DeKALB – Featuring the home-cooked favorites of more than 50 chefs, CASA DeKalb County will return this weekend to Northern Illinois University’s Barsema and Alumni and Visitors Center to put on the 18th annual 50 Men Who Cook.
The event, which will take place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at the center, aims to give guests a fun summer evening to remember, with proceeds benefiting CASA DeKalb County, which provides court-appointed special advocates for area families, specifically children who have experienced abuse or neglect.
“It’s an opportunity to have a taste of a lot of different variety of wonderful dishes prepared by our chefs, as well as a fun time enjoying a beautiful summer evening out on the patio terrace at Barsema Alumni and Visitor Center at NIU,” said Jill Olson, executive director for CASA DeKalb County.
During the event, each chef is entered into a category: appetizer, side dish, entrée, dessert and professional chefs. The dish they are tasked with preparing as part of the competition must correspond accordingly. Within each category, chefs will compete for awards.
Olson said it’s clear that the chefs who participate continue to get into the spirit of the event year after year.
“It’s amazing how competitive they are,” Olson said. “Everybody wants to win. The winner gets to win a professional chef’s jacket—the white jacket that’s embroidered with their own name and the 50 Men Who Cook logo. So, everybody’s always vying for that. They really have a good time, too. And that’s really what’s most important to me is that we could not do this event without the support of our chefs. It’s important to me that they have a good time, that they feel appreciated by the guests who are attending NIU.”
Chicago resident Dylan Ingersoll said he is motivated to showcase his culinary skills in the competition.
This year marks Ingersoll’s fourth time competing as a chef in the 50 Men Who Cook event.
“I actually won first place in my category last year,” Ingersoll said “The year before I got third place. I feel like I kind of built my way up there. Now it’s almost like having to defend a title, having to go back and show that I’ve still got it.”
Ingersoll said he doesn’t have a lot of intel about the other chefs who may compete this time around, but he knows the stakes are high.
“A lot of chefs are very secretive about what they’re making,” Ingersoll said. “They don’t want to give any edge to the competition. Most of the time for the far majority of people competing you don’t find out what they’re making until you get there. … Understand it’s for a much bigger cause than the cooking competition itself, but I mean you’re there and you want to win and you want to go home with the chef’s jacket as your prize. It definitely brings out a competitive spirit in people.”
Elburn resident Al Ratliff also will be among the more than 50 chefs brushing off his culinary skills for the crowds on hand for this year’s event. He said the way the chefs get into the spirit of the competition is great to see.
“Everybody goes all out,” Ratliff said. “If you walk around the place, they get all into it. It’s good to see that especially from the professional standpoint to see people that are coming into this on an amateur level. They put just as much passion into it as we do into our work on a daily basis.”
Ratliff said he feels good about his chances in the cooking competition, but what intrigues him more is having the opportunity to help a great cause make a difference in the community.
“Last year in the professional category, I came in second place,” Ratliff said. “But as a whole, I took the People’s Choice Award. So, I feel pretty good. But for me, the competition side of it doesn’t really matter for me. If we win or lose is kind of irrelevant. It’s just such a great cause to be out there for. On the professional side, our organization we do a lot of charitable events, but there’s not a lot times in your profession where you get to go outside yourself and do something for the betterment of others. … That’s really what excites me about CASA as a whole.”
Tickets for the event remain available for purchase at $45 each both in person at the CASA office, 308 W. State St., Suite 301, Sycamore, and online. But any pair of tickets purchased online through Friday is $80, according to the event’s webpage.
Organizers said the event usually draws more than 400 people to take part in the festivities.
Sponsors for this year’s event include Shaw Media, Old National Bank, American Family Insurance, Crum Halsted Insurance and Risk Management, FNBO and First State Bank, among others.