Illinois Valley chefs advance to Top 10 in favorite chef competition

Winner of contest will receive $25,000

Thai Shrimp and Shitake in Endive Boats with Green Curry Sauce

Illinois Valley chefs Charles Klinefelter, executive chef at Starved Rock Conference Center, and Jill Hejl, a cooking instructor at Illinois Valley Community College, both qualified as a top 10 contestant in “Carla Hall presents Favorite Chef” – a competition featuring the best chefs from across the U.S.

Klinefelter’s portfolio showcases items ranging from red meats such as lamb and beef to poultry and fish. He has been in the business for 48 years and said “at the end of the day it’s just being able to walk out of the kitchen knowing you’ve taught others that with your passion for cooking it’s made someone’s day much better.”

Hejl said she may not have a culinary degree, but she feels 100% like a chef and enjoys creating complex recipes and adding her own twist, discovering new flavor combinations, new techniques and making a recipe work with what she has on-hand.

“I’m always mixing it up,” she said. “I start with a base recipe and go off that ... I’m always whether it’s baked or savory dishes tasting and adding flavors and twists because you don’t always have the ingredients.

“You can always make it a different way. Make it work with what you have.”

The winner of the Favorite Chef competition will receive a $25,000 prize, be featured on the cover of “Taste Home” magazine, a publication that celebrates the joy of home cooking while offering cooking tips and heartwarming stories. Winners also will have the opportunity to cook with celebrity chef Carla Hall, who rose to fame in “Top Chef” and “The Chew.”

Klinefelter said if he were to win he would take the opportunity to travel across the United States on a food voyage from coast to coast.

“To finally relax and enjoy what I’ve missed on so many holidays due to always being in the kitchen and let someone cook for me,” he said.

Hejl said she would love to open a bistro and tea shop where patrons could come and enjoy sweet and savory treats in the European tradition.

“I love to care for people through food,” she said. “Nothing makes me happier than to make something and give it to them.

“It’s almost like a piece of culinary art, but also it nourishes them on the most basic level – it’s a thrill.”

To vote for Charles, visit the Favorite Chef at To vote for Jill, visit the Favorite Chef at Voting is open through Thursday, June 13.

People can vote free daily or pay for additional votes. The contest proceeds support the James Beard Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support the people behind America’s food culture and push for new standards in the restaurant industry.

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