Maureen Mader reacts to Team Dunning's winning the 2023 Battle of the Chefs. (Nick Ulanowski/H-F Chronicle)
Entertainment, Local News

Third annual Battle of the Chefs features fun, competition, support

Members of Team 3v3, Chef Jerome Brown’s team, work on their creation. (Nick Ulanowski/H-F Chronicle)

Community members, out-of-towners, professional chefs, Flossmoor Mayor Michelle Nelson and the Black Foodies came together for the third annual Battle of the Chefs in downtown Flossmoor on Saturday evening, July 8. 

All proceeds from the event were donated to the iCanDream Center in Tinley Park. The center is a nonprofit organization that provides support for kids and young adults with autism and intellectual disabilities.

The activities, including a musical performance, the chef competition, a comedy act and the dining area, were held under a large white tent in front of Dunning’s Market and Conservatory Vintage & Vinyl. The event was organized by Dunning’s owner Maureen Mader.

Attendees who pre-ordered tickets were given pink and blue wristbands. The blue wristbands got them four appetizers and the pink wristbands got them signature cocktails. Each appetizer was prepared by a different competing chef in the event. 

The appetizers were crostini with a tomato-based spread, spicy lobster rolls, sautéed shrimp cakes and rib tacos. Vegetarians received kale salads in place of the meat and seafood dishes. Pescatarians were asked to take a second serving of another dish instead of the rib tacos.

Attendees voted for their favorites by dropping their blue wristbands into one of four baskets labeled with the appetizers’ names. The winning appetizer was the spicy lobster rolls that were prepared by Mader.

Wristbands weren’t required to attend the event. Those without wristbands supported the iCanDream Center by purchasing drinks from the bar and raffle tickets.

Among the three raffle items for sale was original artwork from Nico Martinez, an artist with autism in Flossmoor. He will draw a painting of the winner using watercolor and ink.

Zipporah Leach, a behavior therapist at iCanDream Center, and Taryn Turner, a 21-year-old student at the center, sold copies of the book “Spice and Spectrum: Recipes for Resilience” by Chef Jerome Brown. The book has 75 recipes contributed by the families of people with autism and neuro-divergence and 25 recipes contributed by autistic and neuro-divergent people.

“During the pandemic, a lot of people dealt with a lot of amazing challenges. And those who are neuro-diverse and on the spectrum are no different,” Brown said. “This is a book about acknowledging that and sharing their stories.”

One of the recipes in the book was contributed by Turner who has ADHD and autism.

“It helps prepare me to rent an apartment or rent a car. So, I just know how to do that. So, I can be independent,” Turner said of the center.

“People with autism are our neighbors,” Flossmoor resident Angie Coderre said. Coderre said supporting this event is “acting as an ally to all of your friends and all of your neighbors who either have autism or have family members with autism.”

During their performance, ReTurn2SouL changed the lyrics from “Just My Imagination” by the Temptations to include a reference to Flossmoor and the iCanDream Center. As the band played, audience members clapped along and danced.

When comedian and host Jay Deep asked audience members where they were from, audience members answered all over the Chicago area. One said she was from Atlanta, Georgia. 

Two teams competed in the Battle of the Chefs. Team Dunning’s included Mader, her nephew Matt Meschede and Won Kim who’s been in chef competitions on the Food Network and owns Kimski, a Korean-Polish fusion restaurant in Chicago. Team 3v3 included Brown, a personal chef who has appeared on Food Network; Ricky Simpson Jr. and Sondra Rhodes. 

Both teams were given a green bag full of surprise ingredients. When they opened the bags, the teams found alligator meat, okra and other ingredients donated by Maple Tree Inn in Homewood. The teams had 45 minutes to cook a dish using every ingredient.

Deep egged on contestants and joked about both the stage and the crowd. Throughout the battle, Deep announced how many minutes were left. In the last 15 minutes, Tony Fields, the DJ and co-owner of Conservatory Vintage & Vinyl, put on inspirational music.

After the dishes were made, Mader flipped a coin to determine which team gives their food to the judges first. Contestants disputed the logistics of the coin toss, so the two teams played rock-paper-scissors against each other instead. Team 3v3 won.

The five judges evaluated each dish for presentation, taste and creativity on a 1-to-6-point scale from Very Bad to Excellent. After the judges finished both dishes, all the points were totaled up for each team.

The judges were Nelson, La Voûte Restaurant general manager Robert Burt, food and restaurant consultant Izzy Kharasch and the Black Foodies. The Black Foodies are a husband and wife who go by “Dino Dean” and “Miss Coretta” and review black-owned and ethnic restaurants for more than 55,000 Instagram followers.

After two years of losing, Team Dunning won by one point, 69 to 68. 

When Mader was handed the microphone to give her victory speech, Brown had a huge smile on his face. Mader told the crowd that because she’s not a sports player, she’s never won a trophy before — and she’ll treasure this one. 

Meschede kissed his trophy after exiting the stage.

“The real winner of this battle is the students of the iCanDream Center,” said Dr. Evisha Ford, founding executive director of the center. “We appreciate you and thank you.”

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