Consumer Packing Company’s Melrose Park parking lot was transformed last week into a burger-grilling battle royale between nine culinary schools in the Chicagoland area care of the Third Annual BBQ & Burger Throwdown. Each school came with a specific recipe with no instructions other than to impress the judges with their renditions of a marvelous burger.

Each school had spent anywhere from weeks to three months preparing. The Windy City Professional Culinarians offer an educational scholarship program, which offers financial aid towards high school students, continuing college students and culinary professionals interested in furthering their accreditation.
“The competition takes them [the students] through a mini-menu development, and as a team they decide on a final product—a formulation that you have to deliver to the judges,” says Joseph D’ Alessandro, Director of Communications for American Culinary Federation – Windy City Professional Culinarians chapter about their annual burger competition.

The judges, all of whom collectively represented many professionals and experts in various areas in culinary cuisine, picked first-time competitors Elgin Community College for first-place winner with their Samurai Burger. Three months of preparation led Elgin’s team to fashion their burger around shitake mushrooms, garlic, ginger, hoisin sauce and seasoning matched with a daikon carrot slaw with hints of wasabi.

“For one, it was perfectly cooked,” said Chef John McLean, Chicago-based chef/restaurateur and former Levy Restaurants/Super Bowl corporate chef, said of Elgin’s edge in the competition. “They didn’t try to cover up the burger’s taste.” Other judges included U.S. Food Service corporate chef, Chef Rocco Paradiso, Italian cuisine expert and Iron Chef judge Chef Mario Rizzotti, co-sponsor Tasty Catering’s Chief Operating Officer/industry service veteran, Larry Walter and the executive chef for Union League Club, Michael Garbin.

Laurie Tokowitz, culinary arts major senior and Elgin Community College’s team captain, felt the event made her team understand the need for everyone to be happy with an open-minded approach taking constructive criticism. “We were shooting for the best product,” she said remarking on their decision to remake burgers for judging, so that it was indeed “perfectly cooked.”

The rundown:

  • 3rd Place, Dominician University – Abbondanza (Abundance) Burger
  • 2nd Place, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago – Swamp Burger
  • 1st Place, Elgin Community College – Samurai Burger
  • People’s Choice, Technology Center of DuPage – Cibo Amante (Food Lover’s) Burger

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