Just more than a year ago, Michaelene Dagrizikos was at home caring for her daughter, watching her favorite Food Network competitions and dreaming of pursuing her own longstanding hobbies of cooking and baking.
Next week, her dreams will come true when she represents Harper College’s Hospitality Management program in a cupcake challenge – going head-to-head with two Elgin Community College students and another Harper student to win scholarship cash from Tate & Lyle Splenda.
She’ll bake and decorate 300 mini-cupcakes for the event, using a special recipe of a spiced pumpkin base, cream cheese frosting, bright orange sprinkles and a green stem made from gum paste. Her creation substitutes Splenda for some of the traditional sweetener, as required by the Tate & Lyle-sponsored competition.
The high-pressure experience justifies her decision to switch careers, says Dagrizikos, who is one semester away from completing her certificates in Culinary and Pastry Arts and moving to Las Vegas to work in the industry.
“At first it felt overwhelming to have to bake and decorate so many cupcakes, but I’m enjoying the aspect of creating fun ideas and competing against other experienced pasty chefs,” she says. “I’m living something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Harper College instructor Chef Pili Rios selected the four best-tasting cupcakes from nearly 20 Harper student submissions, and Hoffman Estates Mayor McLeod helped choose the finalists from each school, weighing in on the cupcakes’ decoration and relation to the autumn theme.
Gina Schiavo will join Dagrizikos as Harper’s secondary representative, filling her cupcakes with a cannoli cream and topping them with chocolate whipped cream and witchy decorations.
Local residents will vote for their favorites at the competition, which is part of Think Global, Eat Local: An International Taste of Hoffman Estates, running from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, October 30 at the Stonegate Banquet and Conference Centre in Hoffman Estates.
Along with the cupcake competition, the food festival – an initiative sponsored by the village’s Sister Cities Commission in honor of their sister city of Angouleme, France – will also boast samples from local Hoffman Estates restaurants, dishes prepared by Chef Patrick Guat from L’Amandier School of Culinary Arts and a market of products from French producers, importers and distributors.
The event “highlights the idea that you don’t have to travel very far to receive a high-caliber culinary education,” says Lillian Mosier, Chairperson for Village of Hoffman Estates Sister Cities Commission, of the partnership between Harper, ECC, local businesses and the community
Tickets for Think Global, Eat Local: An International Taste of Hoffman Estates are $15 at the door. For more information on the event, visit www.visithoffman.com.
Harper’s Hospitality Management program offers a two-year associate degree, as well as certificates in specialties like culinary arts, bread and pastry arts, food service management, hotel management and dietetic careers. The College also offers non-credit culinary courses for children and adults.
For more information about Harper’s offerings, visit www.harpercollege.edu/culinary.