Meet the 16 home cooks in 2015 Cook of the Week Challenge

 
 
Updated 9/2/2015 10:36 AM
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Dust off those spatulas, sharpen some knives, rev up the food processors -- it's time for the Daily Herald's 2015 Cook of the Week Challenge.

This year's contestants hail from Port Barrington to Mount Prospect, Lake Zurich to Glen Ellyn and range in age from 24 to 70. Their occupations are varied as well. One thing they all have in common is a love of cooking.

The fifth annual Sweet 16-style competition will have our home cooks facing each other in one-on-one recipe challenges over the next two months. Each cook will be supplied with a mystery basket of secret ingredients they will need to develop into an original recipe. Competitors may also be limited in the amount of additional items, dollars spent or cooking method. Those cooks who move on to Round 2 will have another chance to make magic from new mystery ingredients.

These 16 contestants have been selected from dozens of applicants. They stand ready with their cutting boards and skillets and a dream of hoisting the giant spoon at the cook-off finale in November.

A panel of judges will review their carefully crafted recipes. The judges will select one winner from each challenge based on use of ingredients, creativity and perceived taste and appearance. The judges panel includes the four previous Cook of the Year winners -- Penny Kazmier, Michael Pennisi, Dan Rich and Jaimie Andrade -- as well as representatives from some of the contest sponsors. Chef Mauitzmo from Ala Carte and chef Maggie Ziph from Now Foods will round out the judging panel.

And our 16 cooks aren't the only ones vying for prizes. Check out Cook of the Week 2015 coverage at dailyherald.com to vote for your favorite recipes. Each week we will randomly draw a voter to win such prizes as T-shirts for Hunger in Action Month, dining cards, products from our sponsors, cookbooks and more.

As for our home cook challengers, four finalists will compete in a live cook-off Nov. 2 at the Westin in Itasca. The victor will receive a prize package worth more than $1,500. They will own bragging rights, a giant spoon trophy and the title of the 2015 Daily Herald Cook of the Year.

You can follow the contest each Wednesday here in Food and at dailyherald.com/lifestyle/food/cookchallenge. Like us on Facebook/CookoftheWeek to learn more about the cooks, the sponsors and updates on how you can be part of the audience for the Nov. 2 finale.

Challenge 1: James Litza vs. Joan Hamer

James Litza of Wood Dale enjoys cooking with mushrooms.
  James Litza of Wood Dale enjoys cooking with mushrooms. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

James Litza


60, Wood Dale
Private Business Consultant

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? I love mushrooms.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: I guess my approach may be summed up as traditional eclectic. A cooking term I'm fairly positive is not found in "Larousse Gastronomique."

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? How fun to compete whilst trying to please a dining audience.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? While I'm not particularly into kitchen gadgets per se, I do like some of the more mechanized approaches to the mundane tasks of chopping, peeling, mixing, etc.

What three things are always on your grocery list? Olives, eggs and heavy cream or maybe mushrooms, bacon and potatoes or how about onions, haricot vert and beef?

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: Sorry, unless I'm planning a dinner party or gathering I'm more than likely to visit a green grocer, specialty shop, butcher and a good baker and then decide what looks fresh for a meal.

What is your guilty pleasure? Kishka, a Polish pork blood, bits and barley sausage stuffed into an intestinal casing then fried up with sautéed onions, served with butter and plenty of rye bread.

What is your culinary training/background? Since the age of 12, having seen an episode of the "French Chef" starring Julia Child, I fell in love with the idea of tasting the world through cooking. I continued to pursue cooking and reading cookbooks as a personal creative outlet.

Any culinary defeats? It wouldn't be a challenge if we didn't have an epic failure or two (or three) to spur you on to bigger and better things.

Any culinary highlights? I had the great fortune in being chosen to compete in a cooking competition similar to those on the TV show "Chopped." While I didn't win the overall competition, I was proud of the opportunity and buoyed by the staging and camaraderie of such an event.

