Melissa Elsmo

Michelle Zurkowski, executive director of the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry has been dreaming of hosting a culinary competition for years. With help from Lauren Brightmore, Development and Events Coordinator, and the support of several event sponsors (including MB Financial, The Beckwith Family, and River Edge Hospital), Zurkowski’s longtime dream will become a reality on Saturday April 7th at The Nineteenth Century Club.

To kick-off the organization’s CAN DO Community Challenge, a group of local-celebrity judges will evaluate the cooking skills of a few amateur cooks and trio of professional chefs in two divisions at the first-ever Healthy Chef Challenge. Jennifer White of WBEZ will serve as M.C. for the evening.

“The ingredients the competitors will be given are nothing fancy;” says Zurakowski, “we’re intentionally using items pantry clients regularly have access to.” 

Contestants will each create a dish celebrating the flavor of the food pantry with four known ingredients including black beans and canned plums. A secret ingredient, reveled during the competition, will add an element of surprise to the evening and could foil a competent cook’s best-laid plans.

While this event is being held with fun in mind, the judging panel will taste all the dishes and tackle the serious business of naming the first ever Healthy Chef competition champion in each division.

General admission tickets to the Healthy Chef Challenge are $40 and include 2 drink tickets beer, wine, water, soda, light appetizers, and a raffle ticket. 


Professional Chefs:

Gabriel Padilla, chef-owner, Rustico

Angie Montroy,  owner and personal chef, Angie’s Pantry

Kevin Rodriguez, chef, Maya del Sol

Judging Panel:

Cathy Adduci

Emily Paster

Rob Poe

Bob Tucker

Amateur Chefs:

Bridget Dempsey

Jim Geovanes

Dan Wnek

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