JOLIET – Planning that next food get-together? Let winners from the 2013 "Men Who Cook" event help.
Below are their best ideas on what makes a good meal. For additional tips and suggestions, as well as the chance to feast on bite-sized samples of specialty dishes, ask culinary questions of Will County’s best amateur male cooks and vote for favorite dishes in each category, attend this year’s “Men Who Cook” culinary competition on Saturday.
Patrons also will see creative uses of presentation. For instance, last year Wilco FOOLS, the local chapter of a national firefighter fraternity, took second place by adopting a combined Irish and firefighters theme: Kilts, T-shirts and fire helmets, said spokesman John Raschke of Shorewood, an Itasca firefighter.
While the men interviewed all expressed an obvious love of food preparation and the camaraderie that accompanies this fundraiser, each agreed the real attraction of the “Men Who Cook” is its support of young victims of child sexual abuse cases, as all proceeds of this event benefit the Will County Child Advocacy Center.
Tom Grotovsky of Mokena, whose “Beef Tenderloin Bits au poivre,” won first place in this category the last two years, gave these reasons why this appetizer is so popular: it’s tender, peppery and cooked on site with a little bit of Cognac and cream.
One attendee, Grotovsky said, complained the steak was “too peppery.” Grotovsky, fond of Cajun spices, explained the appetizer’s name, “au poivre,” means “made with pepper.”
“Good appetizers,” Grotovsky said, “should pop your tastes buds and get them flowing. They should make you crave more.”
Last year, second-place winners John “Zerk” Mizerka of Wilmington and his cooking partner Rick “Boo” Scheidt of Joliet, jerky makers for more than 20 years, decided to enter several different varieties, Mizerka said, and called it “Boo Zerk Jerky.”
“No one ever serves jerky as an appetizer. Everyone always uses it for snacks,” Mizerka said. “We set out pieces of different flavored jerky with sharp cheddar and Colby, good Swiss and pepper jack, a nice mix of flavors.”
Jerky varieties ranged from pork tenderloin muscle jerky and ground jerky. For a moist product, prepare jerky the way Mizerka does, using sing a dehydrator, not a smoker.
For the last two years, the mozzarella and bacon meatballs prepared by Michael Trafton of Joliet, recently retired as Joliet’s chief of police, came in third place. This year, Trafton and his “Men Who Cook” partner, Sgt. John Stefanski, are “going back to their roots” with homemade potato pirogi. Appetizers, Trafton feels, must be good.
“They prepare you for the meal,” Trafton said.
Ken Strle of Crest Hill won second place with “Not Yo’ Mama’s Gumbo,” a recipe Strle, who has taken classes at the New Orleans School of Cooking, he said, has taken 10 years to perfect. The secret to terrific gumbo? The roux, Strle said.
Strle cooks this flour and oil mixture for three hours, stirring constantly to prevent burning, he said, until it reaches chestnut color. The darker the roux, Strle said, the better the gumbo. Strle’s homemade sausage also enlivens his gumbo because a good entrée, Strle said, is “something that’s fulfilling.”
Third-place entrée winners were Marty Swart of Lemont and Pat McGee of Joliet with their “Smoked Pulled Pork” sandwich. Nothing beats cooking with wood over a low fire, Swart said, even the ribs Swart and McGee will substitute for the sandwich this year.
“It’s [meat is] so tender if you’re doing it right and the taste is much better,” Swart said. “I hardly grill anymore. I do everything on my smoker, even hamburgers.”
Patience produces superior results, Swart said. A smoked chicken requires two hours, twice as long as traditional grilled chicken. The best ribs start with homemade spice rubs and progress to homemade barbecue sauce, not “something you pick up off the shelf.”
Daniel McCarthy and Jay Healy of the law firm Goldstine, Skrodzki, Russian, Nemec and Hoff, Ltd. in Burr Ridge, took first place with their Caramel Banana Pudding, a recipe provided by an office employee, McCarthy said.
Good desserts, said McCarthy, an enthusiastic dessert-lover, are sweet with soft textures. McCarthy’s personal preferences are chilled desserts, like pies and puddings, and traditional “comfort food” like homemade bread pudding, which McCarthy may enter this year. Preparing desserts for a crowd is not the same as creating desserts for a small group, he said.
“You have to think about what you can prepare in large amounts for a good number of people,” McCarthy said. “It has to be something that can sit out there with needing to be refrigerated and appeal to a wide variety of tastes.”
Chris Dieter of Joliet, second place dessert winner with “Fried Chocolate Banana Wontons,” summed up the perfect dessert in a single word: “Chocolate.”
If You Go
What: Sixth annual "Men Who Cook" culinary competition
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Pipefitters Training Center Local 597, 10850 187th Street, Mokena
Etc: Sample fine cuisine from approximately 50 amateur chefs. WJOL’s Lynne, Mary and Natalie will greet guests. Jackson, the center’s therapy dog and goodwill ambassador, will appear. Also, "Kids Corner" and 2014 “Men Who Cook” calendars for $10. Casual attire.
Tickets: $40 per person; $75 per couple; $10 for children between 6 and 12; kids 5 and under can attend for free. Purchase on-line at www.menwhocook.info or at the door
Visit: www.willcountychildrensadvocacy.org or www.facebook.com/menwhocook.
Will County Children’s Advocacy Center
In 1995, state’s attorney James Glasgow established the Will County Children’s Advocacy Center to improve investigations of child sexual abuse cases, according to a news release from Glasgow’s office.
When allegations of sexual or severe physical abuse occur, the center’s professionally trained and compassionate staff performs and records forensic child-sensitive interviews. As a result, hundreds of predators have been successfully prosecuted, according to the news release.
Because the center is a nonprofit organization, it relies on fundraisers, such as “Men Who Cook,” as well as grants and foundations, to operate, according to the news release. For more information about the center, call 815-774-4565 or willcountychildrensadvocacy.org.