Chef has no beef with contest judges this year

7 Nov

Bernard LoMonacoFor the past two years, Bernard LoMonaco has made it to the finals in the Grand Victoria Casino/Elgin Community College Prime Burger Competition.

In its third year, LoMonaco again was a finalist at the burger contest Tuesday at the casino. And this time, he took the top prize — a $2,000 scholarship and bragging rights that not only has he beat out his classmates, but finally took that top spot with a risky burger.

LoMonaco of Bartlett won for his Flourless Chocolate Burger — a dessert burger with a flourless chocolate brownie “patty,” topped with mango “cheese” slices, raspberry coulis “ketchup,” shredded coconut “lettuce,” sliced strawberry “tomatoes” and kiwi “pickles,” all nestled between a homemade concha — a Mexican sweet bread — bun.

Going with a dessert burger was a risk, LoMonaco admitted. There hadn’t been a dessert burger in the competition since the first one in 2009, and that burger didn’t place in the top three.

“You don’t see too many of them” on a gourmet burger menu, LoMonaco said.

For the 2009 competition, he created a burger topped with breaded shrimp and called it the “Victoria’s Crown Burger.” That one lost points because judges deemed it too hard to eat, he said.

Last year, he made it to the finals with a crab cake mixed with jalapeños and cheddar cheese on a grilled chicken burger.

LoMonaco’s winning dessert burger — with a few modifications — will show up on the casino’s Prime Burgerhouse menu in January, said Grand Victoria executive chef Glenn Keenan. Prime doesn’t sell a lot of desserts on its menu, he said — mostly because, by the time customers finish off their burgers, there is just no room left for dessert.

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For the flourless chocolate burger to work for his menu, he will make some alterations, including substituting the mango slices.

“It is hard to have fresh sliced mango around if you just sell one or two” a day, Keenan said.

He also might beef up the pastry’s size. “We do everything bigger here,” Keenan said.

Or, as Grand Victoria marketing manager Marilou Pilman noted, making the dessert bigger also would make it easier to split.

All of the finalists will have their burgers on the Prime menu at some point, Keenan added. He usually runs them as weekend specials beginning in September, to begin promoting the annual cook-off event.

There is talk of inviting other area culinary schools to get in on the competition, “making it a culinary throw-down” among those programs, said Mark Bosanac, the culinary program director for ECC’s culinary school.

The other burger chefs throwing down Tuesday included Nick Srejma of Hoffman Estates. His “Chuck in Some Caper Relish” burger took second place. Kristin Koury of Elgin took third place with her Chicken Apple Burger. They took home $1,000 and $500 scholarships, respectively.

For the first time, $100 scholarships also were given out to the remaining three finalists, including Cherie Ann Morin of Aurora. Her “Skirt Steak Fajita Burger” was a nod to the Hispanic food culture in Aurora, she said.

She almost didn’t make it to the semi-final competition Oct. 19 at ECC. She was in a minor car accident at Randall Road and Route 38 on her way to class for the semi-finals.

The 35-year-old is a career-change student at ECC. After working in the back of the house — in the office — at a bar and grill for 10 years, then bar tending for a few years, too, she decided to go back to school for a culinary degree. She also works while going to school. Morin is a cook at Montgomery’s Nicholson School. “Everybody is pulling for me,” Morin said.

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Source: Beacon News

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