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Fox Valley chefs compete for taste of World Food Championship

Naperville residents Mark Laurie judged Kansas City Barbecue Society contest earlier this year will be judging World Food Contest Las

Naperville residents Mark and Laurie judged a Kansas City Barbecue Society contest earlier this year and will be judging at the World Food Contest in Las Vegas this weekend. | Courtesy of Mark Rice

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Next year

Want to be part of food fun in 2014?

There are many different ways to be part of the World Food Championship. People can attend as competitors, judges, volunteers or spectators.

To be a competitor, a person must win any one of several hundred qualifying contests throughout the country, including the Naperville Exchange RibFest. People also can qualify through winning a recipe contest on Just a Pinch, the social recipe network.

Some competitors are nominated as a Tastemakers Choice, and there are a few wildcard contestants accepted every year. See for a complete list of qualifying contests and applications.

Applications to be a judge are also available at the World Food Championship website. Candidates for judging will need to explain why they think they are qualified and will be selected from the pool of applicants. Some judges are selected based simply on their passionate interest in food.

Volunteers are accepted for doing everything from taking tickets to assisting with kitchen duties. The application does not have specific requirements like culinary degrees or training.

Attending the WFC as a spectator is free, but there are also numerous ticketed events. Spectators do not get to taste the competitors’ entries, but there are many food sampling events and demonstrations throughout the weekend.

Updated: December 11, 2013 6:18AM

If televised food contests have taught the world anything, it is that anyone has the chance to whip together the right flavors infused with a pinch of luck and be declared the winner.

Three Fox Valley-area cooks will compete this weekend among almost 500 competitors from 10 countries in the World Food Championship in Las Vegas. They will vie for the world title as well a slice of a $300,000 prize.

There are seven different competitions with winners advancing to a final round to be named World Food Champion.

Gail Huesmann, 48, of Oswego; Beth Peterson, 46, of Naperville; and Vita Jarrin, 48, of Oswego, will put their cooking talents to the test. Laurie and Mark Rice, of Naperville, will be there judging, too.

The contestants

Huesmann is among a select group of chefs invited to compete as a tastemaker’s choice, meaning she didn’t have to win a preliminary food contest to compete. This is her first culinary competition.

She attended Le Cordon Bleu Culinary College and served as an instructor at the college and at Robert Morris University before settling in as the executive chef of Old Towne Pub in Geneva.

Huesmann will be one of 50 competitors in the sandwich category. She plans to serve blackened bison tenderloin layered with brown sugar bacon, red onion slaw and fresh onion straws topped with a creamed bleu cheese sauce and bleu cheese crumbles all nestled on a French roll.

“Food is a part of everything in life,” she explains. “When people live, we eat. When people die, we eat. When people get married, we eat. We should eat food that makes you feel good, taste good and look good.”

Peterson will compete for the second year in the recipe division. She is an official blogger for the event and co-hosted the Pre-Game POP!, a champagne and popcorn opening day party for the many competitors.

Jarrin is serving as sous chef at the competition for both Huesmann and Peterson. In October, Jarrin appeared on “Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell,” competing for an executive chef position at a Chicago restaurant. Jarrin went two rounds but did not get chosen. However, she is getting ready to take on an executive chef position at a new Hickory Hills restaurant.

The judges

Mark Rice, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, became interested in food contests while running the rib judging for the Exchange Club’s annual RibFest. Laurie Rice helped out by tabulating scores.

As his interest grew, Mark decided to become a certified Kansas City Barbecue Society Judge. He has judged more than 15 competitions in the last three years, including the American Royal in Kansas City. He is halfway to becoming certified as a Master Kansas City Barbecue Society Judge.

Laurie became a certified KCBS judge this year and has judged four events. The couple will be judging the barbecue and chili contests at the World Food Championships.

When they aren’t judging contests, Mark is a senior national sales manager for Clabber Girl, and Laurie is an administrative assistant at Edward Hospital.

Although they are attending the contest together, they won’t be judging together, Mark says.

“We will each be tasting six entries of three meats, which means will be tasting 18 meat samples total for the barbecue competition,” Mark says. “This will be our first chili contest.”

And there are more adventures in store for the couple since they will be judging the national pie championships in Orland, Fla., next April.

This competition will pit seasoned competitors like Porky McBeef and The Cluckers from Kansas against Tammy Brownlow, a housewife from Texas. The competition between the tried-and-true favorites and high-end cuisine is judged by a mix of celebrity and qualified judges who use a scoring method focused on execution, appearance and taste. For results this weekend, visit

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