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And the Winner of the Chicago Public Radio chef challenge is...

One down, nine to go. Saturday night was the first of ten live events produced under the Chicago Public Radio Presents...Series tent and it was a grand slam, baby! The day started around 3:00PM, when I arrived at the super kitschy Catalyst Ranch and met Executive Chef Jared Van Camp from Old Town Social as he set up and prepped his dish: bacon-filled waffles and a Matilda-beer sausage.‚  Michelle from Goose Island had arrived and set up the bar and the other chefs were on their way. By the time 6:00PM arrived, the Polka Room at Catalyst smelled absolutely delicious with Executive Chef Ben Sheagren's rabbit stew and Executive Chef Jill Barron's vegetarian chili with beer batter corn cakes joined the waffles and sausage.‚ showed up as did my corps of trusty WBEZ volunteers (including Josh Rosenbluh whom you may remember as the tech guy who saved last year's June event) and our WBEZ staff.‚  The doors opened and the capacity crowd began to filter in. By 6:30PM, things were hoppin'.‚  Breeze's husband, Kelsey, engineered a 3 hour and 40-minute iPod playlist for the night and the line for beer was long.‚  Goose Island was passing out samples of Pere Jacques and Sofie as well as the evening's common cooking ingredient, the delicious Matilda. Jimmy Carrane came in and instantly read the room as ripe for his "Chef Battle Chicago Politics" schtick and Breeze was registering passports like a madwoman. Once things were underway, I took my opportunity to sample the food.‚  First was Jill's chili.‚  I like my hot peppers a lot and her chili was spicy, with just enough heat, and delicious.‚  The corncake was excellent and you could really taste the beer in both parts of the dish without it overwhelming the rest of the ingredients.‚  Next was Ben's ridiculously tasty rabbit stew.‚  Savory and rich, the stew was kind of amazing - never had rabbit stew before - my only reference being the Bugs Bunny short about the king who wanted Hossenfeffer - but I hope this goes on Ben's Hopleaf menu because it was dangerously good. Finally, the dessert of the night (or breakfast depending on your perspective) - Van Camp's Sausage and Waffle.‚  The sausage was spectacular - perfect texture, just enough beer flavor to make it pop and the waffle with bacon and syrup was heaven.‚  Heaven, I say!!

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