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Winning Prime/ECC burger  a sister’s bittersweet victory

Gocheese melts as JasAdams from Pingree Grove grills his 'Stuffed Mushroom Burger' during annual best burger competitifeaturing ElgCommunity College student

Goat cheese melts as Jason Adams, from Pingree Grove, grills his "Stuffed Mushroom Burger" during the annual best burger competition featuring Elgin Community College student at the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin Friday. November 9, 2012. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:07AM

ELGIN — Linda Hottenstein hollered in delight when her daughter, Katie Wichert, won the recent fourth-annual Prime Burger House/Elgin Community College Burger competition.

“She has worked so hard, and it is what she has wanted for a very long time,” said an excited Hottenstein shortly after the “Kelly Joe Burger” took first place at the competition, held at the Grand Victoria Casino’s ballroom.

It is a special name, and a special award, for Wichert. The burger is named after her older sister, Kelly Joe. Kelly and she were compatriots in the kitchen, trying recipes out on each other, Wichert said. But her sister died of a brain aneurism in 2009 and never got to see her younger sibling complete her culinary education, Wichert said.

Her winning burger is described as “an all-beef patty topped with cheddar and pepper jack cheese with beer marinade bacon and drunken caramelized onions on toasted ciabatta bread.”

“The flavors are all things that I liked, and I tweaked it,” said Wichert, of West Chicago.

She is hoping that the first-place win will help her as she searches for a job with a restaurant or kitchen. “I want to work my way from the bottom up and become the chef” for a restaurant, and eventually open her own place, Wichert said.

Last year’s burger competition winner, Bernard LoMonaco, also was on hand for the competition. He had been one of the top six competitors — preparing his signature burger at the Grand Victoria ballroom — for three consecutive years.

He took first place in 2011 with his Flourless Chocolate dessert burger.

LoMonaco is now working as the head chef at Prairie Rock Bar & Grill, just up the street from the casino, at South Grove Avenue and Prairie Street. Getting to know Prime Burger House head chef Glenn Keenan and getting the attention of winning — and placing for three years — was also helpful in his job search, LoMonaco said.

But after three years of competition and winners, Keenan also noted that some changes were made this year.

All of the finalists have their burgers on the Prime menu at some point, and the winner is on the menu for several months. But not all of the submissions over the years have been realistic for their kitchen, he said.

Students competing for the title — 110 this year — were given copies of the Prime menu so they could see what the restaurant serves and what it is looking for on its menu.

Several of the burgers that made it to finals are similar to ideas they’ve tested before, like the Po’ Boy Burger submitted by Matt Collingbourne of Genoa, and the Cuban burger that Edgar Garcia of Streamwood had entered.

This year, the rules also stated the burgers cannot be made with exotic meats, or other foods that the restaurant would have to speciality order, he said.

“We are trying to make sure the burger that wins is something that we can sell a lot of — that our patrons would desire and order in the restaurant,” Keenan said.

Also new to the competition were several celebrity judges. Members of the New York-based band The Bronx Wanderers — playing over the weekend at the Arcada Theater in St. Charles — joined the culinary-trained judges.

“They are our customers, so you get different feedback from what restaurant people would think,” Keenan said.

Wichert’s winning burger means she will receive a $2,000 scholarship — nearly enough to cover her next semester of schooling.

“If I don’t get a job, I will still be OK” because of the financial aid, she said.

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