Elimination rounds are a wrap - now on to the Cook of the Week Challenge finale

At last, the Cook of the Week Challenge elimination rounds are wrapped. And we know the four home cooks that will face off in front of a live audience on Nov. 11, vying for the title Cook of the Year: Lulu Chapa, Lisa Eberhahn, Leslie Meredith and Ann Wayne.

The fourth round was one for the books as cooks were required to use Oktoberfest Beer courtesy of Binny's Beverage Depot; chuck roast from Pre Meats; Nutty Infusions Salted Caramel Cashew Butter from NOW Foods; and cauliflower courtesy of the Northern Illinois Food Bank to create a dish for the panel of guest judges. Each cook had four days to craft a recipe using these ingredients.

The judges' scores are based on 100 points total, with 25 points each for creativity, use of ingredients, ease of preparation and perceived taste.

The cook with the lowest score each week is eliminated. This week, out of a tight race, Alex Marsalek of Antioch will not advance to finale.

Judges for the fourth challenge were Ahmed Azizy, executive chef at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca; Jennifer Lamplough, chef with the Northern Illinois Food Bank; Suzy Singh of NOW Foods; and Becky Wait of Binny's Beverage Depot.

While the fourth round scores were close, the judges offered some constructive criticism. Here's a little of what they had to say about each cook's efforts. See all of this round's recipes at

COURTESY OF LULU CHAPALulu Chapa made Steak Mole with a side of Mexican style cauliflower rice for week four of the Cook of the Week Challenge.

Lulu Chapa

Chapa made Steak Mole with a side of Mexican-style cauliflower rice.

Azizy called the steak mole a good, yet risky idea that depends on the execution of the dish. “Cauliflower rice is an interesting choice. It's creative,” he said.

Wait said she appreciated the separation of ingredients and instructions for each component of the dish. “The only negative I have is that I think some of the ingredients got a bit lost since everything else going into this dish is incredibly flavorful,” Wait said. “The recipe only calls for ¼ head of cauliflower and then a bunch of other ingredients in the rice which I feel completely dwarfs it. All of that said, however, I think it was a very creative dish and it looks delicious. The recipe was so easy to follow that I will try to make it myself someday.”

These ingredients lend themselves to a super savory and delicious mole, Singh said. “The Nutty Infusions Salted Caramel Cashew Butter in the mole sauce adds the perfect texture and sweetness needed to the sauce. Great work!”

Lamplough praised the use of cauliflower. “I love all of the chiles. It may be hard for home cooks to source some of the ingredients, but this sounds delicious,” Lamplough said. She liked the garnishes as they were needed to cut the richness of the dish.

COURTESY OF LISA EBERHAHNLisa Eberhahn made Ropa Vieja with Cauliflower Tortillas and Baked Plantains with Savory Cashew Sauce for week four of the Cook of the Week Challenge.

Lisa Eberhahn

Eberhahn made Ropa Vieja with Cauliflower Tortillas with baked plantains with savory cashew sauce.

“Lisa's dish shows some creativity in using the ingredients of this week and some risk-taking in the decision to create this recipe. Well done,” Azizy said.

“Lisa was the only cook to use a secret ingredient in more than one component of her dish, which I was really happy to see,” Wait said. “I like that she tried something new for this recipe, and it looks like it turned out great.”

Singh said this is a great use of the Nutty Infusions Salted Caramel in the bananas Foster recipe. “I wish the Oktoberfest Beer was reduced before adding the Salted Caramel Cashew Butter so that you can get a more bold, delicious, balanced flavor. Overall amazing job!”

Lamplough said she loves the creativity in the use of cauliflower for making the tortillas. “It's also on-trend for low-carb options. I also really like the use of the olives to cut some of the richness of the beef. Lovely presentation.”

COURTESY OF ALEX MARSALEKAlex Marsalek made beef and beer stew with cauliflower latkes for week four of the Cook of the Week Challenge.

Alex Marsalek

Marsalek made Beef and Beer Stew with cauliflower latkes for the judges.

