooms for her next food dish.

      Mark Welsh/mwelsh@dailyherald.comTina Garrett of DesPlaines in her kitchen with her daughter Lillian,7, chopping up mushrooms for her next food dish.

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    Mark Welsh | Staff PhotographerTina Garrett of

  • Cook of the Week Tina Garrett with her favorite ingredient to cook with and use in her food dishes, Goose Island Oktoberfest beer.

       Cook of the Week Tina Garrett with her favorite ingredient to cook with and use in her food dishes, Goose Island Oktoberfest beer.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 

Jeff Zilch

38, Fox River Grove

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President, Delta Technical Solutions

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Can I just say meat? Give me a grill or a smoker and maybe a beer. Describe your style or approach to cooking. I like to use common spices and use the method of cooking to add flavor.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? It sounds cool. I have never done anything like this but we have seven people in our house so we are cooking all the time. This could be a fun way to compete and perhaps learn some new tricks.

Nancy Smearman

49, Palatine

Hair stylist, Salon Cienna, Palatine

Do you have a favorite TV cooking show/celebrity chef? Sandra Lee. She likes easy, semi-homemade. And she is creative and cost-conscious, too.

Describe your style or approach to cooking. I'm a good shortcut cook. It has to be easy, tasty, economical and fast for my family.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? It sounds like fun!

Tina Garrett

37, Des Plaines

Director of business development, Heil and Kay Insurance Agency

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Everything! It depends on the season. I throw a lot of food together; right now I am addicted to the grill. Coming from a big Italian family I do tend to go with pasta a lot. Right now, though, I am on a cabbage kick, sauteed with onions and bacon or in a soup. Oh, and buffalo, we always buy a half buffalo each year!

Describe your style or approach to cooking. Kitchen sink cooking. I can create anything. I just do what feels right. I will be on an Indian kick and cook tandoori chicken or a Mexican kick and make enchiladas mole. I get inspired walking through the grocery store; I pretty much stick to only fresh food. I don't use anything canned except beans and not much frozen at all.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I love to cook and I would love the bragging rights. My husband's work has a cooking contest every month or so and he has won two times and my items only have made top three. I would also love to be able to hold my head up when I am around all my food clients and friends! Also my nephew who I helped raise is at Maine West High School and wants to be a chef and we cook together all of the time, so I would love to do this for him ... or with him if you ever do a team competition.

Elliott Papineau

28, Glen Ellyn

Research analyst, First Trust Portfolios LP

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Salt. I use salt as a seasoning and a preservative.

Describe your style or approach to cooking. I like to use core techniques applied to available products to cook.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I would like to show how technique, not recipes, drives my cooking.

Lori Wiktorek

49, Aurora

Legal assistant

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Olive oil

Describe your style or approach to cooking. I consider myself a self-taught home cook. After trying all kinds of recipes ... I learned what my family likes by choosing recipes that at least have a few ingredients that everyone likes or as my husband says, things he at least recognizes. I also refuse to be intimidated by things in the kitchen. Go into your own kitchen and don't be afraid of the pots and pans and utensils. I act like I know what I'm doing and have fun. Toss spices or cut up vegetables into the pot, stir it like you "own it" -- and taste it as you make it. After awhile, you can actually whip up dinner sometimes just opening your cabinets and using some things you have on hand.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? Cooking has become a hobby to me that I get to practice, trying new recipes any time, trying to cook something I've never eaten before or a cooking method I've never tried. It's amazing that with a little confidence and "I can do it" attitude, you sometimes come up with dinners or desserts that make you feel like the family rock star.

Carrie McCulley

51, Lindenhurst

Principal, Riley Elementary School, Arlington Heights

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? My favorite ingredient to use is brown sugar. Brown sugar adds the perfect sweetness to a variety of dishes. I use it to create marinades for beef and chicken, caramelize salmon, and add it to barbecue sauce. It has endless possibilities.

Describe your style or approach to cooking. I enjoy reading cookbooks, finding a good recipe, and then catering it to my liking and taste. I love to cook comfort food in abundance. I enjoy watching family and friends savor an indulgence and then leaving with a leftover container to enjoy the next day.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? When I first got married, 30 years ago, I would cook frozen chicken Kiev in the microwave for a minute and a half and serve it with rice. I now create flavorful meals for my family that include tasty appetizers, hearty main dishes and homemade desserts. In addition, I enjoy cooking brunch for my staff of 60. I want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge because the thought of being challenged to create a meal with unknown ingredients takes me to the next level of cooking and creativity.

Christine Murphy

55, Palatine

Special education teacher, Arlington Heights District 25

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Fresh ginger to add to stir fry or to make a ginger syrup for drinks.

Describe your style or approach to cooking. I look at the fresh ingredients and herbs I have on hand to combine recipes to make something new. I enjoy sharing my creations while entertaining friends and family.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I love a new challenge and I think cooking is fun.

Kevin Kilgore

57, Prospect Heights

Insurance examiner, APPS, Rosemont

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? I go with seasonal ingredients and freshness. But I love basil and cilantro in a variety of ways. Pesto is high on my list.

Describe your style or approach to cooking. I totally wing it and love to grill.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I am very high energy and creative and thought it would be fun to see where this goes.

