JOLIET – With just seconds to grab pantry ingredients, 15 minutes to brainstorm a recipe and one hour to cook, four men from the Joliet Police Department and four from the Joliet Fire Department went head to head in a culinary showdown.
On Tuesday, Turon Cummings, owner and head chef of Louis Joliet Mall restaurant ConEcepts, hosted the inaugural Culinary Showdown to raise money for Easter Seals Joliet.
“This was a way to create something new in Joliet and we look to do events with other organizations as well,” Cummings said. “I also want people to understand our concept; we have real food made by real chefs.”
Two teams of two men from each department were asked to make a dish in 60 minutes, which would be tasted by a panel of judges. The winner took home $100, had their dish on the menu at ConEcepts for a month and received a wooden plaque.
The event began about 5 p.m. and at 5:45 p.m., Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk spoke with the contestants and opened the competition.
“I feel it’s important to support local businesses in the Joliet mall and it’s important that city officials support local events as well. This is a lot of fun, but I think it’s going to be a train wreck for the police, I think,” said O’Dekirk, a former Joliet police officer himself.
The banter between the fire and police departments was no surprise, and the police said the fire department had an edge because, “between naps, all they do is cook,” officer Mike Steurer said.
That being said, before cook time, the fire department teams did offer detailed menu ideas, whereas the police teams seemed to wing it.
Cummings set up four stations, each with one burner, utensils, various pots and pans, and plating dishes. The teams had only a few seconds to rush to the pantry table and grab vegetables, pasta, spices, sauces, beans or rice before they cooked.
“We are pretty nervous, we are out of our realm,” firefighter Brian Hertzmann said. “We know what each other like, but don’t know what the judges will like.”
Team One was Hertzmann and Lt. James Boyd, who made a fajita in a bread cone, accompanied by a slaw and guacamole; Team Two was police officers Pat Schumacher and Steurer, who made sausage and pepper and rotini pasta with an herbed oil; Team Three was firefighters Chris Kinsella and Nate Kren with a Philly cheesesteak slider, potatoes and fire-glazed peppers; and Team Four was police Sgt. Phil Stice and officer Mike Botzum with their five separate dishes.
Botzum and Stice were the novices of the group, as Stice said, “I plugged in a hot plate in the office once and blew a fuse.”
After 60 minutes was called, the teams presented their dishes in front of the panel of judges. At the table to taste were Louis Joliet Mall Operations Manager Dennis Strong, Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr., Milano Bakery Vice President Darin DeBenedetti, After the Peanut CEO Natalie Coleman and VET Holdings Vice President of Sales Sam Clinton.
“Taste is No. 1, and then how it looks, the aroma and presentation – those are the big things. People don’t come back because their food was pretty, they come back because it tastes good,” Clinton said.
After a 20-minute taste round, the points from each judge were tallied and Team One, Hertzmann and Boyd, took the first-place prize.
“Victory never tasted so good,” Boyd said.
Since the event was a fundraiser for Easter Seals, the team graciously donated the prize money to the organization. Cummings said their dish will be on the menu for a month, and a portion of the proceeds from that dish will also go to Easter Seals Joliet.
Deb Strahanoski, development manager of the resource department at Easter Seals Joliet, said the funds from the event will help pay for summer programs for children who work with therapists during the school year.