Press Releases

March 21, 2017

Aspiring Chefs Face-Off at Cooking Competition Inside Chicago O’Hare International Airport

Winner receives a VIP trip for two to the HMSHost-sponsored James Beard Awards and has their dish featured on the menu at an O’Hare airport restaurant

Image of the competing chefs

Pictured above are the Channel Your Inner Chef 2017 Finalists and Judges (Listed from left to right: Paul Kahan, James Beard award winner and One Off Hospitality Group Chef; Ashely Mincey; Sasha Sincic; Michael Zalewski, Alderman of the 23rd Ward of Chicago, Aviation Committee Chairman; Zoe Kelly, 2017 Channel Your Inner Chef Winner; Ginger S. Evans, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Aviation; Pat Dowell, Alderman of the 3rd Ward of Chicago; Vince Gerasole, CBS 2 reporter; Peter Rosenberg; Susan Ungaro, President of the James Beard Foundation; and Dexter Guthrie.) 

CHICAGO — Chicago O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 2 was abuzz today with smells of freshly cooked food filling the air as five aspiring chefs went head-to-head and battled it out in Channel Your Inner Chef – an innovative culinary competition created by global restaurateur HMSHost in partnership with the Chicago Department of Aviation.

During the unscripted 30-minute cook-off where anything could happen, five finalists were challenged to turn up the heat and create an original recipe from an array of ingredients revealed to them only at the start of the event, as well as an ingredient of their choice from the O’Hare Urban Garden located in Terminal 3.

Competition was fierce as the five finalists prepared an array of dishes from Cajun fried calamari with a brussels sprout salad to a seared New York strip steak accompanied with prosciutto wrapped asparagus. An audience of travelers, airport and airline employees, and Chicago personalities, looked on in anticipation to see those unscripted moments transpire into a magical moment when the grand prize winner was chosen.

“With today’s action-packed event, Channel Your Inner Chef continues to be not only a fun and exciting event to celebrate HMSHost’s sponsorship of the James Beard Awards in Chicago, but with its popularity has evolved into a new and unique way for us to engage with travelers through food,” said HMSHost President and CEO Steve Johnson. “This is our third year presenting Channel Your Inner Chef with the Chicago Department of Aviation at O’Hare and each year we receive a wide range of outstanding submissions from across the country. This year’s event featured aspiring chefs with diverse cultural and culinary influences which made for an entertaining competition that truly showcased emerging culinary talent.”  

While each contestant provided a sizzling performance, Zoe Kelly emerged victorious with her prawn with mango chutney dish, which will be featured on the menu of an HMSHost-operated restaurant at O’Hare for all travelers to enjoy. Zoe also receives roundtrip airfare for two, as well as a VIP experience for two to the James Beard Awards Gala on May 1, 2017 at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

“The Channel Your Inner Chef competition is a dynamic way to showcase Chicago’s world-class culinary scene here at one of the world’s busiest airports,” said Ginger S. Evans, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA).  “We thank HMSHost for partnering with us to host this unique event that highlights the wide array of delicious dining options offered at O’Hare International Airport.”

The 2017 Channel Your Inner Chef winner, Zoe Kelly, hails from Miami. She entered the contest as an exciting new opportunity to showcase her culinary talent to a national audience. In the contest’s allotted half-hour, Zoe drew from experience and let the ingredients speak to her as she executed the winning dish of a giant prawn seared with mango chutney, along with cherry tomatoes, purple cauliflower, and an avocado mousse.Image of sepi naficy

The chefs were judged by an acclaimed panel that included: Ginger S. Evans, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Aviation; Michael Zalewski, Alderman of the 23rd Ward of Chicago, Aviation Committee Chairman; Pat Dowell, Alderman of the 3rd Ward of Chicago; Vince Gerasole, CBS 2 Chicago reporter; and renowned culinary experts Susan Ungaro, President of the James Beard Foundation and Paul Kahan, James Beard award winner and One Off Hospitality Group Chef and Partner. The six judges based their winning selection criteria on cooking technique, recipe, presentation, form, showmanship, and, of course, taste.  

Today’s event featured not only the exhilarating cooking showdown, but live musical performances and cooking demonstrations from HMSHost chefs that entertained guests and travelers, while they feasted on tastings of the latest culinary offerings from HMSHost-operated restaurants at O’Hare, including Publican Tavern and Wicker Park Sushi. 

Channel Your Inner Chef is a unique, multi-phase cooking contest that spotlights local flavors and celebrates HMSHost’s sponsorship of the 2017 James Beard Awards. The competition solicits culinary talent nationwide and has helped showcase the amazing range and diversity of aspiring chefs found throughout the country.

To enter, contestants submitted a video of themselves preparing an original recipe. Five finalists were selected among diverse video submissions. Full details about Channel Your Inner Chef, including finalists’ video submissions, can be found at Today’s event can be seen at  


Image of the chefs celebrating

Image of the full food display

Image of a chef preparing their meal

Image of wining chef preparing their meal

Image of the chefs congregating the winner

HMSHost Leading the Industry

HMSHost is recognized by the industry as the top provider of travel dining with awards such as 2017 Best Overall Food & Beverage Operator (for the tenth consecutive year) and Food Operator with the Highest Regard for Customer Service (for the eighth year) by Airport Revenue News. USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Travel Awards recognized HMSHost’s Dale Jr.’s Whisky River at Charlotte Douglas International Airport as Best Airport Bar and Best Airport Sitdown Dining. HMSHost infuses innovation and culinary expertise into everything we do; with events such as the first-of-its-kind Airport Restaurant Month at more than 50 airports across North America, the award-winning Channel Your Inner Chef live culinary contest at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and the Adrian Awards Gold winning campaigns, #HMSHostLove and Eat Well. Travel Further.

About HMSHost

Global restaurateur HMSHost is a world leader in creating dining for travel venues. HMSHost operates in more than 120 airports around the globe and 99 travel plazas in North America. The Company has annual sales in excess of $3.1 billion and employs more than 39,500 sales associates worldwide. HMSHost is a part of Autogrill Group, the world’s leading provider of food & beverage services for people on the move. With sales of over €4.5 billion in 2016, the Group operates in 31 countries and employs over 57,000 people. It manages approximately 4,000 stores in about 1,000 locations worldwide. Visit for more information and connect with HMSHost on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.   

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