Zoe Schors geoduck popcorn, created for her Key Ingredient challenge
  • Julia Thiel
  • Zoe Schor’s geoduck popcorn, created for her Key Ingredient challenge

Now in its third year, the Key Ingredient Cook-Off—featuring 22 chefs from our James Beard award-winning series, Key Ingredient—lands at the Lacuna Artist Lofts on Friday. As with Key Ingredient, the cook-off will challenge each chef to cook with a specific ingredient; this year’s ingredients are cactus, coffee, sun-dried tomatoes, and chia seeds—plus one secret ingredient that we haven’t announced yet (all previously featured in Key Ingredient). For four hours, attendees can taste dishes created by some of the city’s best chefs and drink cocktails by Mark Daress of Liquor Lab, beer from All Rise Brewing, and wine from Sonoma-Cutrer. A VIP hour before the main event also features food by Dave Beran, executive chef at Next and winner of the 2014 James Beard award for Best Chef: Great Lakes, plus cocktails, beer, and wine on the rooftop of the Lacuna Artist Lofts.

Among this year’s chefs are Zoe Schor of Ada Street, who grappled with geoduck clams for her challenge—which she called “the strangest animal on the planet”—and Lula Cafe‘s Sarah Rinkavage, who fried up “terrifying” gelatinous zooplankton (jellyfish). Rob Levitt and Abra Berens, who will both be part of the giant Local Foods retail and dining center when it opens this spring, will be in attendance, as will Sandra Holl of Floriole, Andres Padilla of Topolobampo, and Nicole Pederson of Found Kitchen. Returning chefs include Paula Haney of Hoosier Mama—who won in her ingredient category the first year of the Key Ingredient Cook-Off—as well as Chris Teixeira of Homestead on the Roof and John Asbaty of White Oak Tavern & Inn.

The Key Ingredient Cook-Off is this Friday, May 22, from 7:30 to 11:30 PM at the Lacuna Artist Lofts, 2150 S. Canalport, and admission is $65. VIP tickets are $125; admission begins at 6:30 PM. The Chicago Trolley will provide free rides from the Roosevelt Red Line stop to the Lacuna Artist Lofts from 5:30 to 7 PM. Below is a video from last year’s KICO.