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updated: 11/8/2017 10:57 AM

Cook of the Week Challenge: Big stakes at live finale

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  • Before the cooking commences, the original cooks are introduced to the audience. This year, the original eight cooks will take the stage at the live cook-off.

      Before the cooking commences, the original cooks are introduced to the audience. This year, the original eight cooks will take the stage at the live cook-off.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer, 2016

  • Mark Clemens of Elgin is ready to take on the final challenge at the live cook-off Monday, Nov. 13, in Itasca.

      Mark Clemens of Elgin is ready to take on the final challenge at the live cook-off Monday, Nov. 13, in Itasca.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Cook of the Week Challenge finalist Elizabeth Schuttler of Inverness has cooking tools at the ready for the Monday, Nov. 13, live cook-off.

      Cook of the Week Challenge finalist Elizabeth Schuttler of Inverness has cooking tools at the ready for the Monday, Nov. 13, live cook-off.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Ben Blake of Winfield has cooking tools at the ready for the Monday, Nov. 13, live cook-off.

      Ben Blake of Winfield has cooking tools at the ready for the Monday, Nov. 13, live cook-off.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Cook of the Week Challenge finalist Darla Pitts of Chicago is an Arlington Heights firefighter and EMT. She's ready to take on the final challenge at the live cook-off Monday, Nov. 13, in Itasca.

      Cook of the Week Challenge finalist Darla Pitts of Chicago is an Arlington Heights firefighter and EMT. She's ready to take on the final challenge at the live cook-off Monday, Nov. 13, in Itasca.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Paul Guerrero, executive chef with Cooking Skills Academy, will return as emcee of the 2017 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca.

      Paul Guerrero, executive chef with Cooking Skills Academy, will return as emcee of the 2017 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer, 2016

 
 

After six weeks, eight original home cooks and four at-home cooking challenges, the 2017 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge is down to the final four.

And each of those finalists is now busy preparing for the live finale.

This year, the contest -- in its new, streamlined form -- had the cooks facing the same secret ingredients. One cook was eliminated by guest judges each week. For a full collection of all the challenge recipes this year, visit dailyherald.com/lifestyle/food/cook-of-the-week-challenge/.

Vying for the 2017 Cook of the Year title and a prize package worth more than $1,500 are: Ben Blake of Winfield, Mark Clemens of Elgin, Darla Pitts of Chicago and Elizabeth Schuttler of Inverness. They will battle it out in the live cook-off from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 13, at the Westin Chicago Northwest, 400 Park Blvd., Itasca.

Family and friends come out to support their favorite cooks, who will have access to a pantry and the challenge ingredients to produce a dish for judging in one hour. That's just 60 minutes. When the clock stops, it's tongs down. The public, of course, is invited out to watch the action unfold while enjoying an appetizer buffet, product samples, celebrity chef demonstrations and more.

While the cooks are sweating it out over their cooking stations, the audience will watch live cooking demonstrations by local food professionals including Monique Costello of Happy Eats Happy, chefs Mario Rizzotti of Iron Chef America, Suzy Singh of NOW Foods and the Westin's executive Chef Ahmed Azizy. Paul Guerrero, culinary director of Cooking Skills Academy in Itasca, will serve as the emcee.

The grand prize for this year's winner includes a Chef's Table dining experience at Seasons 52 in Schaumburg, a Thermador Emerald Series Integrated Dishwasher courtesy of Novak & Parker/Thermador, cooking tools and gadgets from the Daily Herald, classes for two at Cooking Skills Academy, gift cards from Tony's Fresh Market and BlackFinn Ameripub and the giant spoon trophy.

The other finalists will receive cooking classes for two at Cooking Skills Academy and gift cards from BlackFinn and Tony's Fresh Market.

All of the original cooks competing this year will receive gifts from some of the contest sponsors.

The panel of celebrity judges for the finale will be rating each cook's dish on presentation, taste, use of ingredients and creativity. Judges include Becky Waite, of Binny's Beverage Depot; Jimmy Nicolau, from Grecian Delight; John Hampson, 2016 Cook of the Year; Rizzotti, Singh and Azizy.

Tickets for this live cook-off are $20, with $5 going to the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Tickets include appetizers, food samplings, two drink tickets and a goody bag. They're available at http://events.dailyherald.com/cook-of-the-week-finale-2/.

See you there.

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