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Joan Hamer of Glen Ellyn makes good use of both her garlic press and meat pounder.
  Joan Hamer of Glen Ellyn makes good use of both her garlic press and meat pounder. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Joan Hamer


58, Glen Ellyn
Teacher

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Goat cheese -- I use it in many different appetizers and salads.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: I like to make dishes that can be done in less than one hour but I also enjoy the process of preparing the food. I like to make things from scratch rather than use canned or already prepared ingredients.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? A friend sent me the information. My friends and family tell me that I should think about doing catering as a side job so I thought it would be fun to see if your judges agree!

What is your favorite kitchen tool? I use garlic in a lot of recipes so I would say I could not live without my garlic press. I also use my meat pounder to make boneless chicken and pork tenderloin recipes.

What three things are always on your grocery list? Fresh vegetables (whatever is in season), different cheeses and fish or meat.

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: I try to think ahead and plan meals but often I end up stopping at the store on my way home from work because whatever I planned doesn't appeal to me that night and something else sounds better. I try to vary my dishes and always try to balance my meals with some healthy options.

What is your guilty pleasure? Ice cream

What is your culinary training/background? None. I do remember getting my cooking badge in Girl Scouts more than 45 years ago and I decided then that I really liked to cook.

Any culinary defeats? Sometimes I try to replicate a recipe of something I loved in a restaurant. I don't always identify the spices correctly.

Any culinary highlights? Each summer for the last 12 years, I have hosted a summer dinner party for teachers at my school.

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Challenge 2: Marie Bass vs. Jill Robertson

Marie Bass puts a variety of kitchen utensils to use in Mount Prospect.
  Marie Bass puts a variety of kitchen utensils to use in Mount Prospect. - Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Marie Bass


62, Mount Prospect
Director of Education, Healthcare Financial Management Association

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Garlic is my favorite ingredient. It makes so many dishes delicious. I use it with meat, seafood, chicken, eggs, potatoes and other vegetables. It makes any dish appetizing and luscious.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: I like simple cooking rather than a long list of hard-to-find ingredients. I like to cook with fresh, seasonal ingredients without processed foods. Most cooks are busy, yet want to prepare savory and healthy foods for their family.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I thought it would be fun. I have always enjoyed the "Iron Chef" shows on TV and I put myself in their place as they thought about what to prepare. And I love the attractive ways that they plate the food.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? My favorite tool is probably my mini chopper.

What three things are always on your grocery list? Tomatoes, cheese and either fresh salmon or fresh tuna

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: I have a busy schedule and I prepare quick, simple meals (chicken, fish or pork) usually with a very nice sauce to add interest and flavor. I love ethnic food, especially Mediterranean food.

What is your guilty pleasure? Ice cream

What is your culinary training/background? I have always loved to cook and I experiment with lots of new recipes or I develop my own. When time allows, I watch the cooking shows for technique. I have attended two cooking classes at the Mount Prospect Park District and at the Cooking Skills Academy in Itasca.

Any culinary defeats? Many, and any cook who says all their dishes are superb is delusional!

Any culinary highlights? Probably my most requested dish is my homemade pizza. I also make awesome chicken corn chowder.

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Jill Robertson of Palatine uses her blender to make salsa and other foods.
  Jill Robertson of Palatine uses her blender to make salsa and other foods. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Jill Robertson


42, Palatine
National Sales Manager at Aquascape, Inc.

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Tomatoes are my favorite ingredient and I use them in appetizers, soups, sauces, roasted and raw.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: My style is a re-creator. I enjoy challenging myself to recreate meals I eat in restaurants. I also enjoy recreating new dishes with leftovers.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I like competition and I enjoy cooking so I feel this would be a great way for me to challenge myself.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? The Vitamix -- I've only had it for six months so I'm still learning, but I've already made soups, salsas, hummus and sorbet.

What three things are always on your grocery list? Tomatoes, green onions and cauliflower

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: I attempt to cook healthy meals during the week, and especially enjoy grilling entire meals using my homegrown garden vegetables. Since I travel so much for work I often do not have time to plan out an entire week. That is when I like to get creative with what I have in the fridge.

What is your guilty pleasure? Ice cream

What is your culinary training/background? Cooking has been a hobby since I was a teen. I watch all of the cooking shows on TV. "Chopped" is my favorite. I am self-taught and love to recreate recipes from my grandma.

