Sponsors serve up sweet treats, flavorful experiences
For the past six years, the Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge Finale has brought food lovers and some of the area's tastiest food and beverage restaurants, food trucks and food companies together for a delicious and entertaining night.
On Monday, Nov. 11, about 400 guests headed to the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca to watch the final battle of the Cook of the Week Challenge. As soon as the doors opened and guests hung their coats, dinner was served. Attendees quickly filled their plates with several types of cuisine provided by event sponsors Grecian Delight and Westin Chicago Northwest. Guests could load their plates with spanakopita, gyros slices, naan, chicken shawarma, falafel fritters, tortellini, penne with marinara or Alfredo sauce, and Mediterranean nut rolls for dessert, among other offerings.
As they strolled through the lobby with their plates, the crowd perused the raffle prizes donated by many Cook of the Week sponsors. Raffle prizes included an assorted gift basket filled with Ellyndale Foods products donated by NOW Foods, a cooking class for two and cocktails donated by Cooking Skills Academy in Itasca, a Beko blender courtesy of Novak & Parker Home Appliance in Mount Prospect, a gift basket with wine and a $25 Binny's Beverage Depot gift card from King Oscar, four tickets to "Beauty and the Beast" at the Paramount Theatre courtesy of the Daily Herald Media Group and Gillerson's Grubbery in Aurora, and four tickets to "A Christmas Carol" at the Goodman Theatre courtesy of the Daily Herald Media Group and Ala Carte, among other fantastic prizes.
Proceeds from the finale support the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which has been a sponsor of Cook of the Week for several years. Last year, Northern Illinois Food Bank provided 69.1 million meals to those in need. Money from events like the finale will help the food bank meet, if not exceed, that goal this year.
Paul Guerrero, executive chef at Cooking Skills Academy, served as master of ceremonies while the four finalists busily prepared their dishes at the front of the ballroom. Throughout the evening, guests meandered around the ballroom's perimeter, sampling sweet and savory offerings from sponsor booths that lined the walls.
Ellyndale Foods brought samples of its Nutty Infusions nut butters for the crowd to try -- flavors such as Mango Chili Cashew Butter, Salted Caramel Cashew Butter and Ginger Wasabi Cashew Butter. In addition to providing ingredients throughout the challenge and at the finale, Suzy Singh, research and development corporate chef at NOW Foods, served as a judge that evening and showed the audience how to make her "Healthy and Simple Mango Chicken Satay" during a live cooking demonstration.
"We love this event and the energy and creativity contestants bring when using our and other sponsors' ingredients to create a balanced, cohesive and delicious dish," said Kristen Allen, food marketing specialist at Ellyndale Foods.
Fan favorites Nothing Bundt Cakes and Seasons 52, had everyone's sweet tooth covered again this year. Cindy Adams, owner of Nothing Bundt Cakes in Mount Prospect, brought crowd-pleasing flavors including Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Red Velvet, Pumpkin Spice and Confetti. Seasons 52's mini indulgences also went fast. People enjoyed samples of the Schaumburg restaurant's Belgian Chocolate S'more, Mocha Macchiato and Pecan Pie with Vanilla Bean Mousse.
Signature Popcorn, located in historic downtown Long Grove, brought sweet and savory samples for guests to try. Its Cinnamon Roll flavor caramel popcorn was a big hit, as were the Cheesy Bacon, Perfect Duo and Cheddar varieties.
Skeptic Distillery, a new distillery in Melrose Park, brought samples of its Skeptic Gin and Skeptic Vodka. Its spirits are available at multiple Binny's Beverage Depots and local liquor stores throughout the area.
Guests could sip a few of PRP Wine International's offerings and learn about the in-home tasting experiences it provides, as well.
Guests also enjoyed heartier food samples while contestants raced against the clock to finish their final dishes. Pre Brands offered samples of grass-fed and grass-finished beef products. It also donated one-month of Pre Brands grass-fed beef and IPAs to the raffle. In addition to providing samples to guests, Pre Brands educated attendees on the benefits of choosing grass-fed and grass-finished beef.
The Toasty Cheese Restaurant Group brought samples of some of its biggest crowd-pleasers to the finale, including samples of the Kim Classic & Tomato Bisque Shooter, caprese bites; a cheese fondue with fries and pretzel rods for dipping; and a fig, bacon, and pear flatbread.
Moretti's restaurant group served up its rustic penne pasta with chicken sausage while educating the crowd on Moretti's Wine Club. Novak & Parker Home Appliance prepared sweet and sour pork sliders with caramelized pineapple using a Thermador steam convection oven and Thermador induction cooktop. Contestants used the same Thermador induction cooktops to prepare their dishes for the judges that evening.
Other sponsors of Cook of the Week included AMITA Health, Binny's Beverage Depot, BurgerIM, Chandler's Chophouse and Banquets in Schaumburg, Divine Signs and Graphics, Novatoo and Thermador. First-time sponsor Andigo Credit Union also joined the action at the finale, passing out information about its offerings and giving the crowd a chance to enter a raffle and spin a wheel for prizes at its table.