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Men, women get cookin' for charity

Larry Olesky prepares a caboose-themed dish for hungry attendees at the 2012 Men Who Cook event in Geneva.
Larry Olesky prepares a caboose-themed dish for hungry attendees at the 2012 Men Who Cook event in Geneva.

GENEVA - Geneva businessman Gordie Hard of Valley Insurance Agency admits it was his wife’s recipe for grilled shrimp that helped him earn accolades at last year’s 60 Men Who Cook fundraiser. They worked on it together and she lent a hand as he prepared to serve up more than 250 portions of the tasty dish that won the title best entrée.

This year, it’s every man for himself.

The friendly competition has a new name this year as the 30 Men vs. 30 Women Who Cook, inviting women to a battle of the sexes as professional and amateur chefs prepare their best dishes. The change has brought plenty of friendly ribbing, Hard said.

“We wanted to see if we could ramp up the game,” said Laura Rush, communications manager for the Geneva Chamber of Commerce and a coordinator for the fifth annual event.

Rush said she and fellow members of the steering committee noticed last year that while the fundraiser was called 60 Men Who Cook, there were quite a few women assisting behind the scenes. They decided to give the ladies their own chance to take home the trophies in the friendly competition.

Last year, Kathy Melone of St. Charles was a woman supporting a male chef as her 11-yr-old son Bennett competed. When she learned about the new competition she registered with a new teammate, her daughter, Elena. They’ll prepare the family recipe.

“We’re making grandma’s homemade fudge and something she can help make,” said Kathy Melone, who is also a member of the Geneva Rotary Club.
Ellen Divita, director of economic development for the city of Geneva, will also be a chef for the night, cooking with her co-workers Jamie Heflin, an administrator and tourism coordinator, and Mary McKittrick, the city administrator.

“We just thought it was a fun thing to do,” Divita said. “I don’t know if we’re going to win, but it will be fun.”

Creativity counts in this friendly competition where each chef is vying for votes to win the best dish, best display. Chefs often dress up; even create elaborate displays to draw in hungry folks for a sample, and votes.

“The chefs really go above and beyond the call of duty,” said Terry Emma, executive director for the Geneva History Center and fellow coordinator for the April 19 event.

This year’s event will be at the Prairie Event Center on the Kane County Fairgrounds, 525 S. Randall Rd., St. Charles. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and chefs begin serving at 6 p.m. Almost all of the food is prepared on site, with chefs arriving early to set up and use the on-site kitchens.

“They’re already gathering their ingredients, and starting to plan now,” Emma said. “They things they come up with are very creative.”

Creativity is important as chefs seek votes to win the trophy for best dish.

And in this competition, voting early and often is highly encouraged. Each vote is a dollar. Voting is available online prior to the event and each chef has a basket to collect votes during the competition. Through votes and ticket sales the fundraiser collects money for four local agencies: The Geneva Lions Club, the Rotary Club of Geneva and The Geneva History Center and the Geneva Chamber of Commerce.

“It continues to be a good fundraiser,” Rush said.

Last year, each agency received about $7,000. As executive director for the Geneva History Center, Emma said the funding is really important.

“It makes a huge difference for us,” said Emma, adding that the Geneva History Center relies on donations to operate and the money raised through this fundraiser is an important piece to keeping the agency up and running.

Hard, who is a member of the Geneva Rotary, said the agency will use its portion to support college-bound students with scholarships.

To see what Divita, Melone and Hard cook up this year attendees can purchase tickets, online at or in person at the chamber office or the Geneva History Center. Tickets are $28 in advance and $30 at the door. Beer and wine will be available for purchase.

And attendees will want to bring plenty of dollar bills to cast their votes for favorite dishes and for raffles too, Rush said.

Hard said it was fun to earn the trophy for best entrée last year. As for his advice for the newcomers to this year’s event he kept it simple.

“Make sure to make enough,” Hard said.

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