Any culinary defeats? I do not eat any four-legged animal meat. While I do cook/grill it for others, I'm always worried about how it will taste because I will not taste it before serving.

Any culinary highlights? Being an avid gardener, I have started canning and freezing my veggies so I can enjoy them during the winter.

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Challenge 3: Susie Mingee vs. Mike Baron

Susie Mingee of Port Barrington uses kitchen shears quite a bit in preparing meals.
  Susie Mingee of Port Barrington uses kitchen shears quite a bit in preparing meals. - Rick West | Staff Photographer

Susie Mingee


44, Barrington
Homemaker

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Onions -- I use them in salads, soups, pastas, etc.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: I try to cook as healthy as I can while still making it taste good for my family.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I love to cook!

What is your favorite kitchen tool? Shears

What three things are always on your grocery list? Milk, bread, spinach

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: Healthy and family pleasing

What is your guilty pleasure? Chinese food

What is your culinary training/background? None

Any culinary defeats? I'm still trying to perfect my pasta fagioli.

Any culinary highlights? My family likes my lasagna so much that they request it even for Christmas dinner.

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Mike Baron of South Elgin's favorite ingredient is garlic.
  Mike Baron of South Elgin's favorite ingredient is garlic. - Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

Mike Baron


54, South Elgin
Mechanical Engineer

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? I don't really have a favorite but I use a lot of garlic in sauces and marinades.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: I don't know if I have any style at all and like to approach each meal as a personal challenge in regards to timing, taste and presentation.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I look forward to the competition aspect of it. I'm a big fan of "Top Chef" and other cooking shows.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? It's definitely not my mandolin as I recently took the tip of my thumb off slicing zucchini without the guard. That day my favorite tool was the kitchen towel.

What three things are always on your grocery list? The items that I seem to purchase the most outside of proteins are fresh garlic, vegetables and lemons.

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: Now with the kids out of the house and being empty-nesters, weekday meals tend to be straightforward and simple such as marinated meat or fish on the grill with a starch and fresh veggies.

What is your guilty pleasure? Martinis and ice cream -- not necessarily at the same time

What is your culinary training/background? No formal training, but I worked in restaurants in my youth and enjoyed the kitchen atmosphere. I am self-taught from observing my mom and grandmother and from books and cooking TV shows.

Any culinary defeats? A defeat was losing the sardine challenge in the 2012 Cook of the Week contest. My gut instinct told me puree and mix them with the chickpeas into a hummus, and I caved to using them as a center-of-the-plate protein.

Any culinary highlights? Cooking for my in-laws and family on the weekends -- they always seem to enjoy the meal and are very grateful for the effort.

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Challenge 4: Chelsea LaValle vs. Terri Wemlinger

Chelsea La Valle of Deer Park tosses up her secret ingredient, which is basil.
  Chelsea La Valle of Deer Park tosses up her secret ingredient, which is basil. - Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Chelsea LaValle


24, Deer Park
Research Study Assistant

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? The one ingredient I utilize the most in my cooking is Hungarian paprika.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: My overall approach to cooking is to create intrepid dishes through the utilization of fresh herbs inclusive of rosemary, basil and cilantro and spices consisting of cumin, paprika and curry powder.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I am participating in the Cook of the Week Challenge due to my passion and dedication to the culinary field and my commitment to implementing my own spin into each dish that I devise.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? When I am in the kitchen, my favorite tool to utilize is a blender due to its versatility.

What three things are always on your grocery list? If one took a glance at my grocery list, the following would be stationed at the top of the list in all caps: herbs, lemons and fish.

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: My approach to weekly cooking and menu planning is to make certain components in advance to conserve time.

What is your guilty pleasure? My guilty pleasure without a sheer morsel of hesitation is chocolate ice cream.

What is your culinary training/background? I am a home cook and culinary enthusiast, who was truly taught by the best teacher one could ask for -- my mother.

Any culinary defeats? When I was first learning how to grill, I recall putting a half slab of ribs on the grill and shortly thereafter realizing that I should have brushed my sauce on later in the cooking process, as the sugars in the sauce caused the ribs to burn.

