Naperville Chef Showdown to benefit Loaves and Fishes food pantry
Top Naperville chefs square off to benefit Loaves and Fishes
Two Naperville chefs so talented they can "make dirt taste good" are set to be the first competitors in a new cooking challenge that will help feed people in need.
Chefs Danny Gil of Hugo's Frog Bar and Fish House and Eddie Sweeney of Catch 35 are ready to square off Wednesday, April 11, in the inaugural Chef Showdown fundraiser hosted by Loaves and Fishes Community Services.
Like the popular cooking shows that pit one chef against another to concoct a winning dish in a tight time frame, the Chef Showdown will include a pre-disclosed ingredient list and a surprise mystery ingredient from which Gil and Sweeney will compete to create the best three-course meal.
The pantry's market and service center at 1871 High Grove Lane in Naperville will become half competitive kitchen and half cocktail party during the event, which will raise money by selling $100 tickets for up to 300 showdown spectators.
Looking for new events to spice up the year of fundraising, Loaves and Fishes officials turned to one of the services at the core of its mission -- food assistance -- and decided a food-related event would be fun and fitting.
"Being a food bank and a place where people can go to get sustenance, it's nice to have a food-themed event that goes around with that," said Ray Kinney, host of the Dine Around Naperville video series on the Dine Naperville website, who will serve as master of ceremonies.
Loaves and Fishes chose to host a cooking competition because it could involve a lot of the supporters who help Loaves and Fishes have a broad and positive reach, said Nancy Wiersum, vice president of advancement. She said the nonprofit helps 800 families a week with grocery visits and 1,200 people a year with self-sufficiency services including vehicle assistance, computer training, job search assistance, English classes, emotional support, public benefits assistance and income tax preparation.
"It is truly only possible for us to bring these vital Loaves and Fishes services to those in need because of the support of the community," Wiersum said.
The Chef Showdown gives several facets of that community a way to get involved.
Aside from the chefs, both of whom work at restaurants that have supported Loaves and Fishes efforts by hosting or donating to fundraisers, the event involves longtime supporter Kinney of Blooming Color at the mic.
Kinney will be tasked with giving a play-by-play throughout the evening and "interjecting some humor when I can." After all, he's the one who said Gil and Sweeney have such skill as chefs they can "make dirt taste good."
"They've got some really cool ideas," he said.
Other Loaves and Fishes supporters are getting involved by serving as "celebrity" sous chefs, including Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico and his wife, Julie Chirico, as well as Joe Vozar and Nicki Anderson, both members of the Loaves and Fishes community advisory council.
Still others are judging which dish will get the win on a panel including Jim Ebel, co-founder of Two Brothers Brewing Company; Christine Jeffries, president of the Naperville Development Partnership; Mark Walter, owner and executive chef at My Chef Catering; and Henry Weiser, a Naperville eighth-grader and "Top Chef Jr." finalist.
Naperville Community Television will play its part by setting up cameras to capture the cooking action on food preparation stations borrowed from My Chef, which also will be serving appetizers for guests. Screens throughout the market area will transmit the NCTV-17 video so all attendees can get a front-row look.
"This is a wonderful way for people to support Loaves and Fishes and have a great time doing it," Wiersum said. "This is an event where everybody wins."
The complete ingredient list will be disclosed only to the chefs, who start cooking at 6 p.m., but Wiersum offered a couple of clues: One dish will include a loaf, and another dish a fish, playing off the pantry's name. But don't expect any boring bread to make an appearance.
"We might get a little creative with the loaf," Wiersum said. "People love competition."