Azizy said Alex made a very simple dish. “The cauliflower cake is a good idea, but the dish needs more creativity and color to elevate the presentation and be a more competitive dish,” he said.

“I wish the list of ingredients had been broken up in the recipe, so there was a list for the stew and a list for the latkes,” Wait said. “I like to prep all of my ingredients before I start a recipe, so that threw me off a bit.”

“I think there was an instruction that was missed since the recipe said to put the beef to the side but never said to add it back in,” Wait said. “However, the instructions were precise, which I appreciated. I like what was done with the cauliflower. It would have been so easy just to toss it into the stew, but I like that something else altogether was made with it. It looks delicious, and I bet it does taste amazing.”

Singh said this super savory recipe sounds delicious. “I wish there was more creativity in using the ingredients to make it stand out. The Nutty Infusions Salted Caramel Cashew Butter added great texture, sweetness and a kick of salt to this well-rounded dish.”

Lamplough liked the use of the cauliflower in the latkes. “They sound delicious. The stew seems more like beef in the sauce than a stew, but the flavor sounds good,” she said. “Everything looks very rich and needs something acidic to break it up. I would like to see more vegetables in the stew than just meat.”

Leslie Meredith

Meredith made Beef Barbacoa and Spiced Cauliflower Tacos with curtido and cashew lime crema.

“The dish looks refreshing and balanced,” Azizy said. “It's a very safe dish, and it would be more creative if the tortillas were homemade using the cauliflower.”

Wait said this dish looks incredible. “The recipe is very clear with the ingredients and instructions, and I appreciated the notes on possible substitutions for things I may already have lying around the house,” Wait said. “I love that the ingredients are a component of almost every part of this dish, and I even found myself wondering if there was any way to incorporate one of them into the curtido.”

Singh said crema typically has heavy cream or sour cream associated with it. “This is a very smart use of the Nutty Infusions Salted Caramel Cashew butter as a vegan replacement. Overall delicious work on this recipe,” Singh said.

“Beautiful presentation of these tacos and love the pickled red onion to cut the richness of the beef,” Lamplough said. “I also like the vegetarian version available.”

COURTESY OF ANN WAYNEAnn Wayne made "Melt in Your Mouth" Pot Roast with Cauliflower Mash & Homemade Gravy for week four of the Cook of the Week Challenge.

Ann Wayne

Wayne crafted a recipe for “Melt in Your Mouth” Pot Roast with cauliflower mash and homemade gravy for the judges.

Azizy said Wayne's stew is a good choice for this type of meat. “The cauliflower mash is a good idea, I wish there was more creativity in the display to showcase the ingredients,” he said.

Wait said that the ingredients and instructions were perfectly clear. “I love that two cooking options were given,” she added. “This dish looks absolutely delicious and seems pretty easy to make. I showed the pictures to my husband and he just said, 'yes.' I think I'll be making this dish sometime in the near future.”

Singh said she loves this dish. “Great use of the Nutty Infusions Salted Caramel Cashew for sweet and savory gravy,” she said. “This is an excellent recipe that is perfect for the fall season. Great work.”

Lamplough said the flavors here are very complementary although the dish might be a little rich.

Ann Wayne, Challenge 4

Leslie Meredith, round 4

Alex Marsalek, Challenge 4

Lisa Eberhahn, Challenge 4

Lulu Chapa, Challenge 4

Live Cook of the Week Challenge cook-off

More about that finale ... the event is from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11, at the Westin Chicago Northwest, 400 Park Blvd., Itasca.

The four cooks will get a bag of secret ingredients. They will have an hour to craft dishes for the judges to taste and evaluate, using the same categories as the other challenges.

The winner takes home a prize package worth nearly $1,500 including a new dishwasher from Novak and Parker Home Appliance and, of course, the title Cook of the Year.

The public is invited to the event, which will showcase the Cook of the Week Challenge sponsors with samples, celebrity chef demonstrations and much more.

Proceeds from a raffle will benefit the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

Tickets include appetizers, lots of samples from sponsors and a goodie bag. There will be a cash bar available.

Tickets are $15 and available at

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