Matt Kosterman

The Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry is hosting their second annual Healthy Chef Competition on Thursday May 2nd at the Nineteenth Century Club.

Food Pantry executive director, Michelle Zurakowki, turned her longtime dream of hosting a culinary competition into a reality in 2018. The first-ever event pulled in a diverse crowd of close to 300 supporters, crowned Angie Montroy of Angie’s Pantry the Healthy Chef Champion and drew attention to important educational programming at the food pantry. The 2019 Healthy Chef Challenge is on track to be equally successful.

“The first time around is always about newness and excitement,” says Zurakowski, “The second time is more about the heart; it’s a sign of dedication and commitment.”

The fundraiser shines an important light on the nutrition education programs and cooking classes offered at the OPRF Food Pantry and also celebrates local chefs in a lively cooking competition.

The upcoming Healthy Chef Challenge, hosted by Danielle Dang (co-ower of HaiSous Kitchen Cà Phê Dá Vietnamese café in Pilsen), will crown two champions; one in the private chef category and another in a restaurant chef category.

Round one contestants include Vanessa Druckman (French-foodie-mom-blogger) Samantha Miola (registered dietitian and personal chef) and Su Jang (owner of New Rose Catering). The restaurant chefs battling it out in round two include Carlos Benon of Wild Onion Tied House, Daniel Vogel of Obsessed Kitchen, and Chris Fennel of Cooper’s Hawk.

Each trio of chefs will have 30 minutes to create a dish celebrating the flavor of the food pantry in front of a live audience. Each cook will make use of commonly distributed food pantry staples and must incorporate three mandatory ingredients into their dish including canned items like pears, chickpeas, black beans, potatoes, and pineapple.

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. Last year, chefs were forced to contend with a dreaded can of spaghetti rings in tomato sauce.

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

While this event is being held with fun in mind, the judging panel, including Laura Maychruk, Christopher Koetke and Anan Abu-Taleb, will taste all the dishes and tackle the serious business of naming the 2019 Healthy Chef competition champions in each division.

“Coming to the Healthy Chef Challenge will help provide over 1000 families with food for a week;” says Zurakowski, “plus you get to hang out with friends, watch scorching competition and learn how to cook something delicious with canned potatoes!”

What could be better than that?

General admission tickets to the Healthy Chef Challenge are $45 and include 1 drink ticket and light appetizers. VIP tickets are also available.

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