Any culinary highlights? I created a savory soufflé filled with a variety of different cheeses and herbs that had the correct height, flavor and consistency.

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Terri Wemlinger of Prospect Heights cites garlic as a favorite ingredient.
  Terri Wemlinger of Prospect Heights cites garlic as a favorite ingredient. - Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Terri Wemlinger


55, Prospect Heights
Event Coordinator for an Organic Grocery Store

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Garlic -- I like to use it roasted, toasted, sautéed and raw.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: My approach is using anything with minimal ingredients and big taste. I love spicy and bold flavors. And I like to make it fast.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I decided I could be just as good as the next chef and let's get my new life started off with a bang.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? My 30-year-old tried-and-true food processor

What three things are always on your grocery list? Organic veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: Hubby and I try to eat as many veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds as we can every day. I plan our daily menu around that. Meat, chicken, fish are almost the side dishes at this point as we are trying to eat as healthy as possible.

What is your guilty pleasure? Chocolate avocado mousse

What is your culinary training/background? Self-taught with one culinary class at Harper College under my belt

Any culinary defeats? Wow -- lots of them! No mistakes -- only happy accidents!

Any culinary highlights? Yes! This entire year has been a culinary highlight! I started culinary school and I got a new job creating, hosting and running events as well as creating and leading culinary classes! What could be more exciting than that?

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Challenge 5: Kim Bradley vs. Chuck Federici

Kim Bradley of Glen Ellyn turns to her trusty cast iron skillet and olive oil frequently in the kitchen.
  Kim Bradley of Glen Ellyn turns to her trusty cast iron skillet and olive oil frequently in the kitchen. - Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Kim Bradley


49, Glen Ellyn
Teachers' Aide

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Olive oil -- I use it in dressings, to sauté vegetables and cook protein. I use it just about every day.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: I like to read recipes for pleasure. When I come across a recipe that sounds good, I make it. My family will taste it and then we all critique it and decide if there is a better way to make it or was it just right. When I get in cooking moods, I've been known to try four or more recipes in a day. I love to experiment in the kitchen.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I was part of an Iron Chef competition at Cooking Skills Academy and my team won! It was so much fun. This competition sounds like it would be fun, too.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? Cast iron skillet

What three things are always on your grocery list? Eggs, milk and apples

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: I choose meals that my family loves and I try to do a new recipe a week. We are a family that sits at the table for dinner just about every night.

What is your guilty pleasure? Cheesecake

What is your culinary training/background? Watching Food Network and I have taken a few cooking classes at the Cooking Skills Academy with friends and family over the past few months.

Any culinary defeats? I tried to make a meatloaf that had a rice type of thing underneath it. It was so awful, the recipe sounded good so I tried it.

Any culinary highlights? I made individual beef wellingtons for a dinner party I was having. I made a caramelized onion, bacon and caviar mustard mixture to put on the filet. It was out of this world!

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Chuck Federici of Hanover Park relies on olive oil and other ingredients to create dishes.
  Chuck Federici of Hanover Park relies on olive oil and other ingredients to create dishes. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Chuck Federici


57, Hanover Park
Building Maintenance at Fenton High School

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Olive oil -- I like it for its diversity. You can sauté with it and use it for flavoring vegetables, salads and even desserts.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: Rustic with a free spirit approach -- I like to create my own dishes based on recipe ideas.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I enjoy the challenge of being presented with various ingredients and creating a cohesive dish.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? My Santoku knife

What three things are always on your grocery list? It depends on what I am preparing.

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: I work 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. so I only have the weekends to cook. The menus vary depending on family requests.

What is your guilty pleasure? Smucker's Goober Grape peanut butter and jelly on Ritz crackers

What is your culinary training/background? Food Network and PBS food shows

Any culinary defeats? Cook of the Week Challenge 2012

Any culinary highlights? Cook of the Week Challenge 2012

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Challenge 6: Pat Kutchins vs. Jack MacIntosh

Pat Kutchins of Lake Zurich likes to spice things up with adobo seasoning.
  Pat Kutchins of Lake Zurich likes to spice things up with adobo seasoning. - Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Pat Kutchins


66, Lake Zurich
Retired

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? I like to use the seasoning called adobo in almost everything I cook.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: My approach is quick, easy recipes or making up my own versions.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I love to cook and bake and I love a challenge. I always loved this event.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? I have many favorites. I love ladles, all sizes and shapes.

