Let's meet the folks who had the tough task of evaluating this week's Cook of the Week Challenge recipes. Hyatt Regency Schaumburg executive chef John Junior has a permanent seat on the panel and Now Foods chef Suzy Singh and former Cook of the Week Challenge winners Penny Kazmier and Michael Pennisi will make frequent appearances on the panel. Judges provided by our sponsors will rotate in when their products appear among the mystery basket ingredients.
Olivera Amour: Known as Chef Oli by her staff at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, Amour has been cooking professionally for 21 years. She has been married for 18 years to her husband, Jeff, and has a daughter, Jacqueline, 15, and son, Edward, 11. She enjoys cooking for friends and family and loves to experiment with new recipes.
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Andrea Dembinski: Dembinski started cooking in her grandmother's kitchen where she learned that anything made with love usually turns out delicious -- passion over precision, you might say. An enjoyment of people and food, and later degrees in nutrition and the culinary arts led her to combine and refine her skills, bringing her to her current role as cooking specialist at Whole Foods Market Schaumburg.
John Junior: Originally from Baltimore, Junior studied at the Baltimore International Culinary College, where he earned his professional cooking degree in 1992. His love of all things culinary then took him to Ireland, where he studied under Ireland's first Master Chef Peter Timmins earning his Certificate in Epicurean Cuisine in 1993. He put down roots in the Chicago area, becoming the banquet chef at the Renaissance Chicago Hotel and joined the Hyatt Regency Schaumburg as executive chef earlier this year. Chef Junior's culinary philosophy reflects the continued trend of farm to fork menus, focused on the freshest, close-to-home ingredients possible and he manages a 8,000-square-foot seasonal garden behind the hotel. He and his wife Kimberly, a pastry chef in Chicago, have two children, Aidan and Ava.
Penny Kazmier: A wife and mother of four living in South Barrington, won the Daily Herald's inaugural Cook of the Week Challenge in 2011. Fearless in the kitchen, she's tackled everything from homemade sweet potato pasta to foie gras. She never passes up an opportunity to try new foods or learn more about cooking. For the last two years she has shared stories and recipes with readers through her Culinary Adventures column.
Michael Pennisi: Pennisi, a Schaumburg High School physics teacher, stepped out of the lab long enough to win the 2012 Cook of the Week Challenge. His way with wheat berries got him into the finals and his sauteed salmon and brussels sprout slaw took him to the winners circle. He's married, lives in Carpentersville and spent his summer exploring Europe and its culinary offerings.
Beth Peterson: After a decade in corporate event planning and several years running a restaurant Peterson set her sights on food competitions. The Naperville mom of three was a featured finalist on season 2 of Fox's "MasterChef," and was a finalist in the Kraft "Real Women of Philadelphia" contest and Sterling Wine Ultimate Host competition. She was also featured on NBC Chicago's "Nonstop Foodies." Peterson caters artisan cocktail parties, teaches home-entertaining and cooking classes and organizes celebrity chef dinners. More at bethstable.com.
Suzy Singh: Since sitting on the judges panel for the 2012 Cook of the Week Challenge Singh has joined NOW Foods as a research and development chef at the company's Bloomingdale headquarters. The Buffalo Grove native and Top 4 finalist on FOX's "MasterChef" Season 2, Singh now works to develop recipes and new product concepts around the company's Living Now line of allergy-friendly and gluten-free grains, flours and baking products. You can follow her on Twitter @chefsuzysingh.