Welcome to the official kickoff of the 2017 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge. Dust off those spatulas, sharpen some knives, rev up the food processors -- it's time to meet our eight home cooks and learn a little about them such as their favorite ingredients, preferred kitchen tools and why they tossed their chef toques into the seventh annual competition.
This year's contestants hail from Elgin to Chicago, by way of Arlington Heights, and towns in between. Cooks range in age from 26 to 66, and their occupations are just as varied. The common denominator: They all love to cook.
In a contest changeup, all of our cooks will face the same challenge ingredients. Each week, judges will review their carefully crafted recipes. The judges will use a point system to evaluate the recipes, and each week the cook with the lowest score will be eliminated. The recipes will be judged on creativity, use of ingredients, appearance, ease of preparation and perceived taste.
Our judges include contest sponsors, food professionals, area chefs and past Cook of the Week Challenge winners. Each week, you'll read what the cooks have to say about their challenge experience, what they did with the ingredients and obstacles they faced. We'll photograph their entries, and the full recipes will appear online.
After the four weekly challenges, we'll be left with four finalists who will compete in a live cook-off on Nov. 13 at The Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca. Contestants will be cooking live, and you're all invited to watch the challenge unfold. The victor will receive a prize package valued at more than $1,500, bragging rights, a giant spoon trophy and the title of the 2017 Daily Herald Cook of the Year.
You can follow the contest each Wednesday here in Food and at www.dailyherald.com/lifestyle/food/cook-of-the-week-challenge. Like us on Facebook/CookoftheWeek or follow on Twitter to learn more about the cooks, the sponsors and how you can be part of the audience for the Nov. 13 finale.
Next week: See week one results and read the cooks' and judges' comments on the first challenge. The ingredients the cooks will be working with: canned mackerel, courtesy of King Oscar; fresh green beans, courtesy of Tony's Fresh Market; and rice cakes and navel oranges, courtesy of Northern Illinois Food Bank. We'll also have a final tally and comments from our guest judges.
Let the cooking begin!