John Hampson's creativity won him the sixth annual Cook of the Week Challenge finale Tuesday at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca.
"The way I approached the entire competition was to take whatever the ingredients were and make it something completely different," he said.
About 450 people came to the challenge, which featured demonstrations, raffles and drinks and food samples from sponsors.
The highlight of the event, which marked the end of a 10-week competition, was the live, one-hour cook-off among the final four contestants: Hampson, Mike Ek of Bartlett, Teresa Fiocchi of Mundelein and Martha Garmon of Palatine.
Steam rose from the four mobile kitchen stations and rich scents filled the room as the contestants attempted to make the winning dish with four secret ingredients: Pork tenderloin, barley, kale and dark chocolate.
Assuming the other competitors might make a pork medallion, Hampson, of Antioch, decided to make a pork roulade. He stuffed it with the barley and kale, coupled it with a vegetable puree and topped it with a chocolate bourbon sauce.
"I love roulades," said judge Brian Emmett, an "America's Baking Competition" winner. "It looks very comforting. It looks like something that came out of a restaurant."
Hampson said he was surprised to win and praised his fellow competitors. He went home with several prizes, including a new Bosch dishwasher and dinner for eight at the Seasons 52 chef's table.
"Everybody came up with incredible dishes and incredible effort," he said. "This was an amazing, amazing experience."
Fiocchi won the fan-favorite award. She was surrounded by a large group of supporters sporting "Team Fiocchi" shirts, including her mother-in-law Suzy Fiocchi.
"We need two wins tonight: The Cubs and Teresa," Suzy said with a smile.
Many attendees made a point to walk past all four contestants to watch them cook.
"It's amazing -- the grace under pressure," Marsha Enrici of Schaumburg said.
But a few couldn't help but spend most of the time gathered around two large screens that aired the World Series. There were cheers throughout the night and the whole room erupted in applause after Addison Russell's grand slam.
The dishes were judged by six chefs and culinary specialists: Emmett; "Iron Chef America" judge Mario Rizzotti; Jimmy Nicolau of Grecian Delight Foods; Mario Portanova of Porte Brown LLC; top 4 "MasterChef" competitor Suzy Singh; and Westin Chicago Northwest Executive Chef Peter Menteer.
"This is not easy, what these guys are doing in an hour," Nicolau said.
During the tasting, all the judges complimented the contestants on their creativity and the uniqueness of their dishes.
"There is one ingredient that prevailed, and that is the passion that all these people have for cooking," Rizzotti said.
Emmett, Rizzotti, Menteer and Chef Massimo Gaffo also led cooking demonstrations on stage while the competitors made their dishes. Cooking Skills Academy Executive Chef Paul Guerrero emceed the event, and culinary students from Northwest Suburban High School District 214 helped the contestants at their cooking stations. A portion of the proceeds from the evening benefitted the Northern Illinois Food Bank.