Dan Rich

51, Elgin

Superintendent of public works, Elgin

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Seasonal fruits and veggies. Grilled, sauteed or put into soups. I love this time of the season -- the herbs are fresh and beautiful.

Describe your style or approach to cooking. Homestyle fusion. I really enjoy taking traditional dishes and adding my own touch. Blending favors can be very satisfying. Asian, traditional barbecue and Jewish/eastern European have had tremendous influences on my style.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I would really like to put my skills up against the local competition. Friends and family have often suggested that I give it a whirl.

Carrie Shawala

29, Roselle

Teacher, Schaumburg School District 54

Cook of the Week Nov. 19, 2012

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? I enjoy using panko bread crumbs in a variety of dishes. I find that it adds a delicious texture to the food. It can be enjoyed in various ways such as toasted, seasoned, or simply sprinkled as is. It is also wonderful to find an ingredient that is so versatile and is able to be used by everyone.

Describe your style or approach to cooking. I have grown up in an Italian family with a father and godfather who love to cook and whose cooking everyone loves. At a young age I saw how happy a great meal can make people and how dinner time is an important time to enjoy delicious food as a family. As a teacher, I am very busy but have continued the tradition of making home-cooked meals for my husband and me. I have found that affordable, well-seasoned dishes that are a variety of ethnic cuisines have become a part of my nightly repertoire. I love to cook intricate weekend meals, but my evenings during the week are spent using creativity to create dishes that any working person can cook and have time to enjoy (especially with a relaxing glass of wine).

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I fell in love with this idea last year when my godfather, Charles Federici, was a part of the Challenge and made it to the Final Four. It was exciting for my entire family and sparked a deep desire in me to follow in his footsteps. (Also,) when I was a featured Cook of the Week it was such an inspiration to my students. I was able to show them that anyone can achieve their goal. The looks on their faces were priceless when I shared the newspaper article with them; the thought of having a "famous" teacher, as they put it, was beyond adorable.

Mike Baron

51, South Elgin

Sales engineer

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Fresh herbs. I use them in sauces, marinades, in salads and as garnish.

Describe your style or approach to cooking. I have no real style. I love to grill, whenever I can, be it meats, pizza, veggies or fruit, as well as cook over a stove making a one-pot meal or multilayered dish.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I have had a passion for cooking for a long time now and it is on the suggestion of my wife and two kids (19 and 23) to try this. If it weren't for them I would not get the chance to cook that often.

Nick Brenkus

63, West Dundee

Retired

Cook of the Week Jan. 9 2013

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Extra-virgin olive oil. For dipping, salads, sautéing, almost anything.

Describe your style or approach to cooking. I like to try new things and like to keep it simple and fresh.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I think it would be a great opportunity to meet new people that share the passion of food.

Karen Grobman

48, Buffalo Grove

Neurologist

What is your favorite TV cooking show/celebrity chef? My favorite cooking show is "Chopped" but my favorite celebrity chef is Guy Fieri, probably because of all the Guy's Burgers my family has consumed on Carnival Cruises.

Describe your style or approach to cooking. Mix things together and something good happens.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? It sounds like a ton of fun.

Judy Monaco

69, Glendale Heights

Retired

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Sun dried tomatoes in olive oil. They make a wonderful salad dressing. I also use them with fresh basil for a pasta sauce, and serve them on bruschetta, with goat cheese.

Describe your style or approach to cooking. Use a lot of fresh ingredients, and it's not time-consuming, but is tasty. Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I was in the Cook of the Week Challenge two years ago and didn't get very far along. I would like a chance to try again.

Lynn Fors

44, Batavia

Spanish teacher, Geneva Community School District 304

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Avocados. I love to use them in an amazing black bean salsa or to create a great sandwich spread.

Describe your style or approach to cooking. I improvise as I go, taste the food I'm cooking and determine what it needs. I love to cook good meals for my families, and most of the time they prefer my version to restaurants. I take a recipe and add different ingredients and seasonings to make it my own. I love to get a recipe then change it. I think food is such a connection to family and culture. Cooking represents who you are and how you live your life!

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I absolutely love cooking and baking. Just once, instead of watching TV shows with cooking I would love to be part of a cooking challenge. Many people wait to see what I will bring to gatherings, as they know it will be good. I also want to encourage my children to take on challenges, whether they win or not.

Lori Motyka

47, West Chicago

Marketing director for Sazerac

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Quinoa. I use it in every meal of the day. In the morning, it is one of many grains I use in my protein-rich grain cereal. I make a big batch every Sunday night and take it in a Ziploc to work, warm it up each morning and top with blueberries and walnuts. I also use quinoa in salads, incorporating fresh or grilled veggies, canned beans, herbs and a simple olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice dressing. Simply add a side of protein and you've got a full meal. And last but not least, any leftover quinoa dishes are great additions to a weekend frittata.

Describe your style or approach to cooking. Extremely relaxed. I leave the house every morning at 6:30 and don't get home until 6 p.m.; making dinner is my way to unwind and catch up with my family. I shop on the weekends with no particular menus in mind and use my time on the train each night deciding what to make for dinner.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? First and foremost, because I love to cook and enjoy challenging myself to use new ingredients and create new recipes. But I also enjoy the Wednesday Food section in the Daily Herald and think it would be great fun to be a part of it.

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