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Daley Plaza farmers market has own version of Iron Chef

Seasnine Top Chef finalist Beverly Kim Clark was winner seventh annual Country Chef Challenge Daley Plazfarmers market Thursday.  |

Season nine Top Chef finalist Beverly Kim Clark was the winner of the seventh annual Country Chef Challenge at the Daley Plaza farmers market Thursday. | Nausheen Husain~Sun-Times

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The Daley Plaza farmers market had its own small version of Iron Chef on Thursday, complete with fresh ingredients, a panel of judges and lots of frantic chopping, mixing and tasting.

“This was kind of similar to Top Chef,” said season nine Top Chef finalist Beverly Kim Clark, who was one of the competitors. “But this time, I really wanted to win.”

Clark, Thai Dang and Jared Van Camp were the competitors in the seventh annual Country Chef Challenge. They were given 20 minutes and $50 to purchase ingredients at the farmers market. Then, they had 30 minutes to create a masterpiece.

The judges raved about each dish but Clark’s stir-fried udon noodles creation was the winner. “These tomatoes,” said one judge, after taking a bite, “do not taste like ordinary tomatoes.”

The cooking competition, sponsored by Illinois-based Country Financial, began as a way to display to Chicagoans what they could get at the city’s 19 farmers markets, said Angel Ysaguirre, deputy commissioner of arts programming for the City of Chicago.

“We certainly wanted to take advantage of the fact that chefs are becoming more popular in our culture,” Ysaguirre said. “This is a great way to highlight what we sell at our markets and the food that’s available to people.”

Competitors were allowed to bring two ingredients and two pieces of electrical equipment with them. They were given only oil, salt and pepper. Dang, a chef at Embeya Restaurant, and Van Camp, a chef at Nellcotte — both west of the Loop — took about 10 minutes to shop. Clark took 15 minutes to find her ingredients.

Clark said that the toughest things to find were the little things that subtly made the dish better. In the 15 minutes she spent shopping at the farmers market, she found raw apple cider vinegar, pickled mushrooms and butter, along with all the vegetables she needed. She and John Clark, her sous-chef and husband, even had leftover time and money, and felt confident and relaxed enough, to take a break to buy some cookies for themselves.

“We practiced yesterday. We ran to Whole Foods at 9 p.m. yesterday with our baby in a stroller,” Clark said. “It felt so good to win because, seriously, who even does that?”

Full recipes of what the competitors made can be found at www.countrychefchallenge.com.



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