Cook from Carol Stream takes home the Cook of the Year 2020 title
This year's Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge shaped up differently because of COVID-19, but the smile on winner Tim Rogers' face looks familiar.
With his recipe for Chorizo, Mackerel and Feta Shakshuka, Rogers of Carol Stream has been named Daily Herald Cook of the Year for 2020.
"I'm speechless," he said with a laugh. "It was a lot of fun; they were challenging ingredients but it really stretched my imagination and creativity."
The cooks were tasked with creating a recipe using kale courtesy of the Northern Illinois Food Bank, couscous, canned mackerel with lemon and olive oil from King Oscar and a protein of their choice.
Rogers said he wanted to make a main dish that could be prepared in under an hour so it would appeal to the busy home cook.
"The total prep time for the salad is longer, but par-cooking the sweet potatoes before baking them really releases a lot of their natural sweetness," he said. "Plus the salad can be made ahead and served cold with the shakshuka."
Judges were impressed by all the cooks' recipes, and they evaluated them on use of the key ingredients, appearance, creativity, ease of preparation and perceived taste.
Due to the pandemic and the lack of a live cook-off, the cooks' recipe-writing skills were key this year. Their photography skills got a workout, too, as both factors had to sell their dishes to the judges.
In addition to Rogers, the competing cooks were Rick Kennedy from St. Charles, James Knupp from Elgin, Amanda Marron from Wheaton, Judy Monaco from Glendale Heights, Joseph Peabody from Arlington Heights, Mary Reidy from Mount Prospect and Laurie Wood of Palatine.
The numbers were close, but the win went to Rogers.
Rogers was impressed by his competitors. "The other dishes looked fantastic, which is why I'm so surprised I won. I would encourage anyone with a passion for cooking to enter," Rogers said.
Besides the title of the Daily Herald's Cook of the Year, Rogers wins the grand prize of a Chef's Table dining experience at Seasons 52, a $500 value, and a King Oscar gift basket.
Readers got a chance to vote online, and there is a lot to be said about winning the popular vote. This year it went to Rick Kennedy and his recipe for Stufato Rustico di Terra e di Mare (Rustic Stew From The Land And Sea).
As the Readers' Choice winner, Kennedy of St. Charles gets a King Oscar gift basket and two $50 Seasons 52 gift cards. Reader Elizabeth Whittaker's name was drawn from everyone who participated in the online voting. Whittaker of Geneva wins a $50 gift card to Seasons 52.
This year's judges were John Engle, president and CEO of King Oscar, Inc.; Penny Kazmier, winner of the 2011 Cook of the Week Challenge and Culinary adventures columnist; and Chef Jennifer Bucko Lamplough, director of nutrition programs and executive chef for Northern Illinois Food Bank.
Here are the judges' comments on each dish:
Tim Rogers' Chorizo, Mackerel and Feta Shakshuka
Kazmier: The photo of these recipes looks like it could be on trendy breakfast restaurant menu.
Engle: I love chorizo and love where this recipe is going ... a little spicy chorizo with mackerel and feta -- Sold! Of course!
Lamplough: I love the flavors and uniqueness of this dish. Great use of the ingredients and clear instructions.
Kazmier: "This looks like the perfect meal for a cool fall day. I like the addition of the pork to your meatballs.
Engle: OK, I admit it. Soup doesn't make me hungry when it is 90-plus degrees outside, but this recipe is the exception. WOW! Well done chef!
Lamplough: I love the creativity of pork and seafood meatballs in the stew and it looks beautiful. Not sure the bruschetta is needed. I would have rather seen a grilled baguette served to dip into the stew.
Kazmier: I have always thought of short ribs as a cut of meat requiring "low and slow" cooking, so I will have to try your method.
Engle: I love surf 'n' turf, and I love this recipe. Throw some steamed veggies on the side and I'm in a food coma shortly after. Outstanding.
Lamplough: These two options look great and very flavorful. I love the use of the ingredients, especially in the salsa verde. It doesn't feel like a fully realized dish though. It's missing a starch or vegetable side to pull the two together.
Amanda Marron's Mackerel Stuffed Filet with Couscous and Kale Gremolata
Kazmier: The gremolata looks delicious and looks great on the plate.
Engle: I didn't know what to expect, but this has to be a classic on any seafood restaurant's menu. Exceptional creativity.
Lamplough: Beautiful presentation and clear, easy instructions.
Judy Monaco's Roasted Seafood with Couscous Salad
Kazmier: The Asian twist elevated both of these dishes.
Engle: Savory seafood "mackerel" balls are a classic dish and there are sooo many flavors that my mouth is watering with envy. Well done.
Lamplough: Nice, clear instructions. The shrimp is a little confusing, maybe grind them and mix them into the mackerel balls. I would have liked to have seen the mackerel balls served on top of the salad for a more cohesive presentation and taste.
Joseph Peabody's Seafood Cakes with Kale and Couscous Salad
Kazmier: Pretty presentation, the couscous salad looks delicious.
Engle: I gave this dish a "20" on appearance before I even read the synopsis ... Ingenious use of the mackerel's olive oil and choosing not to discard it! OMG, I am going to make it for the family!
Lamplough: Beautiful presentation and clear, easy instructions. I love the freshness of the salad.
Mary Reidy's Portuguese Inspired Fish Stew
Kazmier: Adding couscous to the flatbread is so interesting.
Engle: I didn't know what to expect, but this has to be a classic on any seafood restaurant's menu. Exceptional expression of a traditional meal.
Lamplough: Love the creativity of the flatbread and the stew looks delicious. Directions were a little unclear on both recipes.
Laurie Wood's Autumn Shrimp with Kale and Fall Veggie Couscous
Kazmier: I appreciate the make-ahead possibilities in these recipes. This would be a great dinner to make for guests, as there is very little last-minute prep.
Engle: This is a delicious twist on an autumn entree and just in time. Delightful and creative!
Lamplough: I love the abundance of fall-inspired ingredients, but this is a very long recipe with a lot of steps that might be daunting for a home cook.
Here's hoping next year's competition looks more like Cook of the Week Challenges of the past and we can all get together to cheer on the finalists in person. Until 2021 ...
See all the recipes entered in the Cook of the Week Challenge 2020 at dailyherald.com/lifestyle/food/cook-of-the-week-challenge/.