Press Releases

Mar 22, 2016

Cooking Champion Crowned at Channel Your Inner Chef Cook-Off in Chicago O’Hare

Prize includes a VIP experience at the HMSHost-sponsored James Beard Awards in Chicago and the winning dish featured on an O’Hare restaurant menu

CHICAGO — A cooking showdown took place inside of Chicago O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 2 today as five contestants turned up the heat in a sizzling cook-off as part of Channel Your Inner Chef – a culinary competition created by global restaurateur HMSHost in partnership with the Chicago Department of Aviation.

In today’s 30-minute timed cook-off, the five finalists were challenged to 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.

The finalists’ pans were hot and the competition was fierce in front of a live audience of guests, travelers passing through the terminal, and an assorted group of judges from the aviation and Chicago communities. Judging criteria included cooking technique, recipe, presentation, form, showmanship, and, of course, taste.

“This diverse group of Channel Your Inner Chef contestants performed outstandingly today, making for an entertaining event that helped celebrate the local flavor and culinary innovation found within the airport community,” said HMSHost Chief Commercial Officer Jeff Yablun. “Based on the success of last year’s inaugural event, HMSHost was excited to partner once again with the Chicago Department of Aviation to bring Channel Your Inner Chef back to Chicago travelers and showcase the innovation HMSHost has to offer.”

At the end of the action-packed event, Sepi Naficy emerged victorious with her paella, which will be featured on the menu of an HMSHost-operated restaurant at O’Hare. Sepi also receives roundtrip airfare for two, as well as a VIP experience for two to the James Beard Awards Gala on May 2, 2016 at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Sepi who hails from Dallas entered the contest to try something new. In the contest’s allotted half-hour, Sepi drew from experience and executed her winning dish featuring prawns, andouille sausage, chicken, risotto, herbs from the O’Hare Urban Garden, as well as a secret blend of spices.

“We were very pleased to host this exciting and unique event at O’Hare International Airport,” said Ginger S. Evans, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Aviation. “Chicago is a world-class culinary destination and this competition provides great entertainment for passengers traveling through our airport. I want to congratulate Sepi Naficy on taking top honors, as well as the other contestants who all demonstrated skill, creativity, attention to detail and great ability to perform under pressure during this cook-off competition.”

The other competitors whipped up some creative dishes including a parmesan crusted rack of lamb and a lobster and shrimp Alfredo.

At the event, guests feasted on sample dishes from HMSHost-operated restaurants and were entertained with live music and cooking demonstrations from HMSHost chefs.

Channel Your Inner Chef is a first-of-its-kind multi-phase recipe contest open to employees and travelers in Chicago and all over the country. To enter, contestants submitted a five-minute video of themselves preparing an original recipe. Five finalists were selected among video entries received from across the nation. Full details about Channel Your Inner Chef, including finalists’ video submissions, can be found 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.