On the Record with Mike Verbic for 50 Men Who Can Cook

DeKALB – Mike Verbic doesn’t consider himself a chef, but once a year, he rolls up his sleeves, wears an apron and participates in 50 Men Who Cook, a fundraiser for CASA DeKalb County.

Verbic and his cooking partner, Michael Rothamer will compete in the 17th annual 50 Men Who Cook event, to be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14, at Northern Illinois University’s Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, 231 N. Annie Glidden Road in DeKalb.

During the event, attendees can sample more than 50 delicious tastings crafted by local home cooks and professional chefs and vote for their favorite dish in each category at the end of the night. The event also includes a cash bar, entertainment, raffle prizes and more. All proceeds from the event benefit CASA DeKalb County, which advocates for children who have experienced abuse or neglect.

Verbic has competed in all 17 cooking events, and this will be Rothamer’s 16th event. This year, they will be making pots de crème, a traditional French custard dessert.

Rothamer enjoys participating with his friend.

“In addition to it being a great cause and a lot of fun, there’s a sense of satisfaction that we’ve participated in the event,” he said. “It helps raise money for a great cause.”

Tickets for 50 Men Who Cook cost $40 each or two for $70, if purchased by Aug. 13.

Verbic spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about the upcoming fundraiser.

Milton: How did you first hear about the event?

Verbic: My wife Jennifer was a board member for CASA back when the event was started 17 years ago. I learned a lot about CASA and how it helps the children who are unfortunately in very heartbreaking situations of abuse and neglect. My wife mentioned the fundraiser, and asked if I would be interested. It’s the very least I could do to help the organization.

Milton: Why have you continued to participate?

Verbic: The event is a lot of fun, from the moment of getting involved. You select a dish, prepare it, wait for the results and learn how much money was raised. Raising the money and helping CASA has truly been my motivation for doing it all these years.

Milton: What are some recipes you’ve made through the years?

Verbic: Over the years, we’ve made chocolate chip cheesecake, Thai cashew chicken and barbecue smokies. Last year, we grilled chicken satay outdoors on our driveway. This year, we’re making pots de crème. There are four food categories: main dish, appetizer, side dish and dessert. For whatever reason, we usually lean toward dessert and a sweet tooth.

Milton: Do you cook alone?

Verbic: Year two, my friend Michael Rothamer joined me as a cook. We choose the recipe, usually the Friday before the event, get together, get everything prepared, and work during the event together, serving and talking with people. My son, Michael Verbic, will be competing for the first time on his own this year.

Milton: Describe the day of the competition.

Verbic: Normally, you are at your table at the in-person event, and those that purchase tickets and attend the event can go around and taste the 50 dishes. Last year, the event was held virtually. A professional celebrity chef reviewed the cooks and their dishes online and rated different aspects, like presentation and seasonings. The only downside was that people could not taste the dishes since we all participated at chosen location: our home, a friend’s place, wherever the chef chose. There was no in-person component whatsoever. I think we’re all very excited to getting back to an in-person event. It’s so much fun having people visit you at your table, trying your dish and it’s all done while raising much-needed funds for CASA and children that rely on their services.

Milton: What do you like best about the event?

Verbic: I love the comradery and competition. While we’ve never won, we’ve certainly placed. There are three winners per category. It’s not as much the competition that brings us back but the comradery and the people that attend. Many people in the community have attended the event every year.

Milton: What precautions will be taken this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Verbic: There will be minimal contact between the chefs and the guests. That’s part of the reason we chose the dish we did, because it can be prepared with minimum contact between you and the other person. CASA also hosts chef training to discuss COVID-19 precautions and other health and safety precautions. We’ll be gloved up as usual, wearing masks and respecting social distancing as we try to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Milton: Do the chefs prepare the dish at the event?

Verbic: Sometimes it’s just one man cooking, some have teams, spouses, partners or children involved. Some cook at the event, some make the food beforehand. One year, we prepared more of a drink, lava flow. We had the blenders going all night long. Serving can be very interactive in that regard, but sometimes that makes everything a little more difficult and limited.

Milton: Has the event made you more creative in the kitchen year-round?

Verbic: For me, I had been interested in cooking previously. I think what this did after the first few years of participating, it’s refined my focus of cooking and baking. I found I’ve been doing more of it at home, in particular desserts, things like cakes and pies. I’m thinking about next year’s dish all the time. We want to serve something people will enjoy. Sometimes it’s trial and error beforehand to get the recipe and dish right. We have repeated some recipes that went over very, very well, but we try to come up with something new every year. We do have a few fallback options.

Milton: What would you say to someone who has never attended the event before?

Verbic: It’s a great opportunity to try a new dish, give feedback and help a great organization in the community. You can support a friend or neighbor or just go to enjoy the food and eat. It really is a lot of fun and a great time.

Katrina Milton

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.