In August, I introduced you to 16 home cooks chosen to compete in the Daily Herald's annual Sweet 16-style cook-off. Foodies, other home cooks and recipe junkies have been following each week's matchups, rooting for their favorites in our Cook of the Week Challenge and checking recipes out online. It's been a tense 10 weeks, with some of the closest scores I've seen in six years. The cooks bravely faced secret ingredients, some they might have never seen or cooked with before.
Round 1 eliminated eight cooks before Round 2 challenges pared the field down to four contestants, who are heading into the live cook-off Tuesday, Nov. 1, at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca. Congratulations go to Michael Ek of Bartlett, Teresa Fiocchi of Mundelein, Martha Garmon of Palatine and John Hampson of Antioch.
Besides the cook-off competition at this popular event, there will be demonstrations, a raffle, food offered by sponsors and the culinary staff of the Westin and much more. To be part of the action yourself, you'll need tickets. Visit events.dailyherald.com/cook-of-the-week. For each $20 ticket sold, $5 will go to the Northern Illinois Food Bank. And for all those Cubs fans, TVs will be set up throughout the venue to catch the World Series action while you follow the cooking action -- if the series goes to Game 6, that is.
At this year's event, Chef Paul Guerrero, culinary director of the Cooking Skills Academy, will emcee and introduce presenters and celebrity chefs.
The four finalists and their chosen prep cooks will have one hour to prepare a dish for our panel of judges, who will pick a winner based on taste, appearance, use of ingredients and creativity.
The victor will receive a prize package valued at more than $1,500. He or she will own bragging rights, a giant spoon trophy and title of 2016 Daily Herald Cook of the Year.
While the cooks are off and running, the audience will be treated to some tricks of the trade from the pros. Celebrity baker Brian Emmett of Itasca will showcase his Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting; Mario Rizzotti, "Iron Chef America" judge and Italian culinary specialist, will demonstrate Zuppa di ZUCCA Autunnale; and Chef Gaffo Massimo of Moretti's will reveal how to make Moretti's Prosciutto Di Parma. There will be questions taken from the audience and plenty of samples, too.
Cook of the Week Challenge sponsors will be on hand to talk about their products and services. And you can graze on samples from a number of local spots, including cakes from Nothing Bundt Cakes, Q Cups from Ellyndale Foods, Kim Classic from Toasty Cheese, crab bisque from Don's Dock, mini chicken and waffles from Punch Bowl Social, gnocchi ala vodka from Moretti's, chocolates from Morkes Chocolates and blackened shrimp from Novak & Parker.
A longtime feature and a hit with the audience is the annual raffle, this year benefiting the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Some of the prizes and gift packages this year include a Holiday Sweet Basket from My Sweet Kake, a Holiday Fun Basket from Punch Bowl Social and a Holiday Wellness tote with a Fitbit and different health-related items from AMITA Health. Porte Brown, LLC and Binny's Beverage Depot offer a tailgating package with a cooler and a case of wine; there will be a Seafood Package courtesy of Don's Dock and King Oscar with a gift card for a seafood dinner and different King Oscar products.
You can see all of the 2016 Cook of the Week Challenge coverage at dailyherald.com/lifestyle/food/cookchallenge.