Dan Rich is Elgin's superintendent of public works during the day, but when he's off the clock, he can sure cook up a mean dish.
His Halloween-inspired "Goblin Delight" -- chicken breast stuffed with quinoa, fresh vegetables in a wild mushroom sauce with red wine reduction, creamed peas with Colorado sage, and a caramelized ginger fruit compote with Fuji apples and red plums -- was the winning dish Wednesday night at the third annual Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge finals.
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Rich and three other finalists had only an hour to whip up a dish from scratch and present it to a panel of five judges, incorporating four mystery ingredients revealed to them just minutes before the cooking began.
Rich says his cooking prowess developed from the day his father kicked him out of the house at age 18, and he had to learn to cook out of necessity.
"I can thank my father and my smart mouth," he said.
His victory as 2013 Cook of the Year earns him an honorary wooden spoon and a suite of prizes worth about $2,500, which Rich plans to donate to the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin. He said he also plans to do a cooking demonstration at the club.
"I think he's going to be busy cooking for a lot of boys and girls in Elgin," said Daily Herald Food Editor Deborah Pankey after announcing Rich as the winner.
Rich, runner-up Lori Motyka of West Chicago and fellow finalists Christine Murphy of Palatine and Lori Wiktorek of Aurora all prepared their dishes in front of a sold-out crowd of 400 Daily Herald readers and foodies at the Hyatt Regency Schaumburg.
The contest started in September with 16 suburban home cooks chosen from dozens of applications.
Rich said in addition to the mystery ingredients of boneless chicken breast, apples, MicroGreens Healthy Mix and crystallized ginger, he promised Elgin Mayor David Kaptain he would incorporate Colorado sage into his dish. Kaptain brought it back after a recent trip.
And Rich said he took the "sage advice" of two of the judges -- Buffalo Grove native and former "MasterChef" contestant Suzy Singh and chef John Junior from the Hyatt Regency -- who told contestants to cook within their abilities.
During the cook-off, event attendees sampled food from event sponsors and watched cooking demonstrations by professional chefs. Proceeds from a raffle will benefit the Northern Illinois Food Bank.