Sponsors of 2017 Cook of the Week Challenge got to show off their very best creations during the competition's finale at the Westin Chicago Northwest.
While chefs whipped up their tasty creations, attendees sampled sweet and savory bites from the moment the doors opened at 6 p.m. until the winner, Elizabeth Schuttler of Inverness, was announced. Guests loaded up on mac and cheese bites, pastas and beef empanadas courtesy of the Westin Chicago Northwest, as well as falafel bites, chili lime kebabs, gyros slices and naan from Grecian Delight before heading into the ballroom to sample everything from Chandler's Chophouse shrimp ceviche shooters to Morkes Chocolates doughnuts and chocolate.
Vendor booths lined the ballroom where the finale took place, as the four finalists got to work using their Thermador Induction Cooktops courtesy of Novak and Parker Home Appliance in Mount Prospect to create their finale dishes. Several of the vendors at the event contributed secret ingredients, as well, for chefs to use in their recipes.
Contestants concocted their final recipes from a pantry stocked with select food items and sponsor secret ingredients including Q Cups from NOW Foods, Beef Teres Major from the Westin Chicago Northwest, Traditional Vegan Refried Beans from Goya Foods Inc. and pancetta from Tony's Fresh Market.
On the sweet side, Nothing Bundt Cakes Mount Prospect was a hit with the crowd. Attendees got to enjoy samples of Chocolate Chocolate Chip, White Chocolate Raspberry and Pumpkin Spice Bundt cakes. Seasons 52, located in Schaumburg, brought a smattering of their bite-sized desserts for guests to enjoy. It was easy to go back for seconds of any of their sweet treats, including the Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte, Belgian Chocolate S'more, Key Lime Pie, Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie varieties.
If you're ordering one of these desserts at Seasons 52, consider getting the carrot cake, which is back on the menu by popular demand.
Morkes Chocolates of Palatine brought samples of its signature Cider Spice doughnut and Mint Silk chocolates.
"Chocolate is fun and our store remembers that," said Rhonda Morkes Dehn, owner of Morkes Chocolates and granddaughter of the original owner who opened the shop in Chicago in 1920.
On the savory side, Toasty Cheese Restaurant Group served samples of offerings available on each of its food trucks, such as tacos in soft corn tortillas filled with pork and topped with white onion, pineapple salsa and cilantro from the Toasty Taco food truck, the Kim Classic from the Toasty Cheese food truck, and the Mac Attack, house made mac & cheese, with slow roasted pulled chicken, cilantro lime coleslaw and guests' choice of BBQ sauces, from its Best Truckin' BBQ food truck.
Novak and Parker Home Appliance used the Thermador Induction Cooktop and Thermador Steam and Convection Oven to make mini quiches, salmon and pretzels with melted chocolate for the crowd.
To wash everything down, Binny's Beverage Depot provided samples of four different types of cider from brands including Angry Orchard, Crispin, Virtue Cider and Vander Mill Cider. The Vander Mill Totally Roasted Cider, with its vanilla, cinnamon and roasted pecan flavor, was a table favorite.
Throughout the night, raffle tickets were sold to raise money for the Northern Illinois Food Bank, one of the challenge's sponsors. The organization is in the midst of packaging its holiday meal boxes and every dollar counts to help feed families in need throughout the holiday season.
"We can turn $1 into $8 worth of groceries and make any monetary donation go above and beyond what people realize," said Teresa Schryver, communications specialist at Northern Illinois Food Bank. "Donations at events like these help us reach our goal of no one in northern Illinois being hungry."
It was a night full of giving support to good causes and cheering for the final four contestants. There's no doubt that guests left the finale with full hearts and stomachs and plenty of inspiration for creating future recipes.