What three things are always on your grocery list? Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, eggs

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: Trying to eat healthy, I will plan low-fat, lower-calorie meals. I make lists each week of items needed.

What is your guilty pleasure? Whipped cream cakes

What is your culinary training/background? My background is in the kitchen with my mom and I took a few classes. I love to have parties, catering my own food.

Any culinary defeats? Entering many contests and only winning one

Any culinary highlights? Highlights include being chosen to be in the Daily Herald twice as Cook of the Week, winning contest from Real Women of Philadelphia and my recipe for strawberry pie published in Taste of Home Magazine.

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Jack MacIntosh of Carol Stream enjoys using amaranth grain.
  Jack MacIntosh of Carol Stream enjoys using amaranth grain. - Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

Jack MacIntosh


52, Itasca
Business Development -- North America for SUMAC

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? I really like using fresh chorizo. Anything from appetizers, soups and entrees can be enhanced with its ever-changing flavor.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: My style is probably described as freestyle. I rarely measure seasonings or herbs and as a result, I can't bake!

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I was fortunate enough to make it last year but didn't get past the first round. So a bit is redemption.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? This is going to sound silly, but I love my wooden spatula. It can do anything. Other than that, I'd have to say my favorite is just an old trusty knife I've had for 20 years.

What three things are always on your grocery list? Eggs, garlic and scallions

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: I usually buy staples every two weeks, such as pasta, veggies, fruit and proteins. With only two of us around during the school year, I quite often stop and buy everything fresh on my way home depending on whatever whim I have that day.

What is your guilty pleasure? If I had to say a guilty pleasure, I would have to go with frozen peanut butter cups. They taste even better at midnight.

What is your culinary training/background? I've had minimal formal cooking education. I started working "on the line" when I was only 13 and that got me jump-started. I've taken a few BBQ classes and a butchering class.

Any culinary defeats? A defeat was last year to my secret ingredient of amaranth! Another one was not making it to the final audition of "Master Chef."

Any culinary highlights? I've won a few chili cook-offs and runners-up. My biggest thrill and what I consider a victory was being selected for this event last year. People were so supportive.

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Challenge 7: Bill Hicks vs. Ingrid Durham

Bill Hicks of Carpentersville loves to cook with onions.
  Bill Hicks of Carpentersville loves to cook with onions. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

Bill Hicks


70, Carpentersville
Retired

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it?: Onions, sautéed, caramelized, braised, pickled, boiled and raw

Describe your style or approach to cooking: My primary focus is obtaining the freshest ingredients possible. I love classic and nouveau French cuisine, as well as Italian.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I've never cooked competitively. I thought it would be fun.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? An 8-inch Wusthof chef's knife

What three things are always on your grocery list? Onions, garlic, and fresh spinach

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: Opportunistic. I look at what appears to be especially good at the store and choose accordingly. I prefer to shop for a meal on the same day that I am preparing it. That's not always possible but that's my preference.

What is your guilty pleasure? Foie gras!

What is your culinary training/background? My mom allowed me to help in the kitchen when I was very young. In 1997, I took a weeklong class from Anne Willan's Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. That changed everything for me. I have been a cooking enthusiast ever since.

Any culinary defeats? Of course, probably too numerous to mention, but then, Babe Ruth struck out a lot.

Any culinary highlights? In years past, I did some very high level cooking with a friend of mine. We prepared a series of elaborate dinners for our spouses and two guest couples. It was some of the most challenging cooking I've ever done.

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Ingrid Durham of Oak Brook Terrace has identified her KitchenAid mixer as being a special item in cooking.
  Ingrid Durham of Oak Brook Terrace has identified her KitchenAid mixer as being a special item in cooking. - Daniel White | Staff Photographer

Ingrid Durham


57, Oakbrook Terrace
Substitute Teacher

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? If I really think about it, I'd have to say eggs.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: I don't have a particular style; I'll try most anything. I do grill a lot in the summer, but if the snow isn't too high, I will grill year-round.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? It's a challenge. We were watching TV one night and I think we may have been watching "The Taste." My sister-in-law said that I should be on that show.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? I would say when cooking it would be my chef's knife. Good, sharp knives are very important when cooking. When baking, it would be my KitchenAid mixer.

