In retirement, Ed Dolik has dedicated himself to helping others: Volunteering at the Lutheran Home, a nursing home in his hometown of Arlington Heights, as well as feeding the poor at St. James Cathedral in Chicago.
He retired last year at 60 after a long career as a stagehand in Chicago theaters and decided to enter culinary school at Elgin Community College. And on Friday, he entered the final round of the fifth annual Prime BurgerHouse/ECC burger contest as the dark horse and took home the gold medal and $2,000.
His St. Paddy's Patty, a complex Irish-themed burger, will be featured on the Prime BurgerHouse's menu for 2014. The gourmet burger restaurant is inside the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin.
Asked why he entered school to up his game in the kitchen, he replied: "The hungry need to be fed as well as all of us."
If that was his inspiration for being a better cook, the inspiration for his burger goes back to his youth, where he did KP duty for his grandmother, who did much of the cooking.
Dolik's birthday is the day after St. Patrick's Day.
"I always felt left out," he said. "I wanted to create a burger that has the flavor profile of Ireland."
His burger featured a patty made from a twice-ground chuck roast resting on a crispy, thin potato pancake and topped by crispy Irish coleslaw, all wrapped in a potato roll. But what really wowed the judges was a sweet, velvety Guinness stout reduction that includes molasses and brown sugar that dressed the burger.
Dolik said he was surprised to beat the other five contestants, because in the early judging of 100 contestants his scores just sneaked him into the final six.
So, what changed? He took the judges' comments and criticisms to heart, and while not altering his basic recipe, he did tinker with amounts of some ingredients.
A close runner-up in the scoring was Stewart Ream of Elburn. His father, Randy, is a champion sausage maker, and his talent clearly has rubbed off.
Stewart works in the family shop -- Elburn Market in Elburn -- making more than 100 different types of sausage. His burger entry showed that same type of creativity and mastery. His Spaghetti Burger features a juicy homemade Italian pork sausage patty topped by a twirl of fresh spaghetti and a delicious red sauce on a buttery garlic roll.
Ream, who took home the silver and a $1,000 check, and the other finalists will see their burgers on the Prime menu for a week.