Column: Fifty-nine men who cook; and one who’s not sure

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on May 4, 2009

To be honest, I wasn’t completely sure what stuffed grape leaves were when I said I would make them for the 60 Men Who Cook event at the Kane County Fairgrounds, a fundraiser for the Geneva History Center, the Geneva Lions Club and the Geneva Rotary Club.

I was having trouble deciding what to cook for the event, a reporter mentioned them to me and said they were easy to make, and, just like that, I was sold, despite never having seen one before.

My wife, however, works for a restaurant trade magazine and a vivid picture of them immediately popped into her head when I told her what I was making.

“You know, they kind of look like, well, it’s unpleasant,” my wife told me. “They look gross.”

I confirmed this with a quick Web search. What she couldn’t bear to tell me was that they sort of resemble what food looks like after it has gone through the digestive system and exited the body.

Fantastic. I’m going to win this thing, for sure.

I never go into a contest unprepared, though. I’ve done some research on stuffed grape leaves, found a vegetarian version that sounds good, will practice making them tonight, and now am at least fairly confident most people will leave my station thinking, “Hmmm, I’ve tasted worse.”

We all need goals in life.

The event itself should be fun. It will features 60 local men serving dishes at 6 p.m., Friday, May 8, at the Kane County Fairgrounds, 525 S.Randall Road, St. Charles. Attendees will sample hors d’oeuvres, main dishes, side dishes and desserts and then vote for their favorite “People’s Choice Award” in each of the four categories.

Tickets are $25 before the event or $35 at the door and include food tastings, voting and entertainment. The evening also will include a cash bar and a raffle. Tickets are available online at http://www.genevachamber.com and in Geneva at the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, the Geneva History Center and Viking Office Supply; in St. Charles at Hotel Baker; and in Batavia at K. Hollis Jewelers.

The food will range from the fancy – Farhad Arshad, the president of Olive Firms, is making filet mignon – to the simple – St. Charles mayor Don DeWitte is making a hot cheesy nacho dip with chips, my kind of meal.

And then there will be a few real chefs, who will take one look at my dish and start crying on the inside.

Richard Fields, the head chef at Citizen Kane in Geneva, is making a creole meat loaf, while Francois Sanchez, the executive chef at the Q Center, will make profiteroles, cream puff pastries filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with bittersweet chocolate sauce.

And Keith Willis, the executive chef of The Hotel Baker and The Rox City Grill, will be making pickled oyster with ginger dashi, cucumber, lovage, and vadouvan spice, three of which I had to look up to confirm that they actually existed and were not names culled from a science fiction book.

Then there’s Chuck Lencioni, the building commissioner for Geneva, who will be making Chuck’s Famous Baked Beans.

Sadly, my dish is not named after me, though Dave Oberg, the executive director of the Geneva History Center, will be making Sloppy Joes.

What might be my favorite dish is coming from Greg Weider, the executive director of the Fox Valley Volunteer Hospice, who will be making “Better Than Your Husband” chocolate cake. Let’s just hope my wife doesn’t find that table. I might be going home alone. Well, not completely alone. I’ll probably have some leftover stuffed grape leaves.

Joe Grace is the editor of The Chronicle. You can write to him at jgrace@kcchronicle.com or call him at 630-845-5268.

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