What three things are always on your grocery list? Milk, fruit, bread

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: Most times it's, "What's in the fridge and what can I do with it?" I'm not one of those people who make a weekly menu.

What is your guilty pleasure? Dessert of any kind -- I love baking, eating and sharing desserts. I should be dieting, but can't give up dessert.

What is your culinary training/background? I have a certificate in pastry arts from COD. I have also taken random classes.

Any culinary defeats? All the time. It's taken me years to learn the art of pie crust. Made one of those tuna casseroles with the crushed potato chips early in my marriage; won't ever do that again.

Any culinary highlights? I made my brother-in-law's wedding cake. It was a sports-themed wedding. The bridal party all wore jerseys. I made three cakes. All had a rectangular base with a different sport as the top layer.

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Challenge 8: Cathy Henry vs. Tim Schmitt

Cathy Henry uses her favorite knife to chop homegrown parsley in her Cary kitchen.
  Cathy Henry uses her favorite knife to chop homegrown parsley in her Cary kitchen. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

Cathy Henry


54, Cary
Special Education Teacher

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Flat, fresh leaf parsley

Describe your style or approach to cooking: I cook with patience, love and passion. If I use those three ingredients, my food will turn out great. If I skimp on any of them, I will have a flop.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? I love to cook and it will be fun to challenge myself at a higher level. It's encouraging to have the opportunity to compete with others who share a similar passion for food.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? My chopping knife is my favorite kitchen tool.

What three things are always on your grocery list? I don't have regular shopping habits and rarely shop with a list so I can't say I always get any three things.

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: Every year when the school year starts, I want to start planning and budgeting for weekly menus. However, I've been married 24 years and still plan on the fly.

What is your guilty pleasure? Crunchy snacks, especially potato chips and popcorn

What is your culinary training/background? I have taken a couple of cooking classes for the home cook. I have no formal training and have learned to cook in my own kitchen first following basic recipes and evolving to creating some original ideas.

Any culinary defeats? Jell-O! When my kids were little, I wanted to make beautiful Jell-O's for them because I thought Jell-O was a fun, kid-friendly food.

Any culinary highlights? Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I have it every year in my home. Over the years, I have become more efficient and confident with this meal and I have to say that the traditional recipes my family has come to love and expect with Thanksgiving are my happiest culinary highlight.

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Tim Schmitt of Inverness turns to his KitchenAid food processor to prep meals.
  Tim Schmitt of Inverness turns to his KitchenAid food processor to prep meals. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Tim Schmitt


64, Inverness
Consultant

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Extra-virgin olive oil is on the top of my list. I use it to sauté, enhance flavors in sauces and make vinaigrettes.

Describe your style or approach to cooking: I use fresh ingredients, avoid processed foods and layer flavors to make sure the end product tastes good and is good for you.

Why do you want to be part of the Cook of the Week Challenge? Cooking has become a passion of mine over the past five years. Competing in the challenge would sharpen my skills and take me to the next level.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? It would have to be my KitchenAid food processor. It chops, slices, grates and mixes so quickly it is a must in my book.

What three things are always on your grocery list? Fresh vegetables, fresh fruit and yogurt

Tell us about your approach to weekly cooking/menu planning: I prepare a variety of dishes to make sure my wife and I are getting the proper amount of vitamins and nutrients. My approach is not to repeat a protein for a week and usually have a salad to round out the meal.

What is your guilty pleasure? Potato chips, which is why I don't buy them very often

What is your culinary training/background? For the most part, I have learned from my mom, from watching way too many cooking shows and from trial and error.

Any culinary defeats? The first time I made scrambled eggs, I cooked them so long that they turned black. My father still ate them, which encouraged me to continue cooking.

Any culinary highlights? With help from two colleagues, I prepared a medieval feast for over 175 people at my church, Immanuel Lutheran in Palatine.

-- Mary Jekielek Insprucker

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