Press Releases

Mar 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

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

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

About HMSHost
Global restaurateur HMSHost is a world leader in creating dining for travel venues. HMSHost operates locations all over North America, and is part of Autogrill Group, the world's leading provider of food & beverage services for people on the move. Visit for more information.