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Local News

Joliet area chefs showcased their finest at Center for Disability Services benefit

Joliet chef coordinated his 22nd tasting party to benefit people with disabilities

BOLINGBROOK – Vince Portlock was on the hunt for this year’s “big wow” dish, something even better than Kung Pao octopus.

This year, Portlock, board chair for the Center for Disability Services in Joliet, had a hard time choosing just one at Sunday’s 22nd Annual Great Chefs Tasting Party & Auction, which was held at the Bolingbrook Golf Club in Bolingbrook.

The event, held from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., included samplings from 18 Joliet-area chefs and restaurants, as well as entertainment and a live and silent auction.

The coordinator is Joliet Junior College chef Fred Ferrara, who began the event 22 years ago and returns every year to run it.

Of course, with a “Roaring 20s” theme, the main auction item was “the vault.” This, said Gina Wysocki, director of development for CDS, was a nod to the concrete vault reputedly built by Al Capone in the Prohibition era.

“We filled this vault with items pertinent to the 1920s and the Chicago area,” Wysocki said.

Larry Burich, interim CEO, said last year’s Great Chefs Tasting Party & Auction raised about $90,000 for CDS, and he hoped this year would be closer to $100,000. One possible allocation for some of the proceeds would be toward the purchase of additional TAPits (Touch Accessible Platform for Interactive Technology).

“TAPits are computers we use in the classroom,” said Burich, who attended the event dressed as a gangster. “They look like huge TV screens on wheels. They can be set up for anybody with disabilities to use. If a person can’t use their hands to manipulate the screen, they can use a different part of their body or their voice.”

Several clients were present, too, including Melvin Booker, who sang while helping with the “Golden Ticket” raffle, and Ashley DeGroot, 23, of Shorewood. DeGroot said she tried the spicy chicken and the blueberry cheesecake.

“I liked the blueberry cheesecake the best,” DeGroot said.

Ferrara, who brought members of JJC’s Epicurean Club, as well as students from his Vocational Skills Food Service classes, said he can’t imagine not coordinating this event.

“It’s like watching your children grow,” Ferrara said.

Two of the Epicurean Club members, Crystal Gallardo and Julian Campos, served chiffon cake soaked in a moonshine simple syrup.

“It’s cake with a kick,” Gallardo said with a smile.

Quite a few guests also donned 1920s garb, including Rochelle Prospero of Mokena, an itinerant teacher at CDS for 22 years, who works with visually impaired clients. Prospero said she can’t walk into the center without feeling blessed.

“These kids have such spirit,” Prospero said.

Lorin Lynch of New Lenox , who said he attends every year, wore “regular” clothes, but his significant other, Lynne Lichtenauer, one of the event’s emcees, looked as if she stepped out of the era, which caught Lynch by surprise when he saw her.

“He kept saying, ‘Oh, my God; oh my, God; oh, my God,’ ” Lichtenauer said.



According to the Center for Disability Services website, the center was founded as a school in 1955 for children with cerebral palsy. Formerly known as United Cerebral Palsy of Illinois Prairieland (UCP), the CDS has since expanded its programs to also serve individuals with other disabilities, including epilepsy, traumatic brain injury and autism.

CDS provides services for people living in Will, Kankakee, Grundy, Kendall, LaSalle, Ford and Iroqouis counties. For more information, call 815-744-3500 or visit

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