Women's Volleyball
First Annual Chop Chef Fundraiser a Big Hit

Head Coach Kevin Hambly, one of eight competing chefs, won the audience vote and placed fourth overall.
Head Coach Kevin Hambly, one of eight competing chefs, won the audience vote and placed fourth overall.

Champaign, Ill. - The University of Illinois volleyball team hosted Chop Chef Champaign on Thursday, Feb. 28, at the I Hotel in Champaign, Ill. Eight local chefs, including Illini head coach Kevin Hambly, squared off in a heated cook-off in front of a packed house of Illini faithful, hoping to named Champaign's greatest chef. The creative fundraiser, which Hambly hopes to make an annual event, helped raise money to fund the volleyball team's trip to Europe at the end of the semester.

"I thought the event was a huge success," said Hambly. "We envisioned an event where people would interact and come together to enjoy food.  I feel like we pulled that off."

The event pitted eight chefs from the area against one another in a high-pressure battle, where they each had to think on their feet and improvise to create the best possible four-course meal. The participating chefs were Sarah Addison, the co-host of "Kevin and Sarah in the Morning" on Mix 94.5 WLRW-FM; Amy Armstrong, a mother of four and community advocate; Roselle Bhosale, a local mother of two who brought her Malaysian roots to table; John Comet, an award-winning Kansas City BBQ pit boss who believes that "food is the universal common ground that brings people together"; Dana Kennedy, Illinois alumna and owner of Kennedy Builders, whose Italian family inspired her love of food; Denise Martin, a partner of the local CPA firm Martin, Hood, Friese, & Associates, LLC; Parham Parastaran, an Illinois graduate in the automotive business who was crucial in organizing the event; and of course, volleyball's own Kevin Hambly.

"Cooking has been a passion of mine for a long time," said Hambly. "I love the creativity of cooking; I love the science of it. Most importantly, I like sharing food with others."

The chefs spent the entire day preparing for the Chop Chef competition. Their day began at 8:20 a.m. at County Market, where the chefs and their teams were notified of the key ingredients for each of four quick fire dishes:

  1. Cold Dish: Tiger shrimp, fresh ginger, green apples
  2. Hot Dish: Smoked pork loin, strawberries, pistachios
  3. Soup (open round, no guidelines)
  4. Entrée: Boneless leg of lamb, dutch cocoa powder, panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

The chefs and their teams then had 30 minutes to high-tail it through the grocery store to gather additional ingredients on a budget of $100. They were not allowed to use the internet, recipe cards, notebooks, or anything else but their own experiences and creativity to construct the four-course meal that they would serve to the judges and 140 attendees.

"It was fun to compete with the other cooks, but I felt more like we were competing against the ingredients and time," Hambly remarked. "Once we started serving, I felt like we as a team accomplished something special."

Everyone in attendance received a scorecard to fill out for each quick fire dish. They rated the dishes on four different categories, which were weighted as follows: 40% taste, 25% use of key ingredients, 25% creativity, and 10% presentation. The audience vote counted for 50% of the outcome, while six local celebrity judges contributed the other 50% of the vote.

The panel of judges consisted of local ABC News Anchor Elitsa Bizios and restaurant owners/managers Thad Morrow (Bacaro), Ray Timpone (Timpone's), Carlos Nieto (Jupiter's, Seven Saints), Jimmy John (Jimmy John's), and Janna Sartinin (Houlahan's).

After a night of great fun and delicious food, the ballots were cast and the winner was announced. John Comet came out on top, with Denise Martin in second and Parham Parastaran in third. Coach Hambly won the audience vote and finished fourth overall.

The money raised will go towards the team's trip to Europe at the end of the semester. The Illini will travel to Italy and Slovenia from May 24 to June 2, where they will play against top international competition, see the sights, and grow as a cohesive unit, bolstering their team chemistry for the 2013 fall season.

 "I am so grateful to the chefs, their teams, and the judges for putting so much time in to make this event a success. Jay Price and Parham Parastaran were incredible.  They put in so much time and effort to get this event off the ground; I am